consistency?

How important is consistency across courses in an LMS? Here's my conflict. We have almost 300 courses offered for continuing education credits in healthcare, specifically medical equipment providers. I have been with the company for three years and have brought a lot of new ideas and am open to trying new things. Before I came, every course was EXACTLY the same...in every way...EXACTLY! I cannot stress that enough. Drab. Lots of text, limited images, no interaction, only linear builds. All test questions were true/false or multiple choice. And that's as far as it went. 

I'm making changes little by little, but I'm stuck and need some input.

The first slide of each course is a title page. The second page is called Before You Begin. It lets the user know they need 80% to pass (required), gives them a link to the Adobe site to update if needed, directs them to the Resources tab in the menu. The decision maker wants every Before You Begin page to be exactly the same. It used to be black text on white background. No one read it and we often go questions about the content on the page. I designed a cork board with post it notes. I think we've had good luck getting the users to stop and read the page. I didn't intend for this page to be a template. I wanted us to get creative with the boring, required pages in the beginning of the courses in an effort to get more users to read the information. 

He said this page needs to be the same in every one of the 300 courses. If we do that, I think we get back to the users skipping over it because they've seen the same thing in other courses. I've looked in my resources I usually go to to support why we need variety, but I can't find anything. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the courses should be all the same and consistency is key. 

I lean more towards a familiar flow. The player also has our logo, the resources and menu are in the same place. There are some concretes in our courses. I don't mess with navigation and such, but as far as the course design, I like variety. I feel like it keeps the learner engaged if it feels new and different. 

Any useful websites, blog posts, book, etc. would be helpful. I can usually persuade the decision makers when I have facts to back up my feelings. 

Thoughts? 

22 Replies
Daniel Brigham

Hi, Jill: Thank you for your honesty. It's helps us understand the situation.

Common sense. Boring training is bad training. I got that line from Michael Allen's Designing Successful Elearning book, and of course he's spot on. The content may be good, the learning objectives solid, but if the info is presented in a boring way, your learner won't learn much.

The visual look of a course should be as engaging as the information and activities contained therein. The visual look of a course is a subtle rhetorical tool: it says "this course is worthy of your time and attention." A boring-looking course, the opposite. Things become boring through repetition. (Why do you think infidelity is so popular?)

If you can't challenge the decision maker, I'd start with just one aspect of the courses (perhaps the opening page) and experiment on your own. Start with doing the opposite of what you usually do (I call this the George Constanza rule of development). Show three versions of the opening page to co-workers, and then eventually to the decision maker.

Here's a short list of design books that have helped me:

  • Robin Williams' Design Workshop
  • Presentation Zen
  • Slideology
  • Mo Willems' books (he does children's books, but he's simple and very creative)

You could always give us the topic of a course, and we could brainstorm ideas with you, too. --Daniel

OWEN HOLT

Get a good graphic designer to build an Ad for you...
Picture a hotel room with windows showing a beach front and 2 open closet doors.

Through one door, you see nothing but suits (dark colors - bland and boring)...

Through the other, a variety of cloths (bright colors - lots of variety).

The tag line reads... "If variety is the spice of life, which closet do you choose? When it comes to learning, our employees feel the same."

Jill Blaser

Honesty. It's one of my flaws.

I can't really complain because I have made great strides in making what I think are some pretty effective changes to our courses. I couldn't agree more with "boring training is bad training." There's a fine line in education. My job is to educate. Bottom line. And if that means that my users need some "fun" added into their training to keep their attention, then so be it. I'm not adverse to the idea. But I sometimes have a hard time convincing some of the other people that I work with who have done it the same way for years. 

Where do I give and where do I stand firm? What are the parts of a course that should be standardized for the user so as not to cause confusion? Or as we move forward into the age of short(er) attention spans, does standardization of courses even matter? 

Thanks for the resources. I have a growing library. I read anything I can get my hands on these days because I'm not really in the market for pursing my master's right now. I figure I should pay off undergrad first! And I've learned so much in the forums. It's a strange addiction I have. 

Jill Blaser

Owen Holt said:

Get a good graphic designer to build an Ad for you...
Picture a hotel room with windows showing a beach front and 2 open closet doors.

