Linear courses and big providers

I know we talk about breaking away from linear courses on here. But what about the big providers of e-learning courses like this one for example in the UK

As you can see from the demo's, these courses lend themselves highly to a very linear approach with images, animation, video. What gets to me a little bit is that we often get told that these companies are supposed to be at the forefront of e-learning and are still producing content that we use to see over ten years ago. Is it just me or should we not be steering away from this static approach and add more interactivity.

16 Replies
Bruce Graham

I'm confused...

You are saying they "...lend themselves highly to ..."to this type of linear treatment, yet you seem to dislike it. There seems to be a contradiction here, unless I am misunderstanding you.

Most of us are trying to move to "new style" training. It may take many years, and some people will just "bash out" linear coursesbecause their clients do not know better, or do not want anything else due to e.g. budget and culture. Do not under-estimate the hold those can have on the "old ways".

We have people on this forum who are doing major work with the NHS, so perhaps when they can see examples of "the new", they will move that way.

Bruce

onEnterFrame (James Kingsley)

I think both types of course have their place. Often the student just needs the info quickly so that they can get back to work. Mobile Learning (read: "phone") is a good example of that. And I have seen companies expend a lot of resources trying to make training "more interesting" when they knew the processes/software would change within the year. It all had to be re-done.

If your content is static and the concepts can truly be reinforced  with complex interactions then go for it! Letting a student wire up a simulated transformer can drive home the concept while making the training more relevant . Having the student "interact" with customers in scenario were they can see the outcome of their choices is invaluable. 

Both types of courses have their uses.. it is up to us to choose wisely when and where to use them.

James

Ben Riller

It's a mistake to think "linear bad, highly-branched good". As with so much in e-learning, trends  - in instructional theory, assessment, interaction design, navigation, "two-point-oh-isms", micromonitors, gaming, etc... - get latched on to and turn unquestioningly first into a fad, then a craze, then a thoughtless must-have. It happens again and again. I've been frequently reminded over my 15-plus years in CBT / e-learning of that important guiding principle that comes through in the counsel of all the big names in instructional design, interaction design and graphic design - strive for simplicity. Simplicty in appearance, presentation, navigation, phrasing, chunking, discovery, blending. Even in the informal add-ons that are now cluttering the average LMSes. Be selective. Pick with care. With a little care, you can design an engaging and instructionally sound course that is linear. This doesn't mean avoid complex lessons, but so often a branched or multitiered lesson turns into a dog's breakfast, leaving the learner befuddled and annoyed. Keep an eye on trends, as you must, but tread your own path. If you're a competent ID, that route holds no fears and plenty of rewrads.

Jonathan Y

I think what I was trying to get across was the fact that I do highly respect the way these courses get built, but feel its now time to move onto the next level and introduce more complex interactions like James has pointed out . When you spend time looking at the new techniques from storyline etc and what you guys do, you tend to look at other courses a bit different and can see the potential these courses would benefit from extra interactivity and techniques. We do need a good balance of both.

Ben Riller

Yes, I see what you're gettng at (Mister Y). The simplicity I was referring to is at more of a fundamental level. Where I agree with you is that there is a lot of just plain shoddy e-learning out there, rather rude to say so maybe, although we've all seen it, we can't help doing really. Poorly written course content, screens bustling with too many words, long sentences and meaningless graphics; repetitive interactions and or questions that don't engage the learner at any sort of level except for the yawning reflex; and so on. The problem with a lot of those is simply a lack of proper instructional design input into curriculum planning and lesson writing. I say writing advisedly, rather than storyboarding, because a well course can have all the right gizmos but fall down on its basic content. I'm not imputing any of my general comments towards the eLH material that you orginally mentioned. I think a lot of it is pretty good, some less so. What I don't like to see, which I think a lot of the medical e-learning in general is guilty of, is the talking head leacture repurposed as "e-learning".

Phil Mayor

I develop a lot of courses for the NHS, I don't think ELfH will ever be producing ground breaking elearning. One of the reasons for this the the hardware they must make thier courses available for. Most of the NHS still uses IE6. 

We have recently completed a series if elearning modules for the NHS, comprising of 90 scorms. We included some rudimentary branching, animations and videos. At the start of the project my proof of concept was highly animated, with complex branching   When delivered this was diluted down because a lot of then did notorious the animations/branching. 

