The Seduction of Technology

In the field of eLearning, technology is continuously changing, and in many cases, improving. It is easier and easier to create a polished, interactive course that appeals to learners. And that’s great, right?

But there’s also a danger here. 

It’s easy to get so excited about all the new bells and whistles that we look for ways to shape the learning around those, rather than focusing on instructional methods. As we learned from the work of Ruth Clark, the engine that drives effective learning is the instructional method used – and that is true regardless of the technology or format. 

For example, concepts require a definition, examples, practice with feedback, and a test to see if the objectives were achieved. The same instructional methods work to teach a concept whether that be in a textbook, a handout in an instructor-led class, or a cutting-edge eLearning course.

Recently, my team moved from building most of our courses in Captivate to working primarily in Rise (with the occasional custom interaction built in Storyline.) I hadn’t done much with Rise before this, but there are many things to like about it. It’s quick and easy to use. It has significantly sped up development time. It has a clean look our learners like, and it is automatically optimized for the mobile experience. 

For these first few weeks, I’ve been playing with the different types of blocks and figuring out which ones are best for the different kinds of content I am teaching. It’s pretty exciting to find a new, attractive, and interactive way to present something – especially if the content is on the drier, more technical side.

But last Thursday, I had a realization. 

I was talking with some friends who are also Instructional Designers, though they work for a large non-profit. A lot of their work revolves around compliance and most of mine is technical and sales-focused. 

Still, training is training, and we are all trying to design engaging, effective learning experiences, and then figuring out how to check the real-world impact of that training (which is a topic for another day.) 

We were sharing useful books we’ve read, and I was talking about Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Learning

In particular, I referenced his coherence principle, which states that people learn more when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded. For example, you shouldn’t include pictures that don’t further the content simply because they are attractive.

That pulled me up short. Obviously, I already knew this principle. But then I got onto Rise, with its lovely embedded graphics and amazing 5 million+ image library. Had I violated this best-practice principle because I was excited to make things pretty? I had to go home and check my course.

It was a useful reminder. Yes, let’s enjoy the benefits of new learning technology. But let’s also not forget what makes a course effective. Regardless of format, I need to build my courses on a solid foundation of effective instructional design – and not get distracted by the shiny and the new. 

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