Adding realism to eLearning should improve learning transfer, which will prepare learners for situations they might really encounter. Realism also adds credibility to a training course, which is quite important to the busy, cynical, or tired employee.
In the previous article, Reality eLearning, you can find some ways to get a sense of your audience’s workplace reality through interviews and observations. These are often part of the analysis phase, prior to design.
After you’ve completed an analysis, you should have a sense of your audience’s standard everyday tasks as well as the difficult problems they must solve; the specialized vocabulary of their field or workplace environment; what goes on behind the scenes; their real attitudes about work; and what makes them laugh. All of this is fodder for your creative brain. With lots of observations and anecdotes in hand, you’ll be ready to add realism to your online learning products. Here are some strategies for doing so. Some are simple; some complex.
Flat Case Studies
What I’m calling a “flat” case study is the simple presentation of a real situation (modified to protect the innocent) that does not require interaction. This is a quick and cost-effective way to add a touch of reality. Present a realistic scenario relevant to the learning objective and simply ask learners to consider what they would do in a similar situation. If the case study is dramatic, this can add interest and motivation.
In general, always try to use realistic case studies during the instruction or exploration portions of a course. Present situations and their outcomes as examples of what has or could happen. In addition, you can use optional case studies for greater richness and texture. At an appropriate point in the course, give the learner a choice to delve a little deeper and read, watch or listen to a case study (perhaps in a pop-up window) if he or she chooses to do so.
Solve A Problem
Asking learners to think through a problem and solve it takes the case study a step further and should be more effective than the non-interactive approach. When learners practice a variety of real-world skills in training, it will expand the repertoire of their problem-solving strategies at work.
The simplest form of problem-solving is the two-choice approach. Provide a scenario that is modified to fulfill a particular objective and give learners two choices. Each choice triggers appropriate feedback. To mix it up and surprise your audience, consider going beyond the right-wrong paradigm. Provide situations where the outcomes are in shades of gray (as life usually is). In these case studies, there is no absolutely correct answer. Rather, the outcome of each choice, presented as feedback, is not ideal but at least partially solves the problem.
Scenario-based simulations allow learners to explore lifelike situations that branch down multiple paths depending on the user’s actions. In Forklift Safety training, for example, each choice in the forklift simulation would result in a more dangerous or less dangerous situation. Or in a software simulation for new bank employees, the learner could add funds to the correct customer’s account and end there or add funds to the wrong account, causing negative repercussions in other parts of the system.
Scenario-based simulations with complex branching and multiple steps take more time to implement than the two approaches just described. The well-executed simulation, however, will most likely be more effective at facilitating learning. See more ideas and ways to implement scenario-based eLearning.
Consider recording a video-based interview with a customer, client or employee to add riveting moments to an online course. The interview should showcase a realistic scenario related to the instructional goals. If the course teaches how to handle irate customers, you might interview employees about the difficult situations they encounter and how they handle them.
You might interview an angry customer about receiving an inferior product who became a repeat customer because he was handled with care. I think it’s important that these interviews do not come across as organizational propaganda. That’s a turn-off. Rather, the interviews should focus on adding credibility, fulfilling the instructional purpose and motivating the audience. Side note: Be sure participants sign a consent form before the recording starts. For advice on producing videos, see How to Stop Making Boring Videos. Listen or download the transcript.
The purpose of adding realism to eLearning is to improve the quality of positive learning transfer. We want learners to gain sufficient skills, insight, and strategies through training that reflects their everyday world.