I have been contemplating a lot lately what I think the ideal rapid e-learning tool would look like. I’ve put my current thoughts below. If you are a “text book” ADDIE fan, you will find that I am suggesting the development of some material backwards or completely contrary to good practices (specifically, the learning objectives are written after the story and not the other way around). I think this approach is more organic, and therefore, will be more likely to produce courses that have a more positive user experience. I don’t think the world needs any more bad e-learning!
The key concept of this tool is that a story is used as the design mechanism, rather than the learning objectives. In my experience, courses written from learning objectives directly don’t flow well. They are often very chunky, moving from one topic to another. It takes a lot of work by a good instructional designer to make a learning objectives based course flow well.
Note that the tool and associated process assumes that the designer has done research into the course topic.
To begin, the designer hits the “Start” button. This brings up a wizard.
Stage 1: Who’s the course for?
The first question would be: “Who is the audience for this course?”. The tool would encourage the designer to be specific about the audience. What is their prior knowledge on the topic? What skills do they have? What background skills do they have? What personality types are they? What is their normal job role?
Stage 2: What’s the purpose?
The second question is “What are the course goals?”. Another way to phase this might be “what behaviour do you want to change as a result of this course?” Designers can list multiple goals, but then the tool would ask that the goals be prioritized. A single course should not have more than five goals (two or three is ideal).
Stage 3: The story outline
The third question is the outline of the story. The designer would be asked to write the story that is the course. This would be full sentences that flow together. It is a narrative. When the designer feels that further detail is necessary, they add a further detail icon at the end of a sentence. Each one to three sentences would form a topic.
When the story narrative is complete, the tool would ask the designer to “tag” the sentences into different topics, and move the sentences around until the story flows well. Not all sentences require tags.
Stage 4: Checking against the goals
The designer would then be re-prompted with the course goals and be given an opportunity to validate that the course goals are being met. The tool would asked the designer to tag specific topics to the various course goals (based on the topic tags created in the previous step). A given topic can be in none or many of the goals. Topics that are not in any of the goals are “glue” topics, that are in the story simply to make it flow. Topics that support the goals are candidates for “learning objectives”.
Stage 5: Writing the learning objectives.
Now that the topics have been associated with course goals, the learning objectives need to be written. The tool gives the designer topics and the designer is prompted to write appropriate learning objectives for these goals.
Note that it is intentional that topics that do not support the course goals do not have learning objectives. Glue topics should not be used for evaluation; therefore, they are not included in learning objectives.
Stage 6: Developing the assessment.
If the course requires an assessment, the test question are developed in this stage. The tools provides the designer with a learning objective. The designer can develop one or more question per learning objective. Questions are categorized as “review” or “assessment” questions.
At this point, the tool is just a set of drop down menus and places for text to be added.
Stage 7: Auto-generation of template
The course takes the narrative, the topics, and the assessment questions and creates the “outline” of the course with the development framework. This is where the wizard ends.
The development framework
The development framework looks something like the following:
The designer would be able to configure the layout (like any good graphics design tool). In addition, there would be a “storyboard view” that allows the designer to change the order of pages. The design will also be able to “preview” the course as the user would experience it.
A good tool would allow the course to be “published” into multiple formats: SCORM compliant, Self-contained web-based, self-contained application-based, etc.
So, what do you think? Would it help every aspiring course developer build better e-learning courses faster?