Why is training so boring?

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Training is a common phenomenon in the work place. Most employees will have experienced some form of internal training throughout their careers. Sometimes this training is something that every employee needs to do (like fraud prevention training) or something more specific to your role (a software update or improving management skills).

Either way, most people have experienced training that they have found boring.

So why is some training so boring? And how can we design training that isn’t?

First, let’s look at why you might dread undertaking training and find it so dull.

Reason 1: You don’t care about the content.

This is probably the biggest reason why training is boring. Deep down, even if you want to do what your employer asks, you very likely don’t care that much about the content of the training. Health and safety is one of the usual suspects, but even something like an update on software you regularly use, or training on how to be a better manager can become boring. Even apparently relevant topics can be full of things you ultimately don’t really care about. If you find yourself day dreaming about other things during the training, the content isn’t engaging you.

Reason 2: The training is too long.

Perhaps the topic is of interest to you, but after 3 hours of talking about it or listening to someone else talk about it, you really feel like you’ve had enough. Sometimes particular topics are of interest for a short time, but with many training courses lasting several hours or all day, the amount of content, or the level of interest in the content, doesn’t match the duration. You find yourself longing for lunch time, and then longing for 5 o’clock. You’re barely listening any more and doodling in your notebook. Someone won’t stop giving their long-winded opinion. You’re officially bored.

Reason 3: You’ve been sat in the same place for hours.

It’s amazing how many training courses require a person to sit in a seat, perhaps in a circle or behind a table, for several hours listening to a trainer speak and having group discussions. We all know that sitting on a long-haul flight is dull. So why do we design training that is effectively the same thing? And long haul flights have on-board entertainment! The sedentary nature of being on a training course in a classroom or meeting room where you sit in the same spot for hours can almost guarantee boredom.

Reason 4: You’ve got more important things to do.

One of the biggest complaints about training is that employees are busy and being in training takes them away from their work. Their work doesn’t go away and is just piling up behind them, ready for when they return. This can lead to significant lack of engagement with training and a resentment of it happening at all. Resentment leads to significant discontent and a trainee who’s mind is elsewhere.

How do we resolve this?

Sometimes I think employers know all of the above, but they’ve almost come to accept the fact that training is boring and you just ‘have to do it’ and get it over with. Then they can go back to their normal jobs having ticked the correct box.

The problem with this approach is that an acceptance that training is boring actually renders it a huge waste of time and money. If employees are completely disengaged and bored, they are unlikely to change their behaviour or have gained any significant new skills from the training. They may as well have stayed at home.

Here are some ideas for how to resolve each of the reasons given above.

Reason 1: You don’t care about the content.
Resolution: Give them a reason to care.

It’s important, before training is delivered, for the organisation to accept that employees don’t care about certain types of training. Health and safety, as mentioned before, is a typical culprit. Employees genuinely don’t care about it. So how do we make them care?

We can increase their caring-meter by making the topic relevant to them. Employees don’t need to be ‘trained’ on the entire company health and safety policy. Many health and safety policies are created from templated documents based on UK legislation. This means that most employees will have seen a very similar policy before, at another organisation. In addition to this, most employees will never come into contact with most of what is in it. The important thing here is to make it relevant. Ask them about the places where they work in the office. Ask them to figure out what the health and safety issues might be. Most people have some idea to begin with and don’t necessarily need to be told. Then fill in any gaps they’ve missed.

Turn it into a game. Ask them to go to their own working space and point out the safety issues. Again, if they miss something, fill in the gaps.

Reason 2: The training is too long.
Resolution: Go for a minimalist approach.

Don’t make the training longer than it needs to be. Some employers have this idea that the longer the training, the better it must be. For example ‘All staff need 3 hours of equality and diversity training’. Why? Has anyone actually assessed what the content of that training is? Why does it need to be exactly 3 hours?

If you give employees the relevant information within a timeframe that takes into account their attention span (on average about 20 minutes), you’ll get much more engagement than forcing a 3 hour session. The more ‘dull’ the topic, the less time you should spend on it. If your health and safety training revolves around your policy, don’t forget that most adults can read. Why not ask them to read the policy and answer a few questions about it? This could take 1 hour maximum. Don’t add work that doesn’t need to be there.

If there is a lot of content, try breaking it up. Ask them to complete 15 minutes each day on a topic broken down into small chunks. Make the training feel like less of a chore and more of an additional thing to do at the end or beginning of each day.

