Monday, January 18, 2010

Structure and Storyline: Some Answers for better e-Learning Design

Any media/article (starting from good old news paper and magazine) need to have high initial perceived "value" to garner mind and eyeballs direction. Even before the content is read, a scan of the structure and skimming of the document would reveal the interest level for continuation.

An ordinary paragraph and bullet looking document, can be transformed much better with visuals and side bar snippets. Further enhancements happen with providing action clues for participative reading such as, "
Try this exercise", Can you list down 3 points before proceeding to next chapter", "While you continue to read, think on what other options can the protogonist explore, experience (since that would be you) ", etc.

In many e-Learning courses, we tend to structure Course->Module -> Lessons -> Topics for any given content.Do they share a credible analysis or is it based on a single dimension to make them smaller/atomic LMS-friendly "standard compliant" chunks ? Many answers revolve around theories, standards, models. These are one-dimensional as the structure and storyline is content based. Rather shouldn't structure and storyline should be "User-based"?

A better structure stack could be:
1. Lead -> 2. List -> 3. Build Up -> 3. Break -> 4. Recap -> 5. Climax/Conclusions -> 6. References/Credits

Most e-Learning courses never contain the "references/credits" section. After taking a course, I am not sure, how credible the source is. In case of custom content, giving due credit to a senior management or an accepted subject expert in the company, gives the much needed brand anchor to the study. In case of catalog content, an approval from a known authority or a preface enables users to sift this master piece from the clutter.

Similarly the standard mostly used is:
Pretest -> Objectives -> Content -> knowledge Check -> Summary -> Post test while designing an instructionally sound course, but it does not give any credence to existence of storyline. A better instruction model could be:
1. Introduce Gap (Minimal Information) and exercise -> 2.Set actions -> 3. See and Follow Through -> 4. Dramatize ->5. Summarize ->Test and Analyze

Stating and rephrasing the content as smaller instruction pieces is what is considered "prevalent" Instruction Design. This is primarily, many time, the reason why SME's consider ID work frivolous. It has been very difficult to convince customer centric Subject Matter Experts that their role is in "defining" the content, while the Instruction Designer is to structure and story-base it for reaching out. "Dramatize" is the key differentiator between an ID and SME. ID to emphasize content need to dramatize portions of content. The tools available are phrases, quotes, questions, leading text, images, audio, background score, animations, exercises.

The best answer I expect from a designer is "My structure is what a user tells me they are comfortable with, and storyline is what the user desires to feel about the content material they already know or might have seen."

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