By Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning.
At Aurion Learning, our experience tells us that one of the best ways to guarantee learner interest and retention is through the appropriate and frequent use of interactivity.
This short article identifies the top five benefits of adding interactive activities to your online learning resources.
- Changes learner behaviour – Interactive activities such as, scenario-based exercises, behaviour modelling and guided practice prompt learners to review the lesson against their own work-place practices which is an ideal approach to affect positive behaviour change amongst staff.
- Ensures the message is understood – formative assessments, questioning and assessed role-plays provide learners with instant feedback, offering appropriate affirmation or explanation depending on whether the learner has answered correctly or incorrectly.
- Connects with the workplace – printable job aid exercises, such as checklists and action plans, prompt learners to focus on the application of the course material to their particular role.
- Engages all learning styles – variety of presentation, practice and assessments support high levels of user interactivity and engagement. Rich task-based multi-media and audio immerse learners by providing realistic practice in the subject areas being taught.
- Promotes a positive learning experience – the use of appropriate interactivity encourages learners to return to refresh their learning as well recommend the resource to their colleagues as material for group or individual learning.
As a quick rule of thumb, we feel that the definition provided by American Instructional Technology guru, Brandon-Hall encapsulates the spirit of good interactivity:
“An interaction is an engagement of the mind……. not the finger!”
by Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer at Aurion Learning
If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then it is important to ensure that you add the right pictures and images to improve your e-learning rather than distract from it. Simple – right? Well, actually yes.
This article contains tips and advice to ensure that you get the picture to maximise your e-learning environment.
Knowing your photos from your icons
There are three main types of images:
- Icons –They are multi-use clip-art type images such as, Important, Test Question, Review Point, or Key Fact. iconfinder has a good free range of icons to use.
- Graphics – a graphic is a designed image and are very specific. Graphics can be charts or graphs; they can be illustrations or word art.
- Photographs – Finding the right photo that portrays everything that you want and are trying to represent can be a powerful tool, however, these images can be hard to find, particularly if you are not a professional photographer! We have listed below an assortment of both paid for and free images that you can use:
Finding your images:
If you would like to find free images, you can use the Creative Commons area on Flickr or stock.xchng. You can also use Compfight to help you search for photos that you can use. Remember to read the guidelines on proper attribution!
Now that you have you images, it is important to remember the following:
Don’t over egg the pudding.
After you have spent hours pulling together the content for your e-learning environment, the last thing you want to do is to clutter the page with images. Equally, images should not be there to take up space. Take a moment before adding an image and ask ‘What is the purpose of this image? Ensure that it has relevance and reinforces what it is you are trying to get across.
It is important that your images work with the content of your e-learning programme making it easier for participants to focus and don’t serve as a distraction. It is also worth noting that the images also need to work with each other.
by Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer
I recently came across an article by Tom Kuhlmann of the Rapid E-learning blog entitled “Are Your E-Learning Courses Pushed or Pulled?” Although a few years old it got me thinking, because the issue is still completely relevant today. Is it better to push content onto learners or is it better to let learners decide what learning content they want or need to learn? And isn’t there an inherent risk in letting the learner make such an important decision?
The push approach to e-learning
The push approach to e-learning is very traditional. Like a school curriculum which is laid out module by module, traditional push e-learning programmes follow a similar cycle:
Learners work through each module in sequence and take the assessment at the end to test their knowledge. Each module is compulsory and while learners might encounter knowledge checks as they work through the content, the final assessment tests their learning on the entire programme.
A push type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:
|It’s a traditional style of learning which most learners are familiar with.||Learners must complete all modules, despite the fact that they may already be familiar with some of the learning content.|
|You can ensure that your learners have at least seen the entire programme.||It assumes your learners approach the programme with the same amount of prerequisite knowledge and need to acquire the same amount of new knowledge.|
|It can enlighten learners to new information they would not have otherwise read.||Learners may not be motivated to learn all of the content, especially if they feel they already know it.|
The pull approach to e-learning
The pull approach to e-learning is based on what the learner wants to learn. It recognises that some learners don’t need to take the entire programme and that different learners enter the e-learning programme with different levels of knowledge.
