Something got me thinking about a few terrific teachers I had in school. I began to idly wonder about what it was about their teaching techniques that created such a huge impact on my mind. And what lessons from those classroom sessions could I apply to eLearning design and development today.
A few thoughts:
Passion– I think what set my English teacher in high school in a league of her own was her sheer passion for the subject and her ability to pass it on to us. Despite being a dragon, she had a way of coming up with fun activities that had the entire class elbowing each other just to be able to participate in them. A few activities that I can recall are an assignment in which we had to take one of the short stories in our textbook and convert it into a comic book. We were not judged on how good we were as graphic artists but on our conceptualization skills. The story being a humorous one, it provided plenty of scope for exaggeration and sheer fun – needless to say, for me it stays unforgettable till today. When it comes to eLearning, here’s an obvious observation – a lack of enthusiasm in design directly translates into a lack of enthusiasm from learners.
Motivation tactics– This teacher I mentioned sure knew how to push the right buttons to motivate us. The girls in class were hugely motivated by an opportunity to outdo the boys and so would put in extra effort to get their fun assignments right. The boys in turn felt they had to defend their reputation – and the teacher managed to get the best out of both warring factions. She certainly understood and drew upon motivational strategies to increase student participation. In our eLearning context, what buttons can instructional designer push to get buy-in from learners (Think of Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation). Consider the potential of a well conducted audience analysis and how powerfully we can use it.
Demos– I still remember a poem on the pied piper of Hamlin in which one of the lines went ‘And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled, Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled’ Did this teacher stop at just reading it out? Oh no. we were encouraged to try sprinkling salt on a candle flame to see what exactly the poet meant. A ‘Try Me’ approach that worked. Product trainings particularly, are most effective through demos. Here’s a sobering thought – can you recall 2 main takeaways from the last eLearning course you viewed?
Role plays– When we had any stories with at least two characters, these were promptly created into scripts and enacted in class. We would also perform each play – even the dull, uninspiring ones. This tactic worked on many levels- the actors would throw their heart and soul even into boring plays and by sheer interpretation of the characters, bring life into otherwise dull lessons, the narrators would have a field day with the audio (the sheer vibrancy of the narrations could put most eLearning audio narrations to shame) Think of what effective role plays and real-life scenarios could do in the context of sales training through eLearning.
Making it come alive– I belonged to that category of students who would rather go for a root canal treatment any day than attend a post-lunch classroom session in organic chemistry – till an extraordinary teacher came along and gave the subject a unique twist. She brought the characters (atoms, molecules, elements and so on) to life by giving them a personality – soon we were tuned in to how they’d behave, why, and under what conditions. We could almost see catalysts for chemical reactions charging around on white steeds, doing their thing. Fanciful? Perhaps. Easy to recall? You bet. Graphic designers, are you listening?
Recall aids– By giving us tips and tricks for remembering formulas, and mnemonics for chemical compositions of various substances, this chemistry teacher brought the subject (and the students!) to life. When was the last time we did that through our treatment of an online course?
The main challenge of eLearning (asynchronous) is of course the absence of a live teacher. All the more reason for learning designers to breathe life into their courses and make buzzwords such as relevant, meaningful, engaging and interactive a reality.