Budget limits. Deadlines. Legacy tools. They don’t have to mean sacrificing creativity, engagement, or effectiveness. An interaction catalog can help you develop effective elearning under constraints.
Developing Effective Custom Training While Respecting Resource Limitations
Learning development is a paradox.
Study after study tells us that training matters. It changes how people do things. It affects the bottom line. Once business problems are identified, training, while not the answer to every performance problem, has a significant role in an organization’s success.
Yet training is perpetually underfunded.
There’s a need to train employees in business processes; there’s a desire to create training that’s professional, high-quality, and engaging; there’s a push to train employees so organizations can achieve their goals. But there’s little money for any of it.
And this is a greater challenge when it comes to elearning (and other forms of online training). After all, even when in-person training is embodied in a mediocre presentation and poor-quality handouts, there’s always the chance it can be saved by a brilliant instructor.
When there’s no instructor, however—when learning is self-directed, asynchronous, and delivered online—there’s a real risk of boring, click-next elearning that barely engages employee attention; training that hardly has a chance of changing behavior.
And when training doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, there’s a risk of defunding it in favor of other business priorities, leading to fewer resources for training and more constraints, creating a vicious cycle.
Can your organization both operate within limits and empower your organization’s learning and development professionals to create engaging, professional, and effective training?
At Microassist, we often work with clients who have different levels of (and sometimes seriously limited) resources available for training projects. One of the options we’ve found effective for negotiating between constraints and creativity is using an interaction catalog.
An interaction catalog might be a practical option for your organization, as well.
Consider Your Training Project Constraints
For elearning, common constraints include (but aren’t limited to):
- Budget—The money isn’t there to hire people, buy software, or set up the infrastructure to develop and deliver training.
- Time—Training needs to be available yesterday. There’s no time to build engaging, exciting, effective elearning.
- Resources—It’s rare to find someone who’s as good at building learning interfaces as they are at designing instructionally effective training. And even rarer to find someone who can add graphics editing, video production, and voice-over narration to those skills.
- Tools—There’s often a need to build training in legacy software tools, tools that lack the most powerful new advances in training design.
- Accessibility—Designing training so that it’s available to all users, including those with disabilities, is essential if you want to reach everyone in your organization. Accessible elearning, though, means accepting limitations on design (for example, if employees can’t use a mouse, click and drag interactions need to be avoided).
What do these constraints tell us? Well, fully interactive, 3D-animated, immersive learning environments are probably out of reach. What’s left?
Use an Elearning Interaction Catalog for Quicker Development and Lower Costs
How do you develop effective elearning under budget and time constraints? While working with small teams or legacy tools? While maintaining accessibility for all employees?
An interaction catalog (which might also be called a template collection or design pattern library) purposely limits the options available to training developers. It asks that they consciously explore creativity only (or mostly) within those constraints.
When an elearning development project uses a catalog approach, elearning developers don’t spend time determining how to design and program new kinds of activities<. This means quicker development and lower costs. (This also means that one of the most neglected aspects of elearning design—testing—is more easily accomplished. Using existing interactions means that the programming has been vetted and verified, reducing the testing and remediation required.)
When building an interaction catalog for a client, Microassist uses a limited number of interactions, usually drawn from the most-used interactions of previous work.
Interaction catalog types can include content pages, click and reveal interactions, multiple choice questions, and short answer questions:
- Content pages. This example is a basic content page. It has a text box, an image, and includes a hyperlink that opens a web page.
- Click and reveal interactions. This activity page reinforces information. It allows the learner to click on each marker for extra content.
- Multiple choice questions. This question engages employees with an image to analyze, realistic options, and a hint button to help them determine the answer.
- Short answer questions. The first page below poses a question and asks the organization’s employee for their thoughts. The second page shows their thoughts and allows the learner to compare their answer to an “official” answer and reflect.
A well-designed interaction catalog has a well-rounded approach, containing examples from storyboard pages and programmed template pages in a specific learning development tool (such as Articulate Storyline or Trivantis Lectora).
Know That Not Everyone Will Be a Fan of Using an Interaction Catalog
One of the most challenging aspect of using an interaction catalog is enforcing it. Designers, programmers, and multimedia specialists are often experts in their fields, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to create ever more effective elearning. It can be difficult to encourage elearning developers to stay within the boundaries.
