The other day I saw (once again) the question, “How long does it take to develop an hour of elearning?”
I don’t really know what “an hour of elearning is.” Well, I do: it’s a chimera. The phrase has more assumptions built into it than Southwest Airlines has boarding passes.
Even if you could find this imaginary user who makes an average number of responses and takes an average number of branches–so what? If I’ve designed the course so it adapts to the learner’s choices and responses, then I’m pretty much guaranteed to have sections where a lot of developer work went into material that most learners won’t see.
It’s kind of like asking how long it takes to stock 150 feet of grocery shelves without considering whether you’re talking about quarter-ounce spice bottles or 50-pound bags of dog food.
I realize that an organization or a client wants some idea of how long things take. But I rarely see such concern about a related question: how long does it take to learn?
I’m currently working with a great client; they’re eager to avoid bullet-pointed talk-shop training. They’ve involved experienced professionals and line managers in defining useful skills that the target audience needs but typically lacks. We want people grappling with realistic problems, and we want them reflecting on how they did when they grappled.
But we’ve only got so much time.
I’m trying to figure out ways to maximize the formal (or should I say “focused?”) time that our planned half-day sessions permit. That means a number of things:
- “Worked examples” as handouts or supplements to activities. If the problem were for you to design a simple web page, the worked example might be a different page that embodied some of the coding or design features you’re supposed to apply
- Optional support for procedural information, like a cheat sheet with HTML codes or a CSS with call-out explanations. The point is that the facilitator probably isn’t going to go over this ahead of time. Instead, she’ll offer it: “While you’re working on the problem, you might find the cheat sheet useful for understanding the style sheet.”
- Enforced delay (or, as I like to call it, time to think).
“Enforced delay” is my shorthand for dealing with the retrieval process essential to learning. It takes time to recall information from long-term memory. A drawback to live discussion is that the first people to respond to a question can end up stopping the retrieval process for others.
One theory of how learning works is that as we bring information from long-term memory into short-term, we reprocess that information. In a sense, we learn it again. It’s not like punching a button and replaying a recording. (This is why some of our strongest memories can differ so much from what really happened: we’ve relived the event time and again, and each recalling of it has transformed it.)
So what’s this enforced delay? This kind of thing:
Present a problem or activity for individuals to consider and actively respond to.
I have a graphic that says:
On your own, read the sample document.
Identify at least three problems.
(“Identify” = “write down”)
Have individuals combine responses in groups.
Nothing all that surprising about group activity in organized training. I think it’s important for the group to attack problems that have value–and for there to be enough time for the group to think about what it’s doing.
Have the group articulate its results.
This is another round of “think and do.” The group’s been working on whatever the problem is. Now the group reorganizes that into a summary. It’s the difference between “write an elevator speech” and “deliver it.”
Don’t fall asleep, now. Nothing here is all that startling. Still, the facilitators for these sessions may be line managers or others who’ll benefit from a little guidance: allow people time to think. Use silence to invite further discussion. Instead of handling down principles, start by encouraging people to derive some of their own, and then compare those with those from other sources.
I see more things going on. For example, I sense in myself a conflict between the need for people to do their own learning, and my desire to organize or structure things so they can learn faster–perhaps more arrogantly, “more efficiently” [as in, because of my efforts).
Material for another post; I’ve got to get back to creating activities that give people time enough to think and do.
CC-licensed ladder photo by mahalie.