You Can Tune a Kalimba…

Step graphics make it easy for learners to sequentially walk through a process, workflow, or procedure. They can be used for all types of learning interactions, from procedural training to interactive storytelling. If you have a process that’s complex or just hard to describe, step graphics are an excellent way to show (rather than tell) how to get the job done. In one of his weekly e-learning challenges, David Anderson asked us designers create a step graphic interaction.

Enter, the Kalimba
I’m also a musician, and for years I’ve wanted to create an online lesson on how to tune a kalimba. The kalimba (aka mbira or thumb piano) is a musical instrument with metal tines you press down on like a piano to play melodies. A lot of tourists buy these on exotic vacation trips, take them home and watch them collect dust. Most people think they are only decorative noisemakers, and don’t realize you can actually tune them and make beautiful music from them.

Click to view kalimba course

Click to view kalimba course

I thought this step graphic approach to teaching would be perfect for showing people how to tune a kalimba.

Navigation/Progress
I knew right away that I would use thumbnail pictures of a kalimba along the bottom of the frame as a navigation feature. Each thumbnail represents one of the ten steps, and most learners intuitively know that they can click on them to jump backward or forward to any of the steps. I washed out the color on the thumbnail for the current step to show them how far along they are in the course.

Step navigation kalimba thumbnails

Step navigation kalimba thumbnails

I also included a traditional progress bar for the current step so learners could pause at any time. I knew this would be especially helpful when the learner is actually tuning their instrument and want to pause when the current note is being highlighted.

Learners can pause during instruction

Learners can pause during instruction

Highlights

To show learners what note they’re on (both on the kalimba and on the xylophone they’re tuning it to), I created a white rectangle with no outline set at 50% transparency. Then I sized and fitted it over the key of the xylophone or the tine on the kalimba. I added a fade in and fade out animation and adjusted them on the timeline (in Articulate Storyline) to fade in and out when you hear the notes being played.

Test It
Originally, I tried creating a video for these steps, but found that using a still image with these animated highlights looked a lot better. They were also easier for the learner to see which notes were being played. I only learned that the video approach wasn’t working so well for these steps after user testing them with another designer, Jackie Van Nice. Thanks Jackie for your good advice and feedback!

The Happy Ending
Finally, to give learners a feel for how nice the tuning sounds, I played a little tune at the end.

Actually playing the kalimba

Actually playing the kalimba

I also gave learners the option to exit the course at any time. This is an option you can put on the player in Storyline.  I feel it’s important to give learners as much freedom as possible moving around the course. Between the thumbnails, the previous and next buttons, the pause/play buttons, and the exit course option, learners have a lot of flexibility. And, despite all those navigation options, the screen is uncluttered and easy on the eyes. Click here to test drive this snappy little kalimba lesson.

Roger Ebert, the Beatles, and Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy splits learning into six levels: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. The six levels were designed to help instructors and others develop learning objectives and to select the appropriate methods and learning tools.

The Challenge – In his weekly e-learning challenge, David Anderson asked us to create an interaction that introduces an instructional design principle. I chose Bloom’s Taxonomy and thought it would be a fun and useful exercise to match each level with a famous person.

I thought I better start by defining Bloom’s Taxonomy and then define the six levels so that when it came to the exercise, learners would have something to refer back to.

Defining Terms

Defining Terms

What’s the Point? – My objective in all this was for learners to be able to differentiate between (or “analyze”) the six levels, but to do it in a way that would be memorable and not get mired in abstraction. I don’t know if I can explain my creative process, but somehow it popped into my head to take people from recent history, famous for a particular talent, and to tie that talent into each of the six levels.

Inspiration Hits – Right away, I thought that Roger Ebert was a great evaluator and the Beatles were obviously very creative, and then the rest of the people just dropped right in line. So the exercise would be to match each person with the level of Bloom’s Taxonomy their particular talents best represented.

Roger Ebert makes an appearance

Roger Ebert makes an appearance

To make the exercise a little easier, I was careful to include in my definitions of the six levels certain keywords like “illustrations” and “songwriting” that I knew would help learners make the connections later. I figured Audubon was well-known for his illustrations of birds and the Beatles were obviously songwriters.

Feedback They’ll Remember – I also decided to have a little fun with some of the feedback for the right and wrong answers that related to the persons in the exercise. I used the Beatles song titles “Yes it is” for the positive feedback and “Help” for the negative. A little humor can go a long way in learning retention, especially when it’s relevant.

Help, you got it wrong!

Help, you got it wrong!

Wrapping it all Up – And for one last exercise, I thought it would be really cool to ask the learner what level of Bloom’s Taxonomy the actual activity they were participating in most closely matched, which in this case was “analyzing.”

So, check it out for yourself. I hope you have as much fun playing the game as I did making it and that maybe you’ll learn something new along the way. I sure did.

7 Tips for Writing Good Quiz Questions

One of the easiest ways to confirm your e-learning is actually teaching the learner something is to confirm it with a well-written final quiz. What does that mean exactly? Here’s a quick list of things to do and things to avoid when writing effective quiz questions.

1. Don’t ask overly simple questions. There has to be some challenge. If the answer to the question you’re asking them is too obvious, perhaps they don’t need to learn it at all, or more likely, it just needs to be rewritten with better, more-convincing erroneous answer options. Otherwise, they’ll forget it.

Overly simplistic question

Overly simplistic question

2. Make sure your wrong answers aren’t actually right ones. Under certain circumstances, a good bluff answer might actually be right for the situation. You could try rephrasing the question to drill down further, so that your wrong answers are really wrong (the question part might be too broad in other words).

3. Don’t make the questions too hard. Know your audience. Have they been at the job for 20 years or are they new hires? What’s the technical level of the learner? You don’t want to make the question too hard for the level of learner you’re addressing.

4. Add a little humor once in a while. In a multiple choice question, this could mean throwing in a wrong answer that’s a bit silly. As long as a couple of the wrong options sound realistic, you can include some humor without making it too easy.

Question with humor

Question with humor

5. Tell a story. Put in a little bit of narrative, to make it more memorable. Characters and story can paint a memorable picture that the learner can call upon when they need the information in a real life situation. It doesn’t have to be a novel, just provide enough narrative to present the question in context.

Click to view storytelling example

Click to view storytelling example

6. If it’s part of an interaction, try delaying the final answer. For example: put your learner into a scenario and give them options of what to do where none of the options lead directly to the final correct answer. Instead, have all options lead the learner to ask more questions and gather more information. Then you can present them again with two or three new options to choose from. Based on the additional information they just learned, they will now know enough to be able to choose the correct final answer. This causes learners to think more deeply about the situation, teaching them what questions they should ask before they draw any conclusions.

Click to view example of delayed answer.

Click to view example of delayed answer

7. Provide useful feedback when they get it wrong (and right). Provide clues if they get it wrong and give them a second change to answer the question. I usually do this on questions that appear before the final quiz, so learners can test their knowledge.

Feedback for right answer

Feedback for right answer

Feedback with clue for wrong answer

Feedback with clue for wrong answer