Reason 3: You’ve been sat in the same place for hours.
Resolution: Why was this happening, ever?

I struggle to understand this situation, but it is very common in training. It’s one of those things which is historical and comes from our days in the school classroom with the teacher stood at the front. Some traditional practices were never questioned but when they are there is very little reasoning behind it.

If you make someone sit in the same spot for more than an hour you’re likely to lose their attention. Design activities and work that allows them to move around, leave the room, do activities on mobile devices, get into the workplace or go outside. You will engage them far more if they don’t feel like they’re in training-prison.

Reason 4: You’ve got more important things to do.
Resolution: Think about why employees should give up time to take this training. Is it important?

If employees feel like training is a waste of time you’ve lost them before they’ve even walked in the door. You need to make the training interesting enough to feel like a priority. Start with answering the question ‘Why are we doing this?’ If they understand the reasoning, and the reasoning is justified, you can engage people. If the reasoning isn’t justified, go away and rethink your training. If the training is of minimal importance, think about how and why it is being delivered. Could they complete something online that only takes 15 minutes? Could you assess their knowledge in another way? Don’t force something to happen which isn’t adding value.

In the right environment, training can be immersive and life-changing. Sadly, a lot of training is just badly designed with little thought. Often people are following traditional practises rather than really thinking about why and how employees need to be trained. Try to be more conscious about training delivery and you can make a real difference.

Using non-linear navigation and avatars in eLearning

As an eLearning developer, there are certain¬†ways¬†in which I¬†build courses¬†that can become stagnated and habitual rather than thinking purely about the learner every time I¬†design the screen that they will be interacting with. For example, it’s very easy to repeatedly end up with courses where the framework revolves around¬†the user clicking ‘Next’ to view the next piece of information, or clicking a button to reveal further information about something they’ve just read.

There’s been a small ‘Get Rid of the Next Button!’ movement in the eLearning development community for a while. I’ve been a keen follower of¬†any method that prise developers away from creating glorified PowerPoints and calling them eLearning. Our profession deserves better than this, and I’ve always been certain that creative people can think of more interesting ways of persuading a person to learn.

Interestingly, though, it’s easy to remove the next button and then almost end up adding it back in manually. Where does the user go next? To the next screen, of course. We can find ourselves drifting back on to that garden path very easily if we don’t keep trying to push away our bad habits and thinking outside of the box.

This is where non-linear navigation comes in. Imagine you have a topic, such as creating a Lean office. A Lean office is one that is efficient and devoid of wasteful processes and procedures. Everything happens in a way that doesn’t involve spending time, money and resources on unnecessary (and usually historical) ways of doing things.

The obvious way to present this information would be to tell the user some of it, and then progress on to the next part. Then the next. But, look out! It’s that sneaky Next button again.

To stop this happening, it’s best to think of this information as a ‘pool’ of information, rather than pages of text that needs to be broken down. If the information is in a pool, it means that the user can access it in any order they wish. They might find some of it useful, and not worry about the rest of it until perhaps later, when it becomes relevant.

In this example, I’ve tried to show how information can be accessed in a non-linear fashion. I’ve also added a gamification element of using ‘avatars’. The user gets to pick which office manager they want to hang out with. This example was created in Storyline 2.leanoffice

How can you prove learning in eLearning?

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The reason eLearning exists is because there is a learning need.

Despite that first sentence being an obvious statement to most people, it is surprising how many people undertake what I like to call eIrony rather than eLearning. It is easy for eLearning to turn into a way of merely presenting information to large groups of people, which ironically, often leads to no learning what so ever.

 

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Valentine’s Match game

I was always taught that Valentine’s day was for secret crushes rather than roses and chocolates. This matching pairs game matches the secret pairs!

Click the banner below to play.

Matching the pairs is a great way to introduce gamification in to eLearning. The user feels motivated by achievements, just like in a game. This game was created using very simple programming in Storyline 2.

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Using Buildings in eLearning Interactions

Giving users new ways to explore eLearning courses helps to motivate them to click on objects and find information for themselves. Using gamification techniques, we can use buildings graphics in lots of ways when developing interactions.

Below I have given three simple ways to use buildings in eLearning. Click the graphic to view the interactions.

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Graphic design in eLearning – Why does it matter?