Through one door, you see nothing but suits (dark colors - bland and boring)...

Through the other, a variety of cloths (bright colors - lots of variety).

The tag line reads... "If variety is the spice of life, which closet do you choose? When it comes to learning, our employees feel the same."


Owen, 

I love this idea. Unfortunately, I know the decision maker I'm thinking about would say, "We're talking about education here. Not clothes on a beach." 

He's a tough one to crack. A creature of habit and stubborn would be an understatement. The only way I have been able to sway decisions is with hard facts and evidence that another (different) way is better. You should have seen the research I presented him just to change the font!

Nancy Woinoski

Ok call me crazy but I think it is silly to include "before you begin instructions" in the modules. If it is information they need to know before they begin then pull it out of the module and put it on the LMS and send it in the confirmation email when users register for the course.

If it is instructions on how to use the navigation, menu, resources etc., then I think it needs to be optional so that users who do not need the instruction don't have to suffer through it. In this case, a simple Help button might be all that is in order and it should be find if the instructions look the same in every single course.

I would save the creative stuff for the actual learning. 

Phil Mayor

Nancy Woinoski said:

Ok call me crazy but I think it is silly to include "before you begin instructions" in the modules. If it is information they need to know before they begin then pull it out of the module and put it on the LMS and send it in the confirmation email when users register for the course.

If it is instructions on how to use the navigation, menu, resources etc., then I think it needs to be optional so that users who do not need the instruction don't have to suffer through it. In this case, a simple Help button might be all that is in order and it should be find if the instructions look the same in every single course.

I would save the creative stuff for the actual learning. 


Agree here, most courses use back and forwards and the user needs to use a browser to load the course.

I have worked with clients who have a large elearnng repository and over time their courses have evolved, I think this is just normal.

When I was a classroom trainer my courses had a sense of humour, now i do learning my courses have a sense of fun, just because we are learning we don't need to be under exam conditions.

Jill Blaser

Nancy, I can't call you crazy because I agree with you. Like I've said, I'm not the one making decisions. I'm just trying to do the best with the situation I'm in. Do I think that we need a statement on the bottom of the first page telling a user how to use a previous and next button? Absolutely not! Do I think we need to explain how to use a simple drag and drop interaction? Nope. So currently, I'm picking my battles. I just wonder when it's worth standing my ground when I should be flexible. 

Nancy Woinoski

Jill Blaser said:

Nancy, I can't call you crazy because I agree with you. Like I've said, I'm not the one making decisions. I'm just trying to do the best with the situation I'm in. Do I think that we need a statement on the bottom of the first page telling a user how to use a previous and next button? Absolutely not! Do I think we need to explain how to use a simple drag and drop interaction? Nope. So currently, I'm picking my battles. I just wonder when it's worth standing my ground when I should be flexible. 

Agree, figuring out which battles to fight is hard. It sounds like you are making progress in improving your overall offering so that is a good thing. Is there anyway that you can reach out to your user-base to see what is important to them? Also you mentioned that you get questions about the content on the "before you begin page."  If you can somehow keep track of the number of questions, the frequency and type of questions you are getting maybe you can provide some evidence to the decision maker that these areas need to be revamped.

Gina Heumann

I agree with everyone else. Consistency can be good, but repetition of the same stuff in the same way over and over again is REALLY boring! People will zone out before they get a chance to start the course!

I really like Nancy's idea of reaching out to the users. Maybe you should suggest to your boss that you do a survey to see what they like and don't like (and you don't even have to tell him that YOU don't like his ideas!) to determine how you can improve your courses. Survey Monkey has free ones that work really well! Then you can show him statistics that will prove that you don't need the "before you begin" slide every time.

Jill Blaser

I love the idea of talking to our users. We do have a Survey Monkey survey at the end of each course because it's required by our accrediting body, but it focuses on if the course content meets the objectives, that kind of thing. I think if I can have more direct contact with our users and see what they need, that could be a huge help. Great idea! 

I love this forum. I love learning from everyone and having a place to discuss. I don't get that in the office I work in, and I appreciate this more than I can say. Thank you, as always! 

