Redundancy and Coherence

Two principles of good e-learning design are to avoid redundancy and to keep things coherent and uncluttered. This week’s e-learning challenge was to present these good instructional design principles in a piece of e-learning. I decided to create before and after examples of two of the principles David Anderson outlined.

Redundancy
Although this may seem like an obvious thing to avoid, I see it in A LOT of e-learning courses. Back in my college days, we had a biology professor who had these extremely wordy PowerPoint slides and then he proceeded to read every word on them verbatim. It drove the whole class nuts, a lot of students scored poorly on his tests, and he seemed completely dumbfounded as to why. Instead of reinforcing the information, redundancy distracts from it. Here’s the redundant “before” version.

Click to view redundancy example

Click to view redundancy example

And here’s the much-improved “after” version.

Click here to view the solution

Click here to view the solution

Coherence
I’ve seen this principle violated most when IDs try to incorporate storytelling or branching scenarios for the first time. In e-learning, the stories only exist to reinforce the learning experience, not to detract from it. Strip the story down to its essentials, removing any extraneous details. Here’s the cluttered, long-winded “before” version.

Click to view It's Not a Novel

Click to view It’s Not a Novel

And here’s the elegant, much-improved “after” version.

Click to view the solution

Click to view the solution

 

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This Spelling Bee is for the Birds

In this weeks e-learning challenge, we designers were asked to create a spelling bee interaction as the 2014 National Spelling Bee kicks off. I thought that was a great idea as it was something I’d never thought of doing before. I decided to create one based on physics terminology and have it presented by a parrot.

Physics Spelling Bee Intro

Click to play the Physics Spelling Bee

How the hxll did I come up with that?
Well, I had this beautiful image of a parrot flying over a rainforest I had used previously to create an interactive portfolio of my work. I called it “E-Learning that Soars” and I thought maybe I could do something with that. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of this science program hosted by Morgan Freeman called “Through the Wormhole” where they talk about all sorts of fascinating topics like parallel universes, time travel, etc.

So to combine these two disparate elements of the parrot and physics, I created a story that goes like this: An up-and-coming physicist named Laurie Worthenhiemer has a pet parrot and because Laurie’s always talking about physics at home, Polly (the parrot) has picked up on a lot of the terminology. Polly has a lot of spare time on her hands, so she creates this spelling bee to challenge and entertain her house guests.

Build it and they will come…
Next, I picked four physics terms for players to spell. As is the case in most spelling bees, you’ll hear the term, then you can ask for a definition and hear it used in a sentence. I reached into my “inner-bird” and recorded all the voices using Cubase SX software and a nice Audio Technica microphone. I set up triggers in Articulate Storyline to play the different audio files when the user clicks for the definitions and the sentences.

Definitions and sentence options

Definitions and sentence options

This might sound obvious, but I also made sure that the notes button on Storyline’s player was not checked, as the transcript I was reading from would have revealed the words and thus given away their correct spelling.

The spelling part
I used Storyline’s built-in quiz question with a text entry field for players to type into. I took advantage of the correct and incorrect feedback layers to put in a few witty comments from Polly based on the words the players were attempting to define. I like to customize the colors and feedback on these to fit the situation rather then just going with the generic “correct, you chose the right answer” and “incorrect, you did not choose the right answer” phrases. I also put in a little picture of Polly speaking to the players to personalize it more.

Feedback layer for right answer

Feedback layer for right answer

Keeping score
I used Storyline’s built-in quiz results slide to keep score. Again, I customized it quite a bit eliminating the “you passed” and “you did not pass” layers. Being this was just a game and not really a quiz, I just wanted to give the players a score. I also removed the “percentage right” total and just showed the points.

The final tally

The final tally

If I wanted to, I could have used the built-in pass/fail layers of the quiz results slide to show Polly making a snide comment about a lower score, and another layer with a comment responding to a higher score. Although I didn’t do that here, it’s something you might consider in building your game. So, there you have it, a spelling bee game created in Storyline presented by a parrot all about physics. Enjoy!

