Thursday, April 28, 2011

Engaging Technical eLearning – Tips on Design and Delivery

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Engineer’s and Technical Writer’s View
Oftentimes, my development team works to help clients convert technical training into eLearning. An example is the Oracle HRIS and hardware training. The initial challenge is, “How do we make this boring content engaging?” Technical training programs are usually written by engineers who believe that users of their products just need to read the instructional guide. “If only they read the guide, they can solve almost all of the problems.” However, the dilemma is that most guides are designed for engineers not lay people.

Here are some tips and ideas to help you convert technical content into engaging eLearning programs.

Unbundling Content - From Technical View to
Learner View
To make technical training engaging, we need to re-think the content and switch from the technical view (engineer, technical writer or subject matter expert (SME) point of view) to the learner or user point of view. Below is an illustration showing the comparison between the Technical View and the
Learner View. The unbundling process allows us to successfully identify elements or parts of the content that help the learners gain knowledge and apply the content to different situations and delivery methods.


The advantage of adapting the Learner View of our technical content, is that it refocuses our attention to how learners can use the content in actual real-life work situations. Let us imagine for a moment that engineers, SMEs, and technical writers changed their focus and approach. This would alter the way content is organized, written, prepared and delivered. The content becomes more learner and user friendly.

Example

Content on Certification of Systems Administrators in Networking
Note: The content is not accurate and refers to an old product. The intention is to illustrate the reduction of content from class certification size to small slideshows then to 1-minute mobile applications. Once unbundled, we set ourselves free to think of our content in various delivery formats, e.g. classroom, slideshows, and then mobile learning.



Click here to view example of 15 Minute Slideshow (partial pages only)

Weaving technical content with cases/scenarios
Focused learning answers the limitations of the learners in terms of time and helps them avoid information overload. Using the case and scenario techniques enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of the learning process. Technical content becomes more engaging and learners become skilled and are able to rapidly apply knowledge in the real world or work.


(See eLearning Design for Short Attention Span and Overloaded Learners)

These are suggested steps to weave technical content with cases and scenarios.

Gather cases, scenarios and stories of how the content actually helps in real-work situations. See Instant Learning: How it works and how to make it happen

This is done by identifying the 20% of the content and the related cases in real-life work situations and their impacts on performance. For example, though login information is important, it is probably less significant compared to the consequence when users of the software fail to enter the right data for patient diagnostics or an employee classification (hourly or exempt). The effect of wrong data entry has potential catastrophic repercussions in billing, compliance, and others. So, instead of instructing learners on the features of the right data entry, we start with the cases and scenarios that heighten the positive or negative values and impacts of the specific feature and function.

In this example, when do we get to use the detailed guide or instruction? The detailed content becomes a reference, guide or resource. This serves as a valuable on-the-job learning and quick reference.

The number of cases and scenarios to be used depends on the amount of must-learn content you want learners to focus on, immediately. Should the learner need to connect a case or scenario to a detailed reference for a better comprehension of the case and content, it will be wise to provide a link to such reference.

Example

This is a software demo (compliments of Articulate.com) demonstrating how it combines a case / scenario and story to connect the technical content with a specific story by the narrator.

INSTRUCTION:
After reviewing the example, ask yourself the question: “How does a case, scenario or story help learners relate to the technical information?” Please read the blog and post your comments.
There are two steps to make technical learning courses more engaging. First, unbundle the content so we can separate case/scenarios/stories, from must- learn and learn-on-need. This allows us to reduce the sizes of our content and help learners make it easy to use. Second, we prepare the course and weave case/scenarios with technical content. This heightens the must-learn elements of the course.

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