Sarah Noll Wilson

Jill you mentioned that your job is to eductate...bottom line.  I ran into a similar situation where all of the previous trainings used the same template (photos included).  So it didn't matter if your session was on time management or crucial conversations you saw the same photos of the same generic office photo stock.  At the time I knew this wasn't effective but couldn't articulate why...that was until I started to research the brain more intensly.  If you haven't already I would recommend understanding how our brains learn best.  No I am not referring to learning styles (auditory, visual, kinestetic), these are nearly myths but that is a discussion for another day.  I have found when people push against things backing up recommendations with science has been immensly beneficial.  There continues to be great movement in the work of understanding the brain.  A couple of resources which help summarize key concepts about the brain especially as it relates to learning which have positively impacted my design, development and delivery are:

  • Using Brain Science to Make Learning Stick - Sharon Bowman
  • Brain Rules - John Medina
  • The Owner's Manual for the Brain - Pierce J. Howard

Our brain does in fact go on auto pilot when something becomes familiar and repetitive.  It's why we can drive home some days and not remember how we got there   but once something changes (i.e. we hear sirens) it wakes up our brain (specifically the Reticular Activiating System) to scan the new information.  Different is always better than same. 

And to add on to Daniel's list I really like the "Beyond Bullet Points" book. 

Jill Blaser

Sarah Noll Wilson said:

Jill you mentioned that your job is to eductate...bottom line.  I ran into a similar situation where all of the previous trainings used the same template (photos included).  So it didn't matter if your session was on time management or crucial conversations you saw the same photos of the same generic office photo stock.  At the time I knew this wasn't effective but couldn't articulate why...that was until I started to research the brain more intensly.  If you haven't already I would recommend understanding how our brains learn best.  No I am not referring to learning styles (auditory, visual, kinestetic), these are nearly myths but that is a discussion for another day.  I have found when people push against things backing up recommendations with science has been immensly beneficial.  There continues to be great movement in the work of understanding the brain.  A couple of resources which help summarize key concepts about the brain especially as it relates to learning which have positively impacted my design, development and delivery are:

  • Using Brain Science to Make Learning Stick - Sharon Bowman
  • Brain Rules - John Medina
  • The Owner's Manual for the Brain - Pierce J. Howard

Our brain does in fact go on auto pilot when something becomes familiar and repetitive.  It's why we can drive home some days and not remember how we got there   but once something changes (i.e. we hear sirens) it wakes up our brain (specifically the Reticular Activiating System) to scan the new information.  Different is always better than same. 

And to add on to Daniel's list I really like the "Beyond Bullet Points" book. 

I have just finished Brain Rules by John Medina. I'm currently reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Very interesting!!
Natalia Mueller

Hi Jill,

As long as we're all being honest here I'll tell you that it doesn't matter what his intro slide says because no one is reading it anyway. Even if you make it beautiful, after seeing it once the next time a learner gives it a glance they will be off to the next slide and I would too. It is definitely a shame to start a course off by "telling" the learner they might as well skip ahead but I think you have the right idea about choosing your battles. If your decision maker meets his consistency needs by having the same player and intro slides on every course, learners won't notice or care until they get into the "good stuff" that matters and that's your spot to shine. Ideal? No. But if there are any battles to be had, save them for content design. 

Side note, when I have a series of related courses I'll give them the same player and overall design. But every series is different for all of the reasons you stated. We tune out the familiar and it's the opposite of engaging. You have reality on your side. Keep up the good work and do great things with everything you can control. More likely than not you'll get all kinds of awesome experience that you'll take with you to another opportunity. I don't know if you've noticed but great IDs are a pretty hot commodity these days.

All the best!

Cary Glenn

I understand your situation. I've been in similar places. I've was lucky enough that I had the option of changing my workplace because I wasn't going to change the attitude. I feel sorry for the learners.

When one company I worked for was just starting to introduce elearning we had a "how to" slide. Soon we transferred to a system where the we had a branching slide for that information. Soon we got rid of the slide altogether. I think if they can figure out how to get on the course the person is smart enough to figure out how to navigate the course.

Kineo has some some very good resources. Here is one on compliance learning. http://www.kineo.com/documents/Kineo_compliance_insight_guide_v1.0.pdf

One of the questions you will have to ask is, "Why". Why does it need to be that way? You probably need to also ask, "What will it take to change your mind?" The company hired you for a reason, you have to convince then to let you do your job.