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

 

E-Learning Feud

This week’s e-learning challenge from David Anderson was to present a top 10 list. I decided to present the top 10 things you can do in Articulate Storyline in the context of a Family Feud-type game setting. Besides creating the actual module in Storyline, I used a combination of Macromedia Fireworks and Microsoft PowerPoint to edit the graphics. And I recorded original music for the theme song and all the character voices in Cubase SX.

click here to play e-learning feud game

click here to play e-learning feud game

Graphic Editing in PowerPoint and Fireworks
The game show logo was created using PowerPoint’s Word Art for the chunky font. I actually copied the logo making one version with an orange fill and a second one in yellow, then imported them into Fireworks where all the other shapes and fills were created and layered. I used an existing Family Feud logo as inspiration to create the layered look.

e-learning feud logo

e-learning feud logo

One graphic editing tool I love in PowerPoint is the “remove background”. Oftentimes I need to crop an image, but don’t want to just crop it into a rectangular shape. I had this picture of an audience that I needed to crop around the heads instead of a straight line, and the “remove background” feature allows you to do this easily. Then you can just right click on your cropped version and save it as an image.

Audio Recording and Editing
With very affordable digital editing software, these days all you need is a simple interface to go from a ¼ inch cord into a USB you can plug into your computer, a couple good mics, and you can make professional recordings easily at home. I’d like to thank Jackie Van Nice, an excellent voiceover talent and e-learning designer, for doing all the female voices. I did all the male voices and played all the musical instruments.

Audio editing in Cubase

Audio editing in Cubase

Cubase is a great tool because you can do very precise edits, remove all the surrounding background noise, apply compression, do the most subtle of crossfades, and a add host of other effects to your recording.

Storyline Variables and Triggers
To switch from the slide with the Johnson family to the Smith family, I created True/False variables named after each character with an initial setting of False. Then I created a trigger on the last slide for each character, changing each variable to True once the timeline for the last slide started.

Johnson family slide

Johnson family slide

Basically, you’re telling Storyline when the last slide for a particular character has been visited. Then I created another trigger on the Johnson family slide that tells it to automatically go to the Smith family once all the Johnson family members have been visited.

Then, after all the Smith family members have been visited, I wanted Storyline to go to the final slide for the game. So I did the same thing I did on the Johnson family slide; except I told the Smith family slide to advance to the final slide once all the characters  (for both the Johnson and Smith families) have been visited.

Resources
If you want to get the most out of Storyline, I strongly suggest taking Daniel Brigham’s Advanced Storyline course at Lynda.com for step by step instructions on variables, triggers, and a host of other tools. Also, the forums at Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes site are very helpful.

Top Three Storytelling Mistakes in E-Learning

Most of us in the e-learning world know that one of the best ways to teach is through storytelling. So I’ve gone out and bought still shots of my characters and have a nice selection of office backgrounds and other settings to choose from. Now all I have to do is drop that stuffy old content onto my new palate and I’m done – wrong!

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve created some examples of common mistakes people make when they’re first trying to create a story in an e-learning module. Then I’ll show you how I modified those examples to flesh the whole thing out in a (hopefully) more elegant way.

1. Information Overload

Click to view Information Overload

Click to view Information Overload

The problem here is while the learner is reading what the characters are saying, she’s also having to take in the other information from the narrator.

The Solution

Click to view the solution

Click to view the solution

I solved this problem by splitting up the story into separate slides in different settings to show the learner rather than just tell them what’s going on. I dramatically reduced and split up the character’s dialogue, relying more on the narrative and settings to tell the story.

2. Redundancy

Click to view redundancy example

Click to view redundancy example

It’s not only redundant to put the narration up on the screen, but it’s also very annoying. I had a college professor who ran a PowerPoint, and basically everything he said in the class was already in print on the slides. My fellow students were so annoyed and distracted by this that most of them flunked the first few exams he gave us. He was a nice guy and seemed totally dumbfounded by why his students were doing so poorly.

Another problem with this approach is it takes up a lot of valuable real estate on the screen. Remember, most e-learning software allows you to display your narration notes in the player.

The Solution

Click here to view the solution

Click to view the solution

Again, I just split up the content into a number of slides showing the scenario in context and removed the narration script from the screen altogether.

3. It’s Not a Novel

Click to view It's Not a Novel

Click to view It’s Not a Novel

A lot of people get intimidated when you suggest they tell a story to teach something in an e-learning module. In this example, our author has just overdone it a little bit and has put in a lot of unnecessary information.

The Solution

Click to view the solution

Click to view the solution

I stripped the story down to its essentials to keep the learner focused on what we’re really trying to teach them. Sometimes less is more.

I hope these tips help you to create more engaging and effective stories to meet your client’s needs.