I think some of this is based on expectations and what elearning has been seen before. An interesting point is that we rebuilt one of the courses in Storyline this week with all the animation, branching put back in and they love it

Bot types if courses have their positives and negatives, but these are the tools we have as instructional designers. We should not throw out what works just because of what is trendy

Jeanette Brooks

Really enjoying this discussion!

I consume linear content every day when I read a book or help my kids review a math lesson. A lot of times linear content is designed that way on purpose because the content tells a story that builds concept-by-concept, or because learners need to master certain skills or knowledge in a very specific sequence. So, I think linear content will always have a rightful place.

What bugs me, though, is when content is locked down and learners have no way to break out of the path and explore. If I'm reading a book, for example, sometimes I want (need) to look ahead and see how the story ends—I might even argue that when I'm able to do that, I have a better/richer reading experience when I do go back and read the story all the way through. Or: if I'm doing math with my kids, I might want a way to flip to a different page and compare the current story problem with the next one or the previous one. So, even though content might be designed to be consumed in a linear way, I think it's still important to free up learners to consume the content in whatever way makes the most sense for them.

Phil Mayor

I agree with Jeanette on this locked down, restricted content really irritates me.  My other bugbear is the insistence that all content must me viewed.  I always say to anyone who suggests this, that if I was delivering a taught course there is nothing stopping anyone falling asleep during my session (this has happened once to me).  You cannot force someone to learn, but you can make it as easy as posible to facilitate this

Sheila Bulthuis

Great discussion!  I’ve seen a few others recently on this topic…  One thing I keep seeing is that people seem to use linear interchangeably with low -interactivity and nonlinear interchangeably with interactive.  In my mind, linear/nonlinear and interactive/static are different dimensions of the course experience.   I think of linear/nonlinear as having to do with how many ways there are to get through the content – e.g., you go A to Z, going through all the letters in between in order OR you jump around the alphabet in any order you choose, and you might even skip some of the letters.  Interactivity, on the other hand, is about what the learner does in the course, how he or she “touches” the course. 

Non-linear courses require some interaction, because the learner has to “touch” something to decide which way to go.   And I think that’s good – as Tom K. pointed out in his blog recently, even that minimal interaction can make the user just a bit more engaged in the course.  But to Jeanette’s point, linear can be useful and its usefulness can be enhanced with the inclusion of meaningful user interaction.     A linear course that has interactions that make me think, apply information, etc. might engage me just as much as a nonlinear course with only interactions related to the branching – and I might be learning more with those interactions than I would in a course that has branching but is just an information dump within each of those branched paths.

Not saying one way is better than another – I think that depends on the content and the client’s needs – but I do think that “linear-ness” and interactivity are two different things…. 

Pam Jones

Great discussion. I was involved with ELFH project and have since been involved in other healthcare/medical elearning projects.

As Phil mentioned above, one of the reasons why the elearning is developed in this way, certainly in the UK for NHS, is the minimum hardware specification courses need to be developed. ELFH was huge scale project, 50 projects over 3-4 years and in each year developing something like 3000-4000 modules. Given the amount of content we had to build, complexity of some of the subjects, (and other factors) linear was the best option. It was never locked down and was great to see how it was used – as part of a blended approach. E.g Consultant Doctor about to meet up with trainees and logs on to refresh knowledge on XYZ topic; asks them to complete the topic before he meets them. Then “tests” them on hospital floor through the discussion they’re having.

It’s great to see elearning advancing so much into non linear design but linear still has a place for the project that needs it for whatever reasons as long it still engages the end learner.

Killian Holmes

This discussion is interesting. I don't think that it is a case of pitching the linear versus the branched. I've learnt a lot from reading, which is linear. I've learnt a lot from the internet jumping to whatever interests me, just like branching. The learning outcome is the important thing. Interactivity is great but of itself doesn't guarantee the learning. Sometimes dazzled by technology I've focussed on the wrong thing, animations, buttons or whatever. We work in elearning and  talk a lot about how we should construct things for maximum learning effectiveness. The thing that is really tricky  is learner motivation. A motivated learner can get what they need even from a rubbish course. A learner without motivation is like the horse to water, you can lead him there but you can't make him drink. The real question is, how do we motivate learners?

Bruce Graham

Killian Holmes said:

The real question is, how do we motivate learners?