As with the push approach to e-learning, you provide learners with all the learning content, but you arrange it in a way that the learner gets to choose which modules they want to take in order to fill in their knowledge gaps.
You also create a reason to use the content (objectives). For example you could present learners with a real-life task or question they would typically encounter in their work or role, and allow them to choose which modules they want to take to be able to complete that task or answer that question.
For example, a pull type e-learning programme on improving the Customer Service skills of Waiting Staff would typically begin with the following question:
“It’s a busy Friday night at the restaurant, how would you serve your customers to ensure that they have a pleasant and satisfactory experience?”
You then provide the learner with modules on Customer Service such as Communication Skills; Preparing and Serving Food; and Etiquette and Complaints Handling.
The learner accesses the modules that they believe will help them to answer the question satisfactorily and skips the learning content that they already know. At the end of the programme, they take an assessment which allows them to answer the original question on how they would serve customers satisfactorily.
This type of e-learning programme is illustrated below:
A pull type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:
|Learning is interactive and engaging.||Learners skip modules which may enhance their knowledge.|
|Learning is set in context, i.e. it replicates real-world scenarios.||The non-traditional format may not appeal to all learners.|
|Learners have autonomy over their learning and are more motivated to learn.||Some learners may need more guidance in their learning.|
Push or pull?
So which approach should you use in your e-learning – Push or Pull?
Push type e-learning programmes are more suited to delivering compliance-based programmes and when you want to ensure that your learners have at least viewed all of the learning content.
On the other hand, pull type e-learning programmes offer instructional designers more of a challenge but at the same time more flexibility. They’re more suitable for when you want to give learners real-life scenario-based challenges to complete, opportunities to improve their performance, and autonomy over their own learning. They are ideal for non-compliance training and just-in-time learning.
Knowing which approach to use requires an understanding of your learners and what will best serve their needs.
by Lee Reilly, Senior Web Designer
My first real foray into the realm of coding over a decade ago pertained to making a text box on my page a solid colour, positioning it to the right and making the text white. After much musing (by which I mean searching around the internet) I fumbled a solution and had inadvertently coded something! In this case it was a <div> container to hold my text, which was aligned right and coloured accordingly. The beginnings of my first HTML site, though perhaps not as grand as I might have liked.
Over the years my HTML and CSS skills have improved, as has my understanding of the underlying processes involved. With the upcoming publication of the highly anticipated HTML 5 specification I find myself feeling like I did over a decade ago; is the difference between HTML 4 and 5 so great that I must start creating little text boxes on a page again in order to understand this new version?
The answer, mercifully, is no. HTML 5, in its simplest form, is a revised version of HTML 4. Sure, it has the ability to be so much more, but it does not have to be. I could take the latest project I am working on, amend line 1 to <!DOCTYPE html> and I would have an HTML 5 project. I would obviously not do that as it would be cheating and not advisable for compatibility of content within that project.
The real power of HTML5
The real power of HTML 5 (and CSS 3) comes from the improvements within. HTML 5 is created to improve the interoperability of HTML based documents. This means it is designed to work across multiple platforms and software setups. Numerous elements have been added such as <article>, <header>, <footer> and <section> to make the lives of developers easier. If nothing else these new elements reduce the quantity of <div> elements required for layout. These and other elements have been created to help add meaning to the content within. An example of this would be creating a news article:
In HTML 4 I might create something like:
<h2>Why am I making this site in HTML4?!</h2>
In HTML 5 this could be created as:
<h2>HTML 5: That’s the ticket!</h2>
The benefits to creating this in HTML 5 are two-fold. First, there is less coding involved. Second, and more importantly, the elements used are created for the purposes illustrated; <article> is used for independent, self-contained content and <date> is used for defining dates and times. The freedom that HTML 5 allows in creating element names might at first make it appear to be less structured and potentially more prone to variation between developers. What this flexibility does, when combined with new elements and attributes, is allow for greater control of structure.
Can it make a difference?
Everything mentioned above give HTML 5 the potential to improve the way websites and web apps are built. The real power of HTML 5, however, comes from its integrated Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. They have been designed to make developing web apps easier across multiple platforms. These include new APIs for audio and video, which will act to provide a uniform (and non-flash based) approach to getting rich media easily on to the web. Great in theory but these are still a long way off being perfect. In its current incarnation, HTML 5 has no full cross-browser support for video file formats. This means if you were to use the <video> element in a project today you would need to encode your video as both mp4 and ogg file formats to ensure all modern browsers would play them; a large overhead to say the least.
