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