Creating Value in e-Learning Part 2: Blindfolded Design

This is a guest blog post from Peter Sorenson, President of QUIZZICLE. Please see below for full bio.

There’s an old joke about a husband and wife whose child was born perfect in all ways but never uttered a sound. For five years the child was silent until the day he was served lima beans for lunch. “This tastes horrible,” said the boy. The parents were stunned. “You can speak,” they said, “Why haven’t you spoken before?” The child replied “Everything has been good until now.”

Feedback. Without it we have nothing more to guide our actions but trust and faith. We will continue to perform our jobs the same way every day in the belief that we are delivering an acceptable performance or product unless our audience is given the opportunity to offer an opinion.

What we notice about classroom teaching directed by a seasoned professional is that, in spite of a “lesson plan,” there is room for modifying the instructional approach based upon audience reaction. The teacher’s real time assessment of the success of their own performance is referenced to modulate the rate and style with which the content is delivered.

While the syllabus (instructional design) needs to be followed, good teachers seek to engage students by stepping back or moving ahead based on visual and aural feedback. There is no reason to progress to the “next topic” unless general comprehension has been observed. Teachers are able to sense interest, hesitation, doubt or confusion by watching and then responding.

To date, e-Learning developers have been guided only by content and generally accepted instructional design theories. Our target audience has yet to be given an appropriate forum or vehicle with which to offer their opinion of our efforts. We might consider that developing courses without feedback from the student to be a form of “Blindfolded Design.”

A broader understanding of the unique learning needs of the student must encourage us to introduce e-Learning to the world of responsive customization. It is the only way to begin to replicate, in the online experience, the malleable and supportive environment of the classroom.

Consider this situation. Based on research indicating the value of including videos in training courses (Bassilli (2006), Barton and Haydn (2006), Gebhard (2005), your client wants to include a video in their training with the requirement that the student views the entire video before they can progress in the course. So you include the video in the course and employ some technique to disable forward navigation until the video ends – thus meeting the criteria.

What’s the “takeaway?” What have you – the e-Learning designer – learned about the efficiency of the video in imparting knowledge versus a simpler text-based approach? What have you learned about the resonance of the content with the student? What can you report back to the client about the training value of this expensive option? What proof can you offer as to the level of learner engagement or enhanced training effectiveness with the video that would in any way validate, if challenged, the cost of developing the video, the programming time to include it in the training, the seat time required to view it, or the increased bandwidth to stream it?

Without the hard data to support our belief in the instructional effectiveness of our designs or any of the training content/learning objects we include, then our blindfolds will continue to directly influence our instructional approach and present an opportunity to for anyone to challenge our assumptions on a cost of development basis. And perhaps rightly so.

Peter Sorenson Bio Image

Peter Sorenson

Peter Sorenson is the President of QUIZZICLE, a custom elearning development company located in Connecticut. He has worked as a multimedia designer, elearning designer and developer, and programmer since 1992. In addition to his primary job he continues to focus on replicating the classroom experience with all of its inherent learning support systems within the web-based training environment. He has presented at the Lectora User Conference for the past two years and has been an avid user and promoter of Lectora Publisher since 2004.