eLearning pet peevesOnce upon a time, we subjected you to “the worst eLearning course ever.” That monstrosity was an evil chimera of Digitec’s combined worst nightmares and most obnoxious memories. This time you’re in for something a little narrower. My personal eLearning pet peeves. Let’s take a look at the top offenders. In no particular order:

Locked Navigation

Example: You can’t select the next button until the narration is finished.

Why I Can’t Stand It: It makes the learner feel like a child by taking a basic choice away from them. I understand that organizations often want to ensure that learners see every screen of their eLearning. But let’s face a hard truth. If someone can skip all the content, go straight to the assessment, and pass, it means one of two things.

1) The learner already knows the essential content and taking the course was probably a waste of their time.

2) The eLearning course and/or assessment were poorly designed.

It’s also frustrating from a quality assurance perspective. If I need to confirm a fix on screen 8 of 10 and I have to sit through all the other screens to get there it makes the testing process take forever.

What I’d Rather See: Unlocked navigation, pre-tests that let experienced learners skip directly to the assessments (when that’s appropriate for the course), and course design that’s inherently interesting. If something is interesting people will choose to pay attention to it because, well, it interests them!

Poor Audio

Examples: Audio levels are too high or too low, the sound quality is bad, the narrator is monotoned, or the narration itself is dull or unnatural sounding.

Why I Can’t Stand It: Poor audio can lead to lots of problems depending on the type of issue. It can hurt someone’s ears if it’s too loud. It can force them to strain in order to hear and then give up if it’s too quiet. It can be impossible to understand or annoying sounding if there were problems with the microphone. A monotoned narrator can make an otherwise perfectly good course boring. And a dull or unnatural sounding narration script can confuse or bore learners, if it doesn’t drive them away. No one wants to listen to a robot reading a phone book.

What I’d Rather See: Narration scripts that sound like natural speech, being read and recorded by experienced voice over artists. I acknowledge that cost is a consideration here. So, in cases where that’s not possible, make sure the script is read out loud and revised so it sounds natural before it’s recorded. Then see to it that it’s recorded with a good standalone microphone, not the microphone that’s built into a laptop. They’re built for basic functionality, not quality. Their audio sounds terrible.

Lack of Visual Organization and Design

Example: Every screen in a course looks like it could come from a totally different course.

Why I Can’t Stand It: It’s distracting and gives a bad first impression. If a learner’s first thought is, “Wow, this looks like a toddler playing with an iPad made it” they’re going to doubt the material’s credibility. Beyond that, poor visual organization and design can actually confuse learners. If their brains have to work overtime to figure out what they’re looking at or supposed to be doing, they’re not in a good state for learning. They’re in a good state for giving up or not caring.

What I’d Rather See: The application of basic visual design principles and consistency. I highly recommend The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams, for learning the ropes. It’s a quick, accessible read with lots of example images. And the author has a good sense of humor (although it’s not the Robin Williams, different person).

Meaningless Activities and Assessments

Example: Multiple-choice questions that only have one reasonable answer.

Why I Can’t Stand Them: They don’t actually test learning or retention and they don’t provide realistic practice. They test short term memory. Instructionally speaking, they’re pretty useless. And they often treat the subject as if it exists in a vacuum, without giving proper context. Sadly, they’re one of the most common forms of assessment and “interactivity” out there.

What I’d Rather See: Instructionally sound activities and assessments that tie back to the learning objectives and provide situation-based practice. Granted, the types of activities or assessments that are best suited for any course depend on a number of factors. But if you have software training don’t ask a multiple-choice question about what button someone should select to do something. Give them a screen cap and have them select the button. If you’re working on leadership training about having difficult conversations then have them select dialogue options in a simulated conversation. Focus on doing, not knowing. If the learner does something with what they’ve learned they’re more likely to remember and use it later.

There you have it. The concoction of my discontent. I pray that I am never navigationally locked in a dungeon of bad audio, staring at screens that burn my eyes and don’t make sense, while desperately trying to claw my way through busy work activities and assessments devoid of real meaning.

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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