Have you ever seen an eLearning course or demo that seemed to know what you were doing? Maybe you entered your name on the first screen and saw it displayed in the course. Perhaps you made a decision early on and a character in a scenario remembered it later. Or maybe the course recommended follow up resources based on the concepts you had trouble with. You can thank variables for that.
What Are Variables?
Variables are a feature, in some eLearning authoring tools, that allow you to create advanced interactions. You can think of them as boxes for storing information. By themselves, they’re empty. But when you put information in them, they have value.
What Do Variables Do?
They “remember” information between screens. This lets you use that information to create advanced interactions. You can also display variables. Basically, this is letting the viewer see what’s “in the box.” That’s how you make a learner’s name appear in a course after they’ve typed it in.
How Do Variables Work?
On their own, all they do is hold the information that’s put into them. Which doesn’t sound very useful. They really shine when they’re used by other features. eLearning tools that use variables will have something called actions or triggers, or something to that effect. These are basically “if-then” commands that tell the tool to do something. They can be based on variables.
Variable Example: Responding to a Learner’s Choice
Let’s say this is a branching scenario about workplace diversity and inclusion. The first screen is your co-worker telling you a racially insensitive joke. Your options are to ignore it, laugh at it, or tell them they’re being inappropriate. You choose to ignore it. Later in the scenario, the manager character calls you into his office. He overheard the joke and wants to know why you didn’t report the incident or speak up about it. If you replay the scenario and choose a different option on that earlier screen the conversation with your manager will change too.
So, what’s going on here? Variables are storing the decision you made on that first screen. They’re probably connected to actions/triggers on the buttons that essentially say, “If the learner clicks this button, then their decision was to _____.” Another action/trigger on the manager screen then looks at those variables to see what you did. Then it shows the matching content. Basically, “If the learner choose to _____, then show the associated text.”
Here’s a different look at that same explanation:
Note: Variables generally have a starting value. In this example they’re all set to “False” automatically. They only change to “True” if the learner makes a decision that changes them to “True.”
Variables on first screen:
Ignore, value initially set to False.
Laugh, value initially set to False.
Tell, value initially set to False.
Actions/triggers on first screen:
If learner clicks the Ignore button, then set the value of the Ignore variable to True.
If learner clicks the Laugh button, then set the value of the Laugh variable to True.
If learner clicks the Tell button, then set the value of the Tell variable to True.
Variables being checked on manager screen:
Ignore, value will be set to False if the learner didn’t choose it or True if they did.
Laugh, value will be set to False if the learner didn’t choose it or True if they did.
Tell, value will be set to False if the learner didn’t choose it or True if they did.
Actions/triggers on manager screen:
If the value of the Ignore variable is set to True, display the IgnoreManager text.
If the value of the Laugh variable is set to True, display the LaughManager text.
If the value of the Tell variable is set to True, display the TellManager text.
There’s more to variables and actions/triggers than that, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what they can do. By themselves, variables store and display information. When they’re paired with actions/triggers, they can make all kinds of advanced interactions.
Would you like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design? Check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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