Have you ever used an educational website and been blown away by how interesting and engaging it is? I encounter these types of sites when I’m pursuing informal learning. Part of the attractiveness in the learning is that it’s what interests me. Another factor is the site gives me control. These informal learning sites/tools shed insight on how powerful learning can be when we give learners control over what they investigate.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes (plus time to view examples)
There are many ways instructional designers can give users control of their learning. The type of control is determined by the subject and learning goals. Here are four very different sites that use the web for effective training.
Statistics are often used to gain attention —especially when the numbers are unexpected or startling. For instance, did you know the average life expectancy in Afghanistan in 2010 was 48 years?
Hans Rosling uses visual representations of statistics effectively and conveys huge amounts of information. An example is a graph comparing life expectancy with income across 193 countries from 1800 to 2010. That’s a lot of data!
The information is easy to understand because of the way it is presented. Once you access this graph, a good introduction is to press the Play button and observe changes over time. You get really engrossed in the statistics when you take control. You can move the timeline playhead to any year you want to see. You can mouse over a bubble to see the name of the country represented. You can select a country by name in the index then watch changes for that country over time. The design enables a user to investigate content in many ways and that user control takes this learning from good to great.
Looking at a different subject, it’s interesting to think about issues that are important to Americans and how priorities change over time. There are a lot of variables when you consider twenty issues over ten years plus differences with political party affiliation.
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found a way to make this topic engaging and interactive. Their Political Climate website allows users to compare changes by issue, year, or political affiliation. This information could be communicated in text or as a series of graphs, but it is much more interesting when the data are presented visually in a way that allows the user to investigate areas of interest in a non-linear format.
Scale in Perspective
It’s relatively easy to understand the scale of things we can see and things that are close to our physical size. However, science enables us to study objects that are vastly different in scale. It becomes difficult to comprehend changes in magnitude when we consider objects that are very small or very large.
Cary and Michael Huang allow users to navigate from 10-35 meters (many thousands of times smaller than an atom) to 1027 meters (distances up to a billion light years away) in their Scale of the Universe website. Simplicity makes the site easy to use. Clicking on objects provides context. This site offers a good explanation for a concept that is difficult to comprehend.
Compared to the previous examples, Foundations of Lighting Placement offers a more traditional approach to learning because the website conveys a lot of information through text. In spite of heavy text, the site is visually oriented and allows the learner to change variables.
To understand how light position influences appearance of a subject, a photographer could go to a studio with no outside illumination and move lights around a subject. It is considerably quicker and easier to learn the effects of light in an online simulation. This simple and effective approach to training allows the user to see light position relative to the subject and to see how the subject changes appearance. Like the other examples, this website gives control to the learner, which makes the training interesting and engaging.In essence, the user is “learning by doing.”
Anyone who has looked at online training knows there is huge variation in how information is conveyed, opportunities for learners to construct their own knowledge, and freedom to investigate areas of interest. As a learning medium, the web has vast potential. Giving learners control over content is one way to leverage the strength of the web as a learning tool.
Contact our Learning Developers
Need to discuss developing e-learning? Creating curriculum for classroom training? Auditing and remediating e-learning for accessibility? Our learning developers would be glad to help.