Archive for August, 2009


I have always been fascinated by the way in which children learn. We know that the majority of children’s learning is done without them even knowing, almost by accident, and this learning is simply part of growing up and watching others around you. You don’t need to sit a child down and teach them the English language or how to walk or talk, for example. Nevertheless, I think that we underestimate the strength of this implicit learning.

During a recent visit to family in Norfolk, I was enjoying playing with one of their young children, aged just four years old. The task in hand was to attach stickers of tractors and diggers over their silhouetted shapes in a book. The little boy was very good at recognising the shapes, which were not basic – even I had to double check whether there was a funnel or shovel differentiating one sticker and silhouette from another! However it wasn’t this that impressed me most. On attachment of the fourth sticker it touched down on the paper a little prematurely, creasing the sticker and getting stuck slightly off its silhouette. I was amazed when the little boy cried ‘oh man!’ in a really cute American accent! I later discovered from his parents that Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer uses this phrase. What fascinated me was how the little boy had learnt to correctly place the saying in context – as I’m sure Swiper the Fox has never aired showing how to apply stickers in a sticker book.

This way of learning can and does take place in adults too. I am not at all fluent in Italian and only know the odd word or two. However, when I went over there and stayed for two weeks I seemed to be able to speak random words that I have never been taught, but that I had obviously picked up from listening into conversations, reading signs and so on whilst I was there. It reminds me that this implicit learning that we are so quick to recognise in children also takes place in adults. How do we ensure that we apply it to our e-leaning and exploit this fantastic natural learning?


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There’s a huge array of authoring tools out there and, when it comes to finding the right one for you, it can be hard to know where to start. If you choose the wrong one, it won’t live up to the promise of delivering rapid e-learning – so here are our five top tips for sourcing the right tool for your needs.

1. Consider the output first

Ask yourself what type of online training components you need to deliver: for instance, will it predominately consist of text or will it be complex, adaptive e-learning; does it require captures, simulations or assessments? Note down the ideal features you need from your authoring tool as this will come in handy when you start your research.

2. Decide between ease of use and creative flexibility

You’ve got two broad options: a highly formatted tool that offers limited flexibility but requires little or no training time at all for the author, or a tool that offers more creative latitude but requires more time investment for learning how to use the various features and functionalities.

3.Do your research

Before making any decisions, research the vast range of authoring tools on the market. Consider the key features and limitations against your requirements and constraints. Viewing any online demonstrations that are available is a great way to get a feel for what can be achieved with the various tools.

4. Select complementary combinations

One tool won’t necessarily provide a best fit solution for the needs of all your training components. So once you’ve done your research on the features and limitations of the various tools, think about selecting a combination of tools that perform complementary functions. This way you’ll equip yourself with a suite of tools tailored to your requirements.

5.Don’t forget about accessibility

Most of the tools available on the market use Flash, and often don’t conform to W3C accessibility standards. Make sure that you know right from the outset whether accessibility is one of your requirements. If it is, you need to consider how far the various tools meet this requirement and how you might overcome their limitations in this area.

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Top five tips for choosing the right e-learning authoring tools


Whether they’re for an assessment or part of the training course itself, writing questions can be a tricky business. Read on for Saffron’s top ten tips for creating effective questions that test learners in the right way, on the right thing.

1. Draft the assessment before the content

If step one is defining the objectives and learning outcomes, step two is drafting the assessment. Make sure each question maps back to the outcomes and then focus the training content on the assessment.

2. Randomise the assessment

Ideally an end of course assessment will have a pool of questions, with a random selection drawn on each attempt. This means, if learners fail once, they can’t simply memorise where they went wrong but are actually tested again.

3. Remember: quality not quantity

When it comes to assessments, it’s better to have 10 excellent questions than 40 substandard ones. Likewise, multiple choice questions generally work best with four options – don’t go below three or above five without a very good reason.

4. Use questions to drive the learning

We’re big believers in the value of the test and tell approach. Don’t just give learners information and then test them on it. Instead, ask them to think for themselves with a question before correcting or confirming their answers.

5. Focus on behaviours

We’re in the business of changing behaviours. This means we need to enable learners to do the right thing, not just to remember facts and figures. Make sure every question relates to a choice or decision learners will face in real life.

6. Make it challenging…

If the right answer is three times as long as the rest, or the wrong answers are likely to make learners laugh not think, there’s no point even asking the question. Yes, coming up with plausible wrong answers is hard, but it’s worth the effort.

7. …but keep it fair

Don’t try to trick learners or give them an impossible choice. Negative questions, options that are identical except for one word, and questions on topics that weren’t actually covered in the course are neither fair nor effective.

8. Avoid yes/no questions

Giving learners a 50% chance of guessing correctly is not the most effective test. If you must use them, include a couple more options and make sure that ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ are qualified, so learners have to justify their choice.

9. Help people learn from their mistakes

Don’t just use ticks and crosses to show how learners have done. Provide constructive feedback to reinforce the message if they answer correctly, and explain where they went wrong if they answer incorrectly.

10. Keep the learners’ experience in mind

Focusing on behaviours is one way to answer the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question. But there are other ways – for instance, pre-tests assess existing knowledge and point towards the most relevant training units. Time efficient and effective!

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Top ten tips for writing effective e-learning questions


We recognise that often organisations need content that is, on the whole, generic, but with some bespoke elements tailored to the business. The problem with current rapid development tools is that the software development process is sped up, but not the instructional design process.

Our new Content Development Kits are the ideal solution, with ready-made content that can be tailored to meet specific needs, providing the value of a bespoke course at the price and speed of a rapid development project.

The learning and development equivalent of flatpack furniture, Content Development Kits come in the form of a build-it-yourself toolkit.





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