There are a lot of different views in the eLearning community about how much graphic design really matters when creating online interactive learning experiences. Some of the arguments against the need for good, well thought out graphic design include ‘I’m not a Graphic Designer, I’m an Instructional Designer’ and ‘As long as the user learns and processes the information, why does it matter what it looks like?’ I’m going to argue in this blog post that graphic design really does matter. ¬†A lot. Far more than many eLearning developers think it does.

For me, a¬†professional eLearning developer can’t be successful without a good, up to date knowledge of graphic design. It is an integral part of the process of designing and developing an online learning experience.

You might be a developer who is part of a large team of designers, front-end and back-end web developers, copy writers, and editors, and so every part of the development of online learning content is delegated¬†amongst many people. However, for most eLearning developers, you’ll be working in a much smaller team, if not alone. Even if you work in a large team, having no knowledge or appreciation for graphic design is a dangerous world to live in.

How do you define ‘knowledge of graphic design’ anyway?

We’ve all seen poor graphic design, but how do we know it’s poor?

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(basball2015.wordpress.com)

Sadly not all ‘poor’ graphic design is this obvious. Plus this image just looks very dated (verging on retro?) But you can at least read the text. And the message is clear.

Bad design in eLearning is often far more subtle than this.  Compare these two images of eLearning interfaces:

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Which is better graphic design? Let’s examine this using a variety of themes.

Trends

This is key when it comes to designing your eLearning. What looks visually appealing will go in¬†phases. Just as you think you’ve got a grip on what’s ‘fashionable’ when it comes to graphics, it will gradually change, leaving your work looking dated. Keeping up with design trends is something that eLearning developers must do. An easy example of this is ‘flat’ design which has become increasingly popular. Getting rid of gradients, shadows and unnecessary detail in graphics is now giving eLearning a cleaner, simpler look. The bottom image shows off this trend perfectly. Block colour shapes and a simpler appearance gives the user a better overview of the information. The top image gives the user all of the information in a small font on about a third of the screen.

User processing

The user processes information depending on how it is laid out. The frightful ‘wall of text’ shown in the first image, which is the easy way to present information to the user, is not going to give the user any understanding of which information is important, and which information follows on from this. It also makes the information difficult to learn, as the user is not presented with any visual representation of the information. The second image gives the user a visual representation. They can get the same information, but it is presented in a way which enables them to create a visual memory. Visually remembering information is thought to be a far stronger way of processing than simply reading words on a screen (reference). This is why infographs have recently become so popular – they allow the person reading them to prioritise the information and visualise it in their own minds.

Gamification

Oh no, not gamification again. You may be as sick as the rest of us of this buzz word, but the reality is that people become addicted to games because they activate something in our minds which motivates us. ELearning has the reputation of being on the dull side at the best of times, so making the user want to participate is one of our biggest challenges. Even that dull health and safety module which everyone needs to complete can be turned into a game. What’s this got to do with graphic design? Everything, actually. Of those two images above, which one looks more like a fun game? The second, of course. In fact it even looks a bit like a board game. Either way, it looks as if the user needs to engage with it to get information. Design plays a key role in this.

In summary, we all know what looks like really great, inspiring eLearning, and what looks a bit old and dull. Perhaps putting our finger on why has more to do with graphic design than we initially thought.

Learning theories for eLearning: Kolb’s Cycle

I am a firm believer in learning theory, and how it should always be applied to eLearning. Online delivery should never be an excuse to just present information to the learner, and then expect them to know it well enough to undertake an assessment. ¬†If they have read the information, how do you know they’ve processed it? How long will they retain it if they processed it at all? What happens if they don’t understand it? ¬†These are all unanswered questions for eLearning developers who don’t use learning theory as the backbone for their projects.

The first theory I wanted to introduce¬†is Kolb’s theory of learning (1984). ¬†It is a 4 stage process in the form of a cycle. ¬†Kolb firmly believed that in order for a person to fully ‘learn’ something, they must experience it.

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But where to start within the cycle? From the top!

Concrete Experience

Having a concrete experience is where the learning begins for Kolb.  The learner should be having an experience in order to learn. In terms of eLearning, this can include information being given to them and activities based on this information.  A good variety of information and activity should take place at this stage.  This could be within the eLearning itself, or even an activity for them to do outside of the computer. They could come back to the eLearning to reflect on it. A good example of this is when eLearning refers to a practical qualification, such as a Hair and Beauty course. You can give the learner diagrams and activities, but one of the requirements might be that they actually go and perform a beauty treatment.

