7 Things to Keep in Mind While Designing Digital Learning for Millennials

For eLearning course designers, learners have always been the central focus. In the recent times, it has been felt that the way learners learn and consume eLearning has been changing and one of the primary reasons is the emergence of the millennial learner on the stage.

So, who’s the millennial, and what’s so different about their learning style?

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Millennials are the digital generation of today (mainly, the people born in the 1980s or 1990s) who are married to technology to an extent that it’s almost an extension of their own selves. Research indicates that they:

  • Are global citizens
  • Have an entrepreneurial spirit
  • Come from diverse backgrounds
  • Have a limited attention span

So how do you align your development strategy to meet the specific learning needs of millennials?

  1. Make it platform and device agnostic: Do not bind the learner to a specific device or environment; make the digital learning available anywhere, anytime. Preferably, adopt a ‘mobile first’ approach.
  1. Keep it short: Keep the eLearning bite-sized and make it available in micro-learning formats to suit the diversified visual, auditory, and kinetic learning needs. A rigid framework might put off the learner.
  2. Learning goal should be visible: Make the end goal visible to the learner to tie the learning to their work life. This will bring in their active participation and will also encourage them to use the learning in real-world scenarios. This serves their need to be practical and result-oriented.
  3. Make it challenging and fun: Millennials would prefer to solve challenges, so create scenarios close to their day-to-day work and throw in some gamification elements to make it a challenging and fun experience at the same time.
  4. Enable the learner: Keep the design fluid, and enable them to be in control, to take risks, and to multitask. For example, teach a sales call through a branching scenario where learners select the choices they will make while talking to a prospective customer that could result into a successful closure or lost opportunity.
  5. Make it social: Bring in the social and collaborative learning components such as discussion forums, chats, badges, etc. Millennials prefer collaborative experiences and tend to share anything they like. This allows them to enhance their learning experience and also helps the learner community.
  6. Keep it diverse: Various research studies show that millennials are the most diverse of the lot. They consider themselves global citizens. Aim to capture this element in your design for an enhanced learning experience. This could be achieved by using ethnically diverse photographs, globally applicable examples, and using “youth speak.”

This is definitely not a secret sauce or the only seven things which need to be considered while creating a digital learning experience for millennials; but something basic, yet important.

I would like to hear both from eLearning designers and millennial learners about their experiences and views on this.

Designing a “Dual-Mode” Course!

When dealing with K12 providers, one of the common issues we need to address is the need to have teaching aids in the course. Most of the time, we create two versions of the course – one for the learner, without the teaching aids, and one with the aids, for the teacher. We recently completed a course for a K12 provider who needed to teach kids a chapter of history using World War II photographs as a medium.

We used a neat trick in this course that helped us to identify exactly what features needed to be stripped off for the student version of the course – We simply created a dual-mode course! All the teaching aids for the course were accessible through a button, so the student version simply had that button disabled!

We didn’t need to create the same course twice, and we could easily identify what information needed to be given as teaching aids. This also allowed the teacher to concentrate on going through the course using the teaching aids alone, while the students focused on the content that was being taught. You may ask, how can the teacher ignore the content being taught? They don’t!

Curious to learn more? Write to info@harbingergroup.com.

Using Course Interface as an Engagement Tool!

Course interfaces tend to become a bit monotonous these days. This has become even more common with the use of rapid interaction authoring tools, where the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is only customizable as far as their colors. The form, the shape, and method of interaction are all features that still need to be individually programmed and created from the ground up when they are needed.

We recently completed a course for a K12 provider who wanted to teach kids a chapter of history through the use of World War 2 photographs. Most of the solutions available had interfaces featuring Back and Next buttons, maybe fancy page number panels, or perhaps a spin-wheel with the various pages on them. There was nothing that could be used to blend into a story and give a more environmental connection to the content that was to be taught in the course.

Then it hit me! I remembered the old View-Masters we used to have and how we used to spend so much time as kids looking at various places or photographs through them, and thought to myself “Why can’t kids today experience the same thing?” Right there was the interface we were looking for! What better way to have attention focused on the photographs that were to be used as a medium for teaching this chapter on history? We created the course with this vision, if you’ll pardon the pun, and needless to say, the kids loved it!

We created a GUI that made it look like the learner was viewing the photographs on a View-Master, with the tip of the circular view-disk peeking out from the top. Clicking buttons on either side of the disk allowed the learner to move ahead. The content to be taught is accessed through push-buttons built onto the View-Master frame, allowing the learner to view the story behind the photograph as well as the things to be discussed regarding the photograph.

Want to share any such “WOW” moment in your course design? Post your comment here or write to info@harbingerknowledge.com.

Presenting Boring Content…

We often talk about “making” a course interactive or engaging, but how can we approach content that is not engaging in itself? “Converting” flat and uninspired page-turners into something that actually engages and retains the learner’s interest is not as easy as it seems, and we learned this the hard way. This would be best demonstrated by explaining how we worked on one of our courses.

The job seemed simple enough when it first came to us – a course explaining company policies. A drab page-turner made in Powerpoint, the content was capable of putting even the Instructional Designers to sleep! The content was vital and important information, to be sure, but if it failed to interest the teacher, how would it ever engage the learner?

