Is it good enough for you?

When it comes to designing eLearning courses you can’t deny that branching scenarios that show the consequences of a learner’s choices or actions are the ultimate and the highest form of elearning content.

No really you can’t, you’ll be excommunicated from the eLearning community if you do.

Ok so I’m exaggerating, but week after week we read blogs from the leading designers in our field telling us that scenarios are the best you can do with eLearning.

But are they really that good? Or are they really only good when you compare them to the alternative; the multiple choice quiz.

Are they really just the best we can do because we’re stuck in a course and authoring tool mindset?

A scenario is supposed to immerse the learner in a realistic situation, as close as possible to the real world in which they’ll eventually have to apply the learning. But most courses seem to think they can immerse the learner in just a few short screens. They assume that if they tell (or even show) you it’s important at the beginning then you’ll care about it and buy in to it.

I’ve been playing a lot more video games since I ditched my Wii in favour of an Xbox. Most of my favourites have been role playing games like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect.  They all use similar mechanics to eLearning scenarios. When you interact with a character in the game you have a range of conversation options. The decisions you make determine what happens next in the game, although they are still generally quite linear. The difference is that these games are really immersive, they’re cinematic and they take the time, care and craft to make you care about the characters and the consequences they face.

My big problem with scenarios is that they aren’t realistic enough. The setting, the setup and the options for interaction are all too false, they lack complexity. Even the Fighting Fantasy books I used to read when I was 10 were more sophisticated than today’s eLearning. They used the same scenario driven narrative techniques, but the characters had attributes like skill, luck or strength and you had to use dice to decide what happened to you (although in reality everyone cheated). Most eLearning doesn’t even match this level of complexity, let alone Skyrim.

eLearning often takes inspiration from film, games, TV and web design, but it rarely matches any of them for quality. Most of the time it takes these ideas and creates something bland, mediocre or just plain naff.

It’s like comparing a designer jumper to the one your nan knitted you for Christmas.

Most scenarios are not realistic enough to be effective. Yes they are better than multiple choice tests, but while I’d rather have scenarios than multiple choice tests, I’d also rather wear my nan’s jumper than nothing at all.

There has to be a better way doesn’t there? If these simplistic scenarios are the best we can do with the tools we have, should we even bother or should we open our minds to alternatives?

If you’ve already tried something different why not tell us all about it at the next weeLearning event in July?


Author: Sam Burrough

image courtesy of poppalina

Post by: Sam Burrough (39 Posts)

Posted in blog, get involved, rant Tagged with: ,
8 comments on “Is it good enough for you?
  1. Holly MacDonald (@sparkandco) says:

    Sam, I read a recent article on using twitter for simulations, which I think you could do as scenarios as well. It isn’t exactly comparable to your gaming analogies, but might give more realistic feel. Something like this:

    Web page/elearning module/blog post to set scene
    links to the hashtag that makes most sense
    you treat each hashtag like a twitterchat
    populate with content if necessary, allow ppl to connect/peer coach, etc.

    As a freelancer, I don’t have a ready group to experiment with, but I think it would work. Would be a fun experiment to try.

    Or could be naff.

    • sam says:

      I don’t think we need to emulate games but try to find new ways of using the channels we have, like you suggested above. I think the key point is we have to be prepared to experiment and not just stick to what we know. But as an independent I guess that’s easier said than done sometimes.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment Holly.

  2. Dan Roddy says:

    I think your point is a good one, but there is an important point about contextualising even short learning points to aid recall – I have a paper from Will Thallheimer that discusses this point in some depth. It’s a point that Cathy Moore (rightly) hammers as one of her key messages. I only have to look at some of the exercises on our ILT courses where a brief amount of contextualised, scenarioized learning would improve things, even if for a moment.

    • Holly MacDonald (@sparkandco) says:

      Agree completely on the contextualization, which is part of the design of the learning experience or the delivery adaptations that you might take if you were to “run it live” as I outlined.

      I think we need to just be more creative with our tools and think more about the experience than the tool. For example, maybe there is also a synchronous meeting/discussion component in my outlined approach to enhance that contextualizing need.

      The point is, if we limit all elearning to fit in the elearning course box, then that’s a self-limiting exercise. The course can be part of a broader solution, and we need to think outside of the course/tool.

      But I have a feeling we are vehemently agreeing with one another 😉

  3. Robert Weeks says:

    Open question: is the use of role plays in a training room any different to a simulation in e-learning?

    • sam says:

      I think it has a different set of limitations, like how many people hate them as a concept because they are so contrived. However, for those willing to suspend their disbelief they are probably better than most eLearning scenarios because you have the freedom to react however you like.

  4. Jamie Merriman says:

    Nice conversation. I worked on an e-learning project in Australia that was soft skills for contact centre agents. There was an animated facilitator that was present throughout (helping with the transition of soft skills from the classroom to online). He had a large range of human-esqe emotions from anger, humour, disappointment and so on – this helped the engagement levels. But what was very useful was the use of the ‘fighting fantasy’ style mechanisms.

    When the learner had to use the learning in a contact centre scenario, they were presented with any database held information on the customer i.e. past calls, observations and so on i.e. the customer is generally nice but has little time.

    The learner then had to choose a state of mind to be in i.e. Monday morning hungover (!) and cannot be bothered with this customer. There visual body language/expressions changed to match the choice i.e. slouchy/defensive. The choices they were provided to verbalise to the customer then changed based on the state of mind choices …and so on and then the customer reactions where therefore different. Feedback from the mentor was sometimes provided and sometimes not, either charge on to the end or be remediated and have to start again.

    This worked very well as the learner was choosing from multiple branching opportunities and layers.


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