When evaluating how good HTML 5 is we must consider that it is still only a draft specification and elements and attributes are still subject to change. That said, it has the potential to deliver on numerous fronts and the thought of a fully interoperable web app or website across numerous platforms, complete with rich media and animation without the need for user-installed plugins makes its success all the more appealing. So much so that we have already begun project work using HTML 5. These E-learning projects have been designed to work cross-platform, from the traditional desktop E-learning to tablets and smartphones (so called M-learning or mobile learning). The benefit of using HTML 5 as the backbone is that the same pages are served up to each platform, the only difference being how they are styled. This technique of catering for different platforms using the same pages is called responsive design.
In future blog posts we will look at responsive design as well as the hugely anticipated <canvas> element in HTML 5 and its potential for usurping flash for cross-platform animation. We will also look at what new features CSS 3 brings to the party.
Umbraco – a CMS to bring designers and developers together – by Andrew McCaughan, Web Developer
Like a lot of young developers, my misspent youth involved learning to program and build websites. Once I heard of the concept of the Content Management System (CMS) I knew that I could bring these skills together and that I would make my fortune.
Alas, this was not meant to be. Of course I made the CMS. It was really good. You could add new pages, write blogs, add photos and you could even define the meta tags on each page. Many incarnations of my personal website were powered by that wonderful little CMS but the time to develop it into a product was something that I did not have, or more accurately, I just didn’t want to spend the time developing it. So, looking back at the subversion repository my last commit was 31st August 2007 at 3:40am. It hasn’t been touched since.
Some people, though, had the intention to develop their CMS further. In the world of .NET, there have been a number of successful CMS projects. The bigger names come to mind – DotNetNuke (DNN) and Kentico. These projects have been praised for their power but both projects have their drawbacks.
DotNetNuke has been praised for its power, its wealth of add-ons and the community that supports it are some of the smartest in the business but the experience for a web designer in DotNetNuke leaves a lot to be desired.
Kentico also has the power, the add-ons and the really talented people behind it. It even bridges the gap between designer and developer but it can cost anything between £1299 and £9700. They do have small business licence options if you call them and request a quote.
Since joining Aurion Learning, I have been challenged with finding the best CMS to deliver online learning and development.
For me, the best all round CMS built on .NET is Umbraco [http://www.umbraco.com]. Umbraco is the simplest, most powerful .NET CMS I have come across. It’s also open source which means no additional licence costs other than the Windows Server it will run on. One downside of course is the lack of support structure that you get from DNN and Kentico, however, the community that uses Umbraco is all you will ever need. The developers are active in the community and there are plenty of local user groups starting to pop up all around the world.
Designers have the freedom to define their templates the way they want to. They are not restricted by content areas defined by Umbraco, but can define the content area themselves. CSS and images can be easily uploaded and managed within the CMS admin. Our designers have remarked that Umbraco is as easy to use as WordPress but is more powerful. Even non-technical staff, can maintain and update content easily.
Umbraco is highly extensible. It comes with an API that allows you to develop your own features. Before you decide to do this however, check the add-ons section on the ‘Our Umbraco’ community site [http://our.umbraco.org/projects]. There’s everything from blog modules to form generation plug-ins.
The results of building a website in Umbraco can be seen across the web. Wired UK, Peugeot and Microsoft all rely on Umbraco for delivering content. Aurion Learning have used it for our own website and for our customers. This past year we have developed two learning portals for the NHS Education for Scotland using Umbraco; Palliative Care in Practice and Advanced Anticipatory Care and we have a few more in the pipeline for other customers. We are also using it for our new Intranet and so far, it’s looking good.
In short, I definitely recommend considering Umbraco for websites and particularly for delivering educational content. If you need some more convincing, take a look at this useful whitepaper: http://umbraco.com/media/197460/umbraco%20convince%20your%20boss.pdf
In future blog posts, we will look at Umbraco further and provide some useful tips in how to get the best out of this fantastic CMS, particularly for e-learning.