The content that came already used some interactivities created in Articulate Engage, and was published using Presenter. But those interactivities were as engaging as pressing a “Next” button that appeared in different places on the screen. Let’s face it – Tabs and Process interactivities are still page-turners of sorts. Do we add more of these interactivities? Maybe turn some of the content into interactive diagrams or a “click-and-reveal”? That would only serve to reduce the number of screens in the course, not make it any more interesting than it was. The solution had to be much more radical.

We were eager to try out some branching scenarios, but the scenarios given didn’t leave room for much engagement, and neither did the final seat-time of the course permit us to use some creative stories or building up and elaborate atmosphere. Using Articulate Storyline, we managed to hit on a solution that gave a most beautifully interactive way of navigating through the course. Since we couldn’t use branching scenarios with what we were given, we decided to turn the entire course into one big scenario!

We used a scenario where it’s the learner’s first day at the company (which it very well might have been in real life), and they are being given a tour of the office. This allowed us to place each module in a separate virtual location, each one in a different “room” in the office. Just like an office, the learner is free to move between the various rooms, creating a non-linear navigation for the course.

We often use mentors or guides to better engage the learner, but with the scenario of several rooms, we managed to get closer to creating the office environment – we had no less than 5 different mentors in our course! Each mentor guided the learner through a different set of rooms, creating an effect of that person having expertise in that area, just like a real office!

The content itself was presented as a visual treat. The various “rooms” allowed to us have different backgrounds for each module, and have the content appear in styles that was similar to what you would find in that “room”. We created “click-and-reveal” interactivities on non-Engage screens, with various visual effects, giving some more interactive opportunities for the learner.

Where the original course was interactive with “sit-and-stare” Powerpoint screens in between, the new course tied them together into a beautiful bundle that was engaging and interactive even on non-Engage screens.

The crowning glory of this whole project – it was done in less than a month!

Interested to learn more? Write to info@harbingerknowledge.com.

Platform-Agnostic Interactive eBook: The Next Big Thing is Here!

This blog post covers insights into the emerging trend of platform-agnostic interactive eBook. We will discuss the following questions in this blog post:

  • Why to make eBooks “interactive”? What are the benefits of the interactive version?
  • What types of eBook are most effective in the interactive avatar?
  • Any difference in the development process of interactive eBook from the conventional version?
  • How much interactive eBook would cost, compared to its conventional version?
  • Finally, why it’s the next big thing?

eBooks are one of the most widely used formats for consuming digital content. And in its current form it’s very easy to produce as well – at the simplest, just make a PDF and that’s it! eBook readers were used to these flat page turners, until iPad came along. Today, devices like iPad and the whole world of tablets have opened up a great opportunity for eBook readers to “experience” the content, by virtue of innovative interactive means, and not just “read” it. Interactive eBook is a new paradigm.

eBooks are all around us, for all types of content – be it trade publications, or educational content. Out of these two, educational eBooks are best suited for interactive version. Imagine reading about various forms of triangles and actually “constructing” them as you read. Or, instead of just reading about the human anatomy, you are able to keep labeling various parts of a human body and test your learning. There are unlimited possibilities to bring alive the eBook with the help of learning interactions and multi-media elements.

Want to experience interactive eBook first hand? Write to bijoy@harbingergroup.com to see some great examples. Alternately, you could listen to Bijoy showcasing interactive eBooks @ the Learning Technologies 2013 conference [London, 29-30 Jan 2013, Stand # 15] or meet Bijoy @ the Tools of Change 2013 conference [New York, 12-14 Feb 2013, Booth # 104].

Development process of the interactive educational eBook is not different from the conventional process of developing interactive educational content. Starting point remains with subject matter and the learning goals. Next is instructional design process, to create storyboards and to identify the interactive and multi-media elements to be in the eBook, and finally authoring the eBook, packaging and publishing. For interactive eBook developers, good news is that no new learning curve is needed. But yes, as far as authoring and packaging of the eBook is concerned, the development platform / language / tool would depend upon whether the eBook would require supporting multiple devices & platforms, or a particular or proprietary device / platform. HTML5 is by far the most preferred option, since it allows the output to become accessible on multiple devices & platforms. But, other tools such as iBook author could also be suitable if the eBook to be made specifically for the iOS platform. Are you curious to know if your current development process can support producing interactive eBook? Write to deepali@harbingergroup.com for guidance.

Alright! So far we have discussed the educational benefits of interactive eBooks and that developers won’t necessarily need to learn anything new to produce interactive eBooks. But, now the real business viability question: would it cut a deep hole in the pocket, both for the developers as well as for the customers? Well, it would cost more than producing a flat PDF for sure, but how much more, that would entirely depend upon the level of interactivity and multi-media elements. Have a question about how much your eBooks may cost to turn them interactive? Write to info@harbingerknowledge.com for help.

So, should you or should you not invest in interactive eBook? Let’s remember only this: there are already millions of children and adult in the world [and the number is growing rapidly, everyday!] who are now used to the highly enriched, engaging and interactive experience of consuming digital content. Flat page turner won’t cut it for them anymore. So, be prepared to give them what they want before they reject what you have to offer!