Reflective Observation

This is where the learner reviews their experience. And remember, in order to do this, they must have had an experience.¬†Simply reading pages and pages of text with some interspersed graphics is not an experience. And if it is, it’s a very boring one. You must make sure that the learner has experienced something, or the reflective observation stage is impossible. ¬†In order to reflect, the learner could write a short paragraph on their thoughts, or review the information in a summary activity.

Conceptualisation 

Concluding the experience places the information in the learner’s long term memory. Make sure that your learners are going to remember the information that you wanted them to process outside of the eLearning. Try to think about whether they would remember the information if they were tested on it next week, or the week after. If you don’t think they would, you need to go back to the concrete experience phase and make the experience more engaging.

Conceptualisation can include some kind of summarising of the information, or even an informal assessment. Perhaps give them a slightly different scenario, and ask them to apply their knowledge to this new scenario.

Active Experimentation 

The learner needs to take what they have learnt and apply it. ¬†The best learning is easily forgotten or dropped when a learner doesn’t use any of the information for anything constructive.

I distinctly remember doing a day’s training on a piece of software which everyone in our department needed to be trained on. Except, in reality, I would be using this software perhaps once every 6 months, and in a very limited way. I did the day’s training, which was practical and informative, and then in the next couple of weeks, promptly forgot everything I’d learnt. I knew I had forgotten it, and I knew why too. I wasn’t using any of the information that I had learnt. You must make sure that your learners have opportunities to put their learning into practice.

Practical tasks could include setting tasks for the learner to tick off a virtual to-do list, or suggested activities for them to test their learning. Whatever the task, this stage of the cycle solidifies the information and makes it much more likely to enter their long term memory, rather than fading away in their short term memory.

First blog post! What’s the difference between poor and excellent eLearning?

This is my first blog post, all about eLearning!

To introduce myself, I am Megan, an eLearning developer from the UK who is passionate about online learning and the learner experience.  I have been creating eLearning for about 7 years. You can read more about me and my interests on my About Me page.

My first blog post it going to be about ‘What’s the difference between poor and excellent eLearning?’

I have created and viewed a lot of eLearning in my time as a developer, and I have seen some pretty awful work, some very exceptional work, and everything in between. So what makes some eLearning excellent, and other eLearning mediocre?

I will use a quote from the late Steve Jobs here who said “Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.’ ¬†Despite having little knowledge of baseball, I think I get what he’s saying!

In other words, eLearning is about learning (the hint is in the title).  Learning experiences should be planned and executed in a way that allows the learner to absorb, retain and use the information, and gives them a positive experience of that learning.

Some eLearning doesn’t facilitate learning.

I think it’s fair to conclude that some eLearning is just a serious of graphics and text. The most interaction the user gets is when they click the¬†next button repeatedly to try and get through the task as quickly as possible, particularly if it’s a topic that they have limited interest in. ¬†They then come across an assessment at the end of the eLearning, usually in the form of a ‘quiz’. They attempt it by simply guessing the answers, which they manage fairly well, seeing as the wrong answers are so obvious. Hurray, success, they have completed the boring eLearning. Now they can go back to what they were doing before, which is likely to be of more worth than the hour they just wasted.

The question is, did they learn anything? Possibly, if they haven’t fallen asleep part way through, or skipped half of the content. Was it a positive learning experience? No. Does it facilitate long term memory storage of the information and actual behaviour change? No.

We must pay attention to learning theory. It exists for a reason.

The art of teaching is about imparting knowledge on to others in a way that they will understand and be able to process, turn into a long term memory, and put into practice. eLearning is teaching, without the teacher.  It has to provide the user with another information and activity to enable them to learn without a human facilitator. I passionately feel that eLearning developers or instructional designers should have some teaching experience or at least study various theories of learning before they can really create quality eLearning experiences. Without it, they are in danger of merely presenting information and then assessing the user on it, as described in the bad example of eLearning above.

There are many theories of learning, and I won’t go into them in detail here, as it’s worth at least one dedicated blog entry of it’s own. But any decent eLearning project should always be based around a solid plan for how the user is going to actually learn something by participating in the eLearning.

Excellent use of learning theory + impressive graphic design = Exceptional eLearning

I feel that if you can combine excellent use of learning theory with some impressive, consistent and well presented visuals, you could be on your way to creating exceptional eLearning. ¬†Again, graphic design in eLearning deserves a blog post or two all of it’s own, so I won’t go into details here.

That’s all for now, look out for my next blog post!