In addition, stakeholders often push for cutting-edge graphics or studio-level video. They could fear that tired graphics and overused interactions might bore employees, making elearning yet another training course to slog through.
What makes using an interaction catalog more difficult is that both of these challenges have merit. Who wants to design elearning using techniques that haven’t changed since 2008?
So Make Sure Your Interaction Catalog is a Living Document
Employees and other stakeholders need training that is current and fresh.
Which is why every interaction catalog should be a living one. It should change and grow. If an instructional designer comes up with a new interaction that can fit with the catalog approach, incorporate it into the catalog. If a programmer develops a better way to build an interaction, refine the template page.
To keep additions and changes under control, keep in mind two points:
- Limit the number of new interaction types that can be introduced.
- Make sure that all changes are communicated to everyone who needs to know. (Without constant communication, there’s a real risk of everyone developing elearning in new and independent ways, which can defeat the purpose of using a consistent catalog.)
Look for Elearning Creativity within the Template
One of the most important aspects of implementing and sustaining an interaction catalog in an organization is highlighting that creativity still exists—it’s only where innovation is located that’s changed. Essentially, people need to look within the constraints to exercise their ingenuity.
Take, for example, a click and reveal interaction. A click-and-reveal interaction can be a graph with information buttons.
But a click and reveal interaction can also be a tabbed interaction or a word cloud with definitions.
It can be people asking questions and seeing answers.
It can be a series of frequently asked questions.
Why It Works
At its core, a click and reveal interaction is set series of actions. The user clicks (or tabs to and hits enter on) a trigger. The trigger causes something to appear or disappear on the screen. The template page is the same. The actions are the same. What changes is the visual approach and instructional intent—that’s where creativity exists.
The same general approach can be done with each interaction in the catalog. What happens if the designer uses short-answer question at a beginning of a module, instead of at the end, to prompt user introspection? What happens if the designer uses c multiple choice questions to create a user-directed scenario? (For additional ideas about designing simple and effective scenarios, see the work of Cathy Moore).
Focus on What Makes Learning Effective
When aiming for creativity within constraints, the focus is less on being innovative in programming or design, and more on what research shows makes learning effective (although, to be fair, shouldn’t that be the approach of all training?).
Examples of research-supported techniques include:
- Spaced learning—Repeating learning over time, so that people don’t forget.
- Practice testing—Giving people the opportunity to recall knowledge through practice tests. As long as they’re given feedback with the correct answer, it doesn’t seem to matter whether they answer incorrectly.
- Metacognition—Prompting people to think about where new information fits in with existing information.
- Feedback—Providing feedback on actions, which has been shown to increase learning effectiveness.
(You can find more information on what makes learning effective on our Learning and Development Resources page.)
While there are limits to using new interactions with a catalog approach, working within established limits can help an organization focus on using training techniques that will help employees change their behavior.
How Does This Work in Practice?
Ensuring that everyone works within the constraints of an interaction catalog can be difficult. For an organization, creating a culture that empowers learning and development professionals to innovate while at the same time helping everyone follow a standard is a never-ending balancing act.
These challenges are worth the results: maintaining a standard, yet innovative, approach that creates engaging elearning—and allows you to develop effective elearning under constraints over which you have little or no control.
What about those taking the training? Microassist has found that this kind of training resonates with our client’s employees. They believe it achieves its objectives and they are able to put the skills to use in the workplace. In other words, when used by inventive and imaginative elearning developers, an interaction catalog approach is no less effective than a development process that is less constrained.
Finding creativity within constraints, creating learning within limits, is an approach that can help us focus on what’s necessary for employees, and provide them with training that’s engaging, professional, and effective.
Creating Elearning Under Constraints? Consider Outsourcing
Every organization comes with its own set of constraints for developing custom elearning. Those limits can concern costs, deadlines, or other factors. Yet they don’t have to prevent effective training.
Microassist has been developing custom elearning for more than a decade. Contact our learning development consultants about your custom training project and its parameters. We’d be glad to discuss how our instructional designers and developers can work with your team to create training that engages your learners and advances your business goals.
More Resources on Developing Effective Elearning Under Constraints
- How Comic Books Can Cut Elearning Development Time
- Designing Elearning without Audio
- Using Pattern Libraries for Accessible Elearning: Insights from CSUN 2018
- Dilemma: Training in an Era of Budget Constraint
- 3 Keys to Creating Effective Training