Learning development through technology

E-Learning: Animation for animation sake.

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We were having a discussion over the weekend with a friend who has recently been through an e-learning programme in the health care sector, she knows we create e-learning content and hence the topic arose. She commented that the content was technically challenging,  in that it frequently froze half way through quizzes and tests and was slow to load.  Additionally the content would only operate on a windows platform, making leisurely browsing on tablets not possible.

The most interesting comments were on pitch and delivery style, she felt that the content was often patronisingly presented and used excessive pointless graphic that seemed to appeal more to a teenager than to someone in the later stages of their career. “A silly germ cartoon whizzing around the screen adds little value” was one comment; this was in reference to an infection control module.

One matter that comes to mind is that the excessive use of graphics was impacting on the technical performance this was probably affecting file size, download speed and performance. A developer sitting on some high specification machine with all the toys at his or her disposal can often fail to appreciate the client using a low powered laptop with minimal graphics processing on a sub 2.0 MB broadband connection doesn’t have the same user experience.

Technically the tools used to produce the graphics probably were more than likely platform dependent and this then makes upgrading and maintenance to a multiplatform environment more complex and highly costly. Flash based content is rapidly going out of fashion as non windows platforms cannot support it; to reproduce legacy content in new formats is a significant and costly challenge. Strategically this can’t make sense from a business model point of view from the producer’s perspective. To create something that is complex which then needs to be ported or upgraded at the expenditure of effectively massive unnecessary effort is not a clever trick.

Do the fancy graphics add anything to the learning experience? Just because we are clever enough to do things doesn’t mean we always have to do them. There is a distinct danger that the purpose and learning objectives of the module are obscured by a technicians need to show off. In reality once someone has seen a technique its novelty value drops off at a fast rate and then it can become irritating. This is accentuated when the learner group has not been assessed in terms of its requirements and demographic make-up. The “whizzy germ” was seen as just silly and actually perceived to be a bit insulting; probably alright for level two students in an FE college but for mature learners?

The old adage “keep it sweet and simple” in e-learning has to be remembered because then the focus is on delivering the learning objectives in the easiest and most effective way. There is definitely a balance to be created between features and learning effectiveness, I am not suggesting more boring PowerPoint style slides, but neither am I suggesting complex motion based graphics that impact on performance, cloud learning objectives and inhibits upgrade paths and development. So, just because you can do something technically think before you deploy and ensure that the reasons for doing it are well founded.

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