Monday, January 08, 2007

The Tao of Design

The Learning Circuits Blog: once again challenges us with a Big Question Quality vs. Speed

What are the trade offs between quality learning programs and rapid e-learning and how do you decide?

For this big question, I want to look beyond the rapid eLearning tools and more into overall design philosophy.

In all professions, the question of quality versus speed seems to be on everyone's mind. I remember several years ago in a focus group of customer service reps I was challenged with the question of how do they balance the quality of their contact with customers with the amount of calls they are expected to take.

The reps were under the false impression that to provide quality service, they would have to spend more time on each call. As we demonstrated with L3 studies of the customer service course we ultimately developed, proper quality can result in greater speed.

I should emphasize at this point the words proper quality and differentiate that from quantity. As developers, we often are asked to include as much quantity in a program as possible as to improve quality.

For example, in a project I'm currently working on, one of the constant requests is to include more 'adult learning principles' and more 'highlights' in some application demonstrations.

When you look at a program page by page, it is easy to get lost in all the quantity of possibility. Including all of the elements some believe make a program 'quality' at every point you are told by textbooks may seem to result in a perfect course in the eyes of learning theory, but what does it really give your learner?

In striving for quality, as measured solely by quantity, you run the risk of reaching the point known as data asphyxiation. Data asphyxiation is simply providing your learners so much information and so many 'quality' elements that they reach a saturation point. The ultimate quality course you think you've developed has simply drowned your learners in more information than even Steven Hawkin could handle.

Your 'Quality' course now is both too long and not informative.

So where does the balance of Quality and Speed come from? How can you produce a course that is fast to develop, fast to take, and yet provides the quality of content that 'sticks'?

There are a few points to look at when creating a quality course quickly.

1. How much time are you spending on the 'raw' development? I remember when our team used to work from Dreamweaver with home grown eLearning templates. We would factor in almost as much time in the raw development period than we did researching and storyboarding. By using a rapid eLearning tool, you can shift a lot of your time away from the course development and focus on the quality of content.

2. What do your learners already know? Sure, it may be good to explain all the unusual terms they would find in their job, but are these terms familiar to them already? Instead of having page upon page describing these terms, include a glossary if having these terms defined is absolutely necessary.

3. Focus on Where not How. If you are teaching a billing system that has hundreds of transactions, there is no way that your students will remember each and every transaction. If, however, there your students have an on-demand reference system with the instructions, focus on where to find the steps to complete each transaction, not how to process each one.

4. Let your student browse. In training a system, for example, It is easy to get caught up describing each and every field and button with highlights and arrows. When you are developing a course, this may even seem like the perfect way to train, but what does your student see? Cut back on highlighting every point and instead allow your students the opportunity to explore and discover on their own.

Quality doesn't always come from quantity. Sometimes a 'rapid' course can have more sticking power than a course full of every 'textbook' quality example.


Dave Lee said...

The comments on this post are being tracked and aggregated as part of Learning Circuits Blog's The Big Question for January. Thanks for participating, Matthew!

Tony Karrer said...

Matthew, I agree with your approach to focusing on the core stuff and making that as high a quality as you can. However, I often see where there's a trade-off between what I could build given unlimited resources (highest quality solution) and what I end up building based on constraints. Don't you also face those decisions?

Matthew Nehrling said...

I understand what you are saying, however, I feel that we would be most dangerous if we had unlimited resources.. When we have to work within constraints we are forced to find the point of what is the most important information and what is the best way for our learners to get those.

With an unlimited budget and resources we would be tempted to include more than we need- simply because we 'can' and we think that the more we include (be it games, simulations, etc) would improve quality.