Monday, August 29, 2016

25 ways to make your e-learning totally suck

A lot of online learning sucks. It’s like wearing a suit or coat that’s two sizes too small – all a bit cramped and makes you feel constricted and uncomfortable. The problem is design that ignores the research, ignores learning theory and above all, ignores the fact that many of us hate much of the over-designed stuff that passes for contemporary online learning. Here’s a selection of 20 things that drive me CRAZY when doing e-learning....

1. Learning objectives – don’t bore me with your trainer-speak up front. I’m bored already and we haven’t even started. More here.

2. Long introductions – history of,…background to… here’s your tutor… No, give it to me straight, stop padding things out. More here.

3. Cartoons – cartoon style imagery is for kids. I don’t watch cartoons on TV, so don’t give me them when I’m learning - they’re so damn condescending.

4. Perfect people – I know this is about management but I don’t need stock pictures of perfect people in perfect suits with perfect teeth and hair – believe me, real offices don’t look like that.

5. Text-graphic, text-graphic – Lord Privy Seal – picture of Lord, picture of toilet, picture of seal. Stop just selecting a lazy image for every noun in the text, page by page. More here.

6. Too much text – I don’t want all of this legal stuff, detail, overlong stories. I’m never going to remember all of this, so cut it until it bleeds, then cut it some more.

7. Text and audio at same time – stop – I can’t do both at the same time. Give me images with narration or text only – not narration and text at the same time – it makes my head hurt.

8. Over-engineered effects – too much distracting movement, effects, scrolling against fixed backgrounds and buzz makes my head spin – listen up - when I learn, less is more.

9. Long video sequences – OK you’ve hired a video guy and the academic wants to prattle on a bit but I’m bored after 5 minutes and learning precisely nothing. Keep it short. Less is more. More here.

10. Tinny audio – you sound as though you’ve recorded this in a huge tin can. Get a proper mike and record in a proper environment. More here.

11. Sound effects – you may think it’s fun but those beeps for correct answers and bongs for wrong answers are doing my head in! More here.

12. Music – who  told you that background music aids learning – it doesn’t  - get rid of it. More here.

13. Multiple choice questions that simply take a noun from the text and ask me to select it from a list. In real life I never select answers from lists. For an alternative, try WildFire. More here.

14. Stupid options in multiple-choice questions – don’t do it, I’m not a dumb-ass, treat me like an adult.

15. Drag and drop - I drag it, damn I've dropped it... this is a real drag.

16. Click on...  Click on Phil, Peter or Samantha, to see what they think about Data Protection.... cue speech bubble... Noooooooo...

17. False buttons – don’t make me click on something that looks like it’s interactive when it’s not. That annoys the hell out of me. More here.

18. Opaque icons – your graphic artist may think he/she is an ‘artist’ but I haven’t a clue what that icon means. More here.

19. Gamification – I’m not one of Pavlov’s dogs, so don’t make me collect coins, chase rubies or do silly gamey things in order to learn – I’m not 12. (Note that I'm all for deep gamification.) More DOs and DON'Ts here.

20. Learning styles – what are you talking about - they don’t exist. Let me repeat – they don’t exist.

21. Mindful – let’s stop and be mindful – no that’s a mindless fad and I have a mind that wants to learn– move on.

22. Chat – so you’ve got a chat box for ‘social’ learning, as you believe in social constructivism. Forget that Vygotsky BS (be honest you can't name a single book by the guy), Social participation os often a waste of my time...

23. Legibility - text layered on photographs, coloured text on coloured backgrounds, centred text, text across the entire screen... it's words, so make it readable.

24. Branding - learning is not marketing, so don't flood me with your logo on every screen.

25. Happy sheet - no, I'm not a clown and I don't want to be happy, I want to be informed.

Note that I'm not against all of these things, especially gamification and collaboration. I'm just against simplistic implementations that learners don't like. I could have gone on with another 400 DOs and DON’Ts but they’re all listed, explained and categorised here, if you want to check out more.


Airlie said...

Got a list of specific dos? Because if I don't do all* these don'ts, there's basically not much that's engaging left...

(*not that I'd ever do ALL of them in one module, but some, yeah I would! Particularly depending on my audience - some folks love cartoons, music, faster-pace graphics and gamification and respond to it with great assessment results.)

Donald Clark said...

The fuller list of 250 is in more detail. I'm not againts gamification - just the childish stuff. Music has its place but not as general background. Cartoon approach for kids - all rules there to be broken but stand by these as being largely destructive. More importantly, the research shows that they inhibit learning.

Matt Jenner said...

The fuller list has 260 (now 280?), but whatever - keep listing things :)

Can't help but feel you might've written this because something has tipped you over the edge and made you go 'ARGH I'm publishing another list, I'm fed up with X, Y & Z'!). It reads with a rushed sense of anger in the post - but it's your blog and we enjoy reading it, so go crazy.

But I must disagree a bit - some are on the edge of sucking. For example Kurzgesagt's animations are not too distant to cartoons but they convey their message beautifully and with skill. If anything I hope they inspire other authors and it trickles into their 'creative process' - but who knows...

Donald Clark said...

Hi Matt The fuller articles on my website are more nuanced. None of these tips are absolute - music, animation, gamification etc. It's just that some of teh stuff I'm seeing is getting worse. Designers and companeis don;t seem to be reading hte research around learning and use of media - it's been around for decades and there's lots of it. Media rich is not mind rich. As you say, it's a blog - I sometimes feel like letting rip!

Jay Thomas said...

"don;t seem to be reading the research around learning and use of media - it's been around for decades and there's lots of it."

Any recommendations of key research etc that's worth reading? I'm just starting out with all this.

Donald Clark said...

Lot's here and here and here

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post Donald. I have a slight issue with the "Vygotsky crap" line. I think it is about how you implement this in a digital environment. A chat box isn't doing anything for social learning. That doesn't mean social learning is crap - it means a chat box is not a solution. Sure put it there if you want it, but it has nothing to do with social learning. Creating digital learning environments is about understanding learning and understanding the digital environment. It is all about context.

Donald Clark said...

No problem with social learning Rebekah - we're doing that now. Just sceptical of social constructivism claims.