Bruce Graham

As I say to many clients - "These are people who are going to pause a course, go to a vending machine for some coffee, answer their cellphone, or do some photocopying during the course, all of which are infinitely more complicated than anything they have to do here. Do you still think they REALLY need this all explained to them, every time, on every course, sometimes more than once?"

Making a caricature often re-frames the argument.

Here's a reply from last night on this issue, where they had "If you are happy with what you have learned please press Next" on each slide/pages' script:

I am fine with your proposal, as I believe you are more experience in e-learning modules then I am. I assume as well that most of them will manage.

Bruce

Jill Blaser

I think it's time for me to get an online portfolio together. I like stability, so freelancing is a HUGE fear I have and a leap I don't know if I'm willing to take just yet.  All the what ifs...

Cary, I'll definitely read the guide in your link tonight. Thanks! 

Natalia, I agree with you, and I think that's the way I look at it. We have categories of courses. Within each of these categories I use the same player and design. That's all the consistency I feel that the courses need. Maybe? 

Bruce, I love this!!: As I say to many clients - "These are people who are going to pause a course, go to a vending machine for some coffee, answer their cellphone, or do some photocopying during the course, all of which are infinitely more complicated than anything they have to do here. Do you still think they REALLY need this all explained to them, every time, on every course, sometimes more than once?"

Making a caricature often re-frames the argument.

I hadn't really looked at it that way, and that may prove very helpful to me. 

Here's a question: do we design to the masses or to the exceptions, the outliers? For example, with the Before You Begin page that I mentioned, I feel like that's needed for the exception. I feel like I know the answer, but I'd like everyone's input. I feel like I try to design for the "average" user, but then how do we accommodate the exceptions?

Natalia Mueller

Jill Blaser said:

Here's a question: do we design to the masses or to the exceptions, the outliers? For example, with the Before You Begin page that I mentioned, I feel like that's needed for the exception. I feel like I know the answer, but I'd like everyone's input. I feel like I try to design for the "average" user, but then how do we accommodate the exceptions?


A popular alternative to the standard intro slides (and a great compromise for a boss who thinks it needs to be in every course) is to provide that additional instruction as an option. In Studio you can add an Engage interaction up on the player tab and label it Navigation or something else to that effect. Storyline makes it super easy to create a lightbox slide that can be opened from anywhere. A small help icon can be added to the screen or just available on one of the first slides.

There is nothing wrong with having extra help available for those who need it. Setting it up so it's optional allows everyone else to get on with learning. Maybe a good approach with your boss is to show him how those instructions for how to get around the site can be available ANY time, not just on the first slide. If someone gets confused or doesn't remember what the next button does, the help is there! Maybe leave out the sarcasm though  

Natalia Mueller

Have you ever seen Mike Ender's Psyched in 10 course? I always liked how he set it up with the very first slide showing the user where to click if they need more. They can advance at any time or explore right then. 

Tom Kuhlmann has actually tackled this topic more than once over the years in his blog. I found a couple of them for you if you haven't seen them before. There are some great ideas in each.

Do You Really Need Instructions on How to Use an eLearning Course

More Than a Dozen Ways to Navigate an E-Learning Course

Jerson  Campos

Hey Jill,

I'm kind of in the same boat.  I started working with my company about a year ago. Before me they had the same plain template used over and over again and really ugly captions that came standard with captivate. Our client doesn't like change very much so our project manager never changed anything for the past 3 years. I've slowly started showing them new things and creating new templates for us to use. While not everything I suggest or redesign gets used, some of it is and that's progress. It sounds like you're making the same progress I am.  

I do believe that following the same structure for each course helps the flow and make it more efficient to develop for, I think the look can change from topic to topic.  We've developed different themes for the different departments we build courses for. We keep the structure the same that way when they do some cross training they know what's expected of them. Not only that, when they see something new in one of the courses they usually ask why their courses didn't have that cool interaction.

But I don't let any of the rejections of my ideas get me down.  I usually use them elsewhere or keep trying new things to test my skills. I like to look on this forum and see if anybody has any design/trigger problem that I could help with. This way I challenge myself, develop new skills, and help somebody out.