Excellent question, and excellent point.

In business, this is often the piece where Instructional Designers can add value.

"Why should I take that annual Health and Safety course?" - perhaps explain that it does not have to be about the often nebulous concept "H&S", it can be about "How much more cash we'd have for bonuses if we didn't spend it all on lawsuits", (or whatever...)

In training, we motivate because learners seeing personal and business benefits to consumption - that's it really - it's not rocket science.

Very often the "solve it with some training" approach does not work because the surrounding envelope of corporate communication is not there.People do not know WHY we are doing this training, "My boss sent me here..."

"People are our greatest asset" ?  I once worked for a very large and successful multinational company where this was actually removed from their corporate language, because they knew it was untrue. As a result, training was muddled, courses were thrown around without any major strategic thinking, and vast amounts of money was wasted - all the effort was put into the wrong places from a training perspective. There was no WIFM (What's in it for me?) for anyone, let alone the learners. Training was seen purely as a cost on a P&L, there was no thinking around the concept of human capital and training as a corporate investment.

The hugely observant Killian wrote:

"...A motivated learner can get what they need even from a rubbish course..."

Not exactly palatable for many of us in this industry, but absolutely and completely ture in many respects.

I think, however, that part of that "motivation" now comes from what is an acceptable form of tool to learn with - and that's where Storyline comes in. It is a means to an end, sometimes though we do rather tend to forget the end is not mastery of the tool, but the learner'smastery of the topic.

Bruce

Bruce Graham

Pam Jones said:

Great discussion. I was involved with ELFH project and have since been involved in other healthcare/medical elearning projects.

As Phil mentioned above, one of the reasons why the elearning is developed in this way, certainly in the UK for NHS, is the minimum hardware specification courses need to be developed. ELFH was huge scale project, 50 projects over 3-4 years and in each year developing something like 3000-4000 modules. Given the amount of content we had to build, complexity of some of the subjects, (and other factors) linear was the best option. It was never locked down and was great to see how it was used – as part of a blended approach. E.g Consultant Doctor about to meet up with trainees and logs on to refresh knowledge on XYZ topic; asks them to complete the topic before he meets them. Then “tests” them on hospital floor through the discussion they’re having.

It’s great to see elearning advancing so much into non linear design but linear still has a place for the project that needs it for whatever reasons as long it still engages the end learner.


Many thanks for posting this Pam.

It highlights the point I was trying to make (and really should have made stronger) in my initial reply - cost and culture are so important to take into consideration when judging the "look" of a course. In retrospect, I wish I had challenged the original post a little more, rather than trying to take a middle-ground position.

Having spent 2 years at the DoH working at Richmond House in Whitehall, I've experienced the Health Service culture first hand.

Your explanation beautifully demonstrates why just looking at a list of "linear" courses should never be the sole way to judge their efficacy. These courses just form part of a blended learning culture that includes real "floor walking", the ultimate in interactive-branching assessments!  Not only do people get tested, they often get tested in front of a peer group by a person they all want to emulate.

Talk about WIFM!!! (see my earlier/last post).

I would estimate that about 80% of my current workload is "linear", much of it comes from the "please convert these slides to online learning" camp. In each case there are arguments for doing this - yet that does not mean that they are not engaging, built to serve a specific business need, or designed that way to achieve specific, measurable learner objectives.

When quoting the styles "...of 10 years ago..." in the original post, perhaps the simple answer is that it is actually completely fit for purpose, given your culture, your budget to produce, (which I suspect was tiny per unit...?), and the working culture of clinicians, doctors and consultants.  Sometimes, we may have an iPad, but need to search for the answer in a book. 

Thanks again for your valued comments, your perspective is hugely important in a discussion such as this.

Bruce

Will Hampton

The real question is, how do we motivate learners?



Is it really our job to motivate adult learners? I get that we have to with K12 education.

But adults? Adults can sniff out content designed for the company's "CYA" benefit a mile away. Does it make sense to try and hide that? Maybe we should include some kind of intro stating such? You know, similar to those car commercials where they fit the 1000-word disclaimer into a :03 spot.

Pam Jones

Let's not forget that , that although we may build a course which seems linear, as long as its not locked down, the learner may choose not to work through it a linear way. Of course, some courses may need to be worked through in this way, but if not, a simple explanation to say, they can choose to work through in any order may be all that it needs.