Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Can "Cheating" be Avoided in Rigid eLearning? - Tip #30

It is unfortunate that this happens, but experience shows us that learners try to circumvent or trick the learning process or "cheat" the elearning compliance course.

This behavior often happens when the requirements of the compliance course is impossible to meet or is completely unreasonable.  In the process, the learners find a workaround which designers, developers and trainers condone.

This is a paradox:  

Do we allow learners to "cheat" and get the certificates?

Or do we allow them to "cheat" so they can learn, then get the certificates?


I gave a talk about "Story-Based eLearning Design," at the eLearning Guild Learning Solutions Conference, March 19-21, 2014. A participant, let's call her "Mary", asked me a question. She wondered about what to do with rigid, inflexible, tracking only and CYA (cover your A__) type of elearning. Her certification board members require that elearning participants must complete pages with 9,000 words - yes, 9,000 words.

I was baffled by this and she explained:
After some creative brainstorming, we both concluded, "Learners will cheat in these conditions, but we still need to find opportunities for them to learn."

Mary's goal

Mary is committed to make a difference even in a very limited capacity.

She wants to:
  • Engage their learners during the certification course, even if they have rigid tracking requirements.
  • Show that learners have clicked through pages that total 9,000 words.
  • Persist and find a solution because learners are vehemently rejecting the quality of the courses.
  • Reduce the pain of boredom and poor learning.
Allowing learners to cheat in compliance courses

(Cick to enlarge the image)  

These are key points.

Illustration 1 is a "hostile learning environment." It shows the following characteristics:

  1.  Learners must start and end in one long linear course.
  2.  Skipping is not allowed. The course forces them to click through all the pages.
  3. In theory, they are required to read the words on the pages. But in practice, learners simply browse through the pages. It is the "click forward as quickly as possible" behavior.
  4. The lesson pages track learners who have supposedly "learned" from the 9,000 words. In reality, they don't. 
  5. Then a certificate is provided. 
  6. The certification board insists this has to be the way. No matter how misguided they may be, this is the real world for many designers, developers and leaders. Board members agree, change is needed, but it is like moving a mountain.
Illustration 2 allows the leaders, designers and leaders to provide learning opportunities even when learners tend to "cheat" the system.

Just like Mary, many of us know, that learners are already cheating the system in compliance learning. In some cases where learners complain to the training and HR department, they may get a response like, "just click through and finish it to comply."

With this environment, the likes of Mary, have to be creative and find a workaround to help learners obtain a few main ideas, yet still comply with the requirements. It is not moving a mountain, but more like changing the learners' scenery one course at a time.
  1. Keep the linear compliance course outline almost intact.
  2. Find opportunities to identify must-learn content.
  3. Use stories to engage learners and help them learn the content. We call this the "embedding" technique. See Workshop Tips #7 
  4. By adding some must-learn in stories, the learners get to recognize the key ideas. It breaks the boredom and meaninglessness of the content. See Workshop tip #21 
  5. Skipping is still required. This is needed so the LMS can still track "click throughs" of all pages with the 9,000 words.
  6. However, the most of the 9,000 words now become references. In the must learn and stories, specific pages may be referred to.
  7. The must-learn and stories breathe life into some of the 9,000-word content In fact, learners will begin to read further through some of this huge word cache because the stories and must-learn introduce them to some of voluminous text.
  8. The real savings comes from just keeping the 9,000-word pages on PowerPoint. In certain cases, these can be in PDF formats. No further narration, images and videos need to be added to these really boring pages. This dramatically reduces the costs.

Many designers, developers and leaders live in "hostile learning environments." We are bound by constraints. Compliance courses are mostly administrative controls that are needed by companies to show proof of compliance and avoid costly ligation. On the other hand, these courses have enormous value. They help avoid accidents, reduce costs, make the company efficient, plus other benefits.

The single mistake to avoid is to confuse the administrative control function with the learning function of compliance courses.

If there is a conflict between the two, "allowing learners to cheat and finding a workaround for them to learn" may be the best of both worlds.


I would not go around advertising your new found trick of allowing learners to cheat. Just do it and smile when you succeed.

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"http://storytakes.com/output/4585/1327/index.html

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