I’ve often complained about how the tools we have make it easy to do bad design. They make it easy to put PPTs and PDFs on the screen and add a quiz. And not that that’s not so, but I decided to look at it from the other direction, and I found that instructive. So here’re some thoughts on tools.
Authoring tools, in general, are oriented on a ‘page’ metaphor; they’re designed to provide a sequence of pages. The pages can contain a variety of media: text, audio, video. And then there are special pages, the ones where you can interact. And, of course, these interactions are the critical point for learning. It’s when you have to act, to do, that you retrieve and apply knowledge, that learning really happens.
What’s critical is what you do. If it’s just answering knowledge questions, it’s not so good. If it’s just ‘click to see more’, it’s pretty bad. The critical element is being faced with a decision about an action to take, then apply the knowledge to discriminate between the alternatives, and make a decision. The learner has to commit! Now, if I’m complaining about the tools making it easy to do bad things, what would be good things?
That was my thinking: what would be ideal for tools to support? I reasoned that the interactions should represent things we do in the real world. Which, of course, are things like fill in forms, write documents, fill out spreadsheets, film things, make things. And these are all done through typical interactions like drag, drop, click, and more.
Which made me realize that the tools aren’t the problem! Well, mostly; click to see more is still problematic. Deciding between courses of action can be done as just a better multiple choice question, or via any common form of interaction: drag/drop, reorder, image click, etc. Of course, branching scenarios are good too, for so-called soft skills (which are increasingly the important things), but tools are supporting those as well. The challenge isn’t inherent in the tool design. The challenge is in our thinking!
As someone recently commented to me, the problem isn’t the tools, it’s the mindset. If you’re thinking about information dump and knowledge test, you can do that. If you’re thinking about putting people into place to made decisions like they’ll need to make, you can do that. And, of course, provide supporting materials to be able to make those decisions.
I reckon the tool vendors are still focused on content and a quiz, but the support is there to do learning designs that will really have an impact. We may have to be a bit creative, but the capability is on tap. It’s up to (all of) us to create design processes that focus on the important aspects. As I’ve said before, if you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it!