Almost twenty years later - I did not see this coming...

Jun 30, 2017

In 1999 I started as a competence manager with the Emergency dispatchers in Sweden, and introduced E-learning. It was more of a change management-project than a techie project, since e-learning was new to most of the staff then. But we got over the hurdles and it went well. Really well. One of my pet peeves was "you should not have to do training (or be an engineer), to handle your e-learning, it should be user friendly and intuitive!".

Almost twenty years later, one of my major problems at a client, with a mixed agegroup (25-65), is that they are so used to e-learning being just a boring presentation on their computers, they cannot handle the interactions! A lot of the users expect it to just roll while they sit (sleepily) watching it and maybe even doing other stuff at the same time.

I did not see that coming. I actually HAVE to make an introductionary course to teach the users how to do e-learning, that this-is-not-a-video: You have to be active, curious, click on things, solve problems and answer tasks, in order to complete your training.

And - parden me for being rude - going through the community, with loads of wonderful freebies and good discussions, I also realise that a majority of the wonderful stuff we share with each other are "presentations". Not "learning-activities" ...

Do you agree? Did we bring this on ourselves? Am I being naive?

Starting this discussion with the best intentions. Yours/Pernille

8 Replies
Bob S

Hi Pernille,

Thanks for starting the conversation.  Setting aside how we got here for a moment, how about a different thought on handleing this situation for your learners?

Not sure how best to describe the idea other than the "narrator stepping to the footlights" (theater term).   Disney and some others have used this in decades past when they wanted to introduce something new.  At the front of the first course you create a character/avatar that speaks directly TO the learner ABOUT the learning experience they are about to undergo. Imagine something like this... (super quickie example)

"Hey you... yes YOU. This is not your ordinary e-learning course.  There will be no cruise control, set and forget experience.  You are going to have to think and engage and interact in order to learn!. Let me show you want I mean....    See that button down there, you will need to tell me it's time to move on.  So go ahead and push it now... I'll wait"

(Then have another prompt or two that cycles every few seconds until the learner engages. Foot tapping, checking watch, "you still there?", etc).

"Nice, that's the idea.  But it's not just about hitting buttons either. You are going to have to make decisions too. Let me show what I mean...."

You get the idea. Make it fun, make it challenging, make it a bit edgy to wake them up and shake things up.  Do this at the front of the first course and you may find your learners demanding this kind of interaction in all the others!     Now that's the problem you want to have... 


Phil Mayor

There is a move back towards videos and animated learning. Youtube is likely one of the most used adult education tools now.

I do think this comes down to interaction design, I had a great discussion with a colleague today about affordance which basically means how an objects design can intuitively imply its function. 

I fully agree with Bob's post above about using on boarding to prepare the user, I don't think you need to walk them through every interaction. The interactions should be designed so they are intuitive. It may be they are just not intuitive enough.

The same discussion today came up because a micro learning I developed has a simple tabbed interaction that users are skipping over and then failing the game at the end. We have tested external to the client and found that 30% of people do not see it as a tabbed interaction, I disagreed with rebuilding, actually though 30% of users are missing about 30% of the course so we need to revisit the interaction.

You may not need on boarding though, look at the way apps are designed with just in time instructions, my favourite app at the moment is things3 which gives you instructions as you expose more features. Even Adobe has this with illustrator where you find a new feature it offers a video on how to use it, or if they have changed the interface point you to a better way of doing the job.

The world of UI has changed to where you should expect a 12 year old to be able to use your creation without instructions and where you have complex or non-standard UI you should introduce some guidance.

Tom Kuhlmann

Presentation-based content still has a place. In fact, most "e-learning" isn't really learning as much certified exposure to information. And in that world, the industry won't shift much. The focus will always be on cheaper, faster, and prettier. :)

As far as interactivity and engagement, some courses have well-intended interactions but the execution isn't right. That could lead to confusion. Or the interactive elements are superfluous and the person taking (what should be a click, read, and get back to work) course is frustrated by the design of the interaction.

I think Phil makes some good points about interaction design. As far as training on the interactive experiences I like the way the Wii handles new interactions. 

Essentially the course should be relevant and meaningful to the user. And from there, the interactions should have purpose. With those first two, it's easier to focus on the UX and design. If the course has no meaning and the interactions exist only for the purpose of interactivity, then the issues you raise will always present themselves.

In terms of what's shared in the community, simple templates are easier to share than more complex interactivity. I don't think it's a reflection of the industry. In fact, based on what I've seen in my ten years at Articulate, the quality of the courses and creative design of them has improved significantly. I think many of the weekly challenge entries demonstrate that.


Pernille Ravnskov

Great replies, made me think about a few things in a different way. Where to start...

I agree - no interactions just for the sake of interactions. Any interaction should provide a resource for the user to enhance the learning experience or at least be able to see if they got it right.

As far as On-boarding the user (in a fun and challenging way): we did that with the first couple of tries. There's a presenter who points to a "micro course" within the course. It lets you chose it if you haven't tried any of the modules before, but skip it if this is your umpteenth time.

They still missed a lot of material, like the tab example described by Phil Mayor. So we figured it was the general attitude of curiously-click-everything that was lacking, and that we wanted to stimulate. Most of our material (70%?) will be micro-learning, and we don't feel there is room in everyone of them for an extended Onboarding.

We took this excuse to make a seperate "How to learn" course/module, and make it part of the mandatory package that all our learners have to do. It's a very light hearted course, with games and tests (like a voluntary Kolb-learning-style-test, a "slider-action" to reflect on what triggers you to excel at learning, how your attitude effects your daily tasks, the difference between knowledge/skills, etc). And all through that we let them try different types of interactions.

I've been playing MMORPG games for years and love the way they are intuitive and guided by NPC's when necessary/introducing new stuff. You never hear a kid saying "I need to take this course to be able to play Zelda/World of warcraft/Counter-strike ... but of course the real pro's do - they go on Youtube for hours to learn from others. The benefit of playing a lot of games, like the old Myst and the modern whatever-the-latest app is (I'll take a look at things3), is that you learn to push-every-button...

And I agree, there will always be the need for speed and the click-read-and-get-back-to-work, certified exposure to information. Also. And it is easier to share simple designs than complex and elaborate (usually very specific) alternatives. Thanks for reminding me :)


David Tait

Have you found that there is a particular generation within your cohort who struggle with the course being interactive?

I'm interested in the challenges of designing digital learning for a multi-generational workforce, especially with Generation Z coming of age.

By 2020, Gen Z'ers (born after 1995) will account for up to 24% of the workforce according to some estimates. These people will have vastly different learning preferences to the majority of Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1964) and that's bound to change the way we design learning experiences.

This brings me to your question, "did we bring this on ourselves?".

I don't think it will ever be possible to accommodate 100% of learners' learning preferences but we need to work hard to get close to a 'one-size-fits the majority' solution.

To do this I believe that there needs to be a shift back to better designed e-learning courses. Certainly in the last 5 years I've noticed a trend that marginalises the graphic design element of the e-learning design process, most likely because of reduced budgets but also because some don't feel that graphic design is important whereas others feel they can make savings by doing it themselves.

Both outcomes, more often than not result in less than effective digital learning experiences, and both outcomes will turn off too many of today's learners who happen to live in a media-rich environment where EVERYTHING has been designed on purpose.



Pernille Ravnskov

The only think that worries me with Gen Z'ers is the skeuomorphs used from my generation - like the "save"-icon being a disk... My current  clients worksforce is 30 - 65 and here I'm more worried about the top age tier. Also because the nature of the work is a bit paranoid and off-the-grid ;) so they don't use the internet as much as their peers in other places.

I'm a big fan of Steve Krug's book "Don't make me think". My copy is from 2000, and still carries a lot of good rule of thumbs (I recommend it!). In the Scandinavian countries we are used to a plethora of cloud based services: everything bank, all sorts of shopping, transportation services, all government services, health care etc. You basically cannot live here without your digital ID. I'm not saying they are all perfect usability examples, but they do strive to make you think less. And aside from filling out forms (that you might even auto-fill) and push a play button on YouTube, there's not much demand for actually interaction. Except if you are a gamer... so no, gamers and gaming generations are not the problem if you want people to interact.

Example - the other day one of my users (50+ ... my age) could not find the pause button and was sure there was something wrong with her e-learning module. She could clearly see the play-button... but the idea of a toggle button was new to her.

Megan Corker

I agree with everyone's responses here. Usually learners will protest about interactions because they're having to think about what's required of them and by the time they figure it out, they can't be bothered any more. Interactions need to be intuitive. There are many articles written about this - how to make something look 'clickable' or 'draggable' without having to write long instructions for the learner. Also, you could argue that if the learner isn't interested in interacting they have no motivation to 'find' the information. If the information is of no interest to them, why should they go looking for it via an interaction? They've immediately lost interest because it takes effort. Learners need to care about what they're doing in the interaction. Motivation theory needs to be applied.

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