- Why emotional outcomes matter just as much as learning outcomes
- Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
This article is an edited extract from the upcoming June issue of Inside Learning Technologies and Skills magazine.
Last month, Nicholas Baum explained some of the principles of something called ‘me-learning’. He outlined the mechanics of how an e-learning course can become a space in which learners can visualise new behaviours in action: ‘Here’s where I am; here’s where I could be; this is what I need to do to get there’. Personalised input and personalised output via emotionally charged content is another way to put it.
The approach has been proven to work in courses such as that developed by Transport for London on mental resilience, where qualitative and quantitative evaluations drew a direct line from meaningful emotional engagement to massive return on investment. So how does it work? Where does the why really come from? What ‘buy-in buttons’ should those who design learning (and learning platforms) be pushing?
A revolution which has been gathering pace in the field of behavioural economics is highly relevant here. It’s changing the way that we are shaping the online world more generally, and e-learning needs to sit up and listen.
Traditional economics has treated the human as homo economicus, who is ‘Sovereign in tastes, steely-eyed and point-on in perception of risk’. The problem with this model is that ‘homo economicus is a rare breed.’ I would go further and say that the self-interested, calculating human doesn’t really exist at all. In fact, our brain chemistry motivates us to make decisions that aren’t necessarily rational or even self-interested.
Our memories are structured around emotional peaks and troughs, not averages or a steady accumulation of benefits. The ‘endowment effect’ means, for example, that we’ll place a much higher price on a teacup that is ours, than on an identical cup which isn’t – and we even hold on to shares long after the point where it made sense to sell them. A sense of belonging is the trump card.
This complicates our thinking about motivations for learning, and explains why the addictive learning environment can’t be as easily manufactured as we perhaps thought. It might make perfect sense to you why a learner would naturally engage with a learning intervention because it has social and game-based characteristics – that’s what creates a sense of reward, right?
But your course or platform is an imposter: it doesn’t carry with it the same emotional highs or the sense of belonging as the experience you based it on. It is a feature, emptied of emotional benefits.
To make e-learning better at changing behaviours, it’s time to start seriously asking where the e-learning course or platform that you have planned fits into the emotional narrative of your learners’ lives. What mood state are you going to capture and utilise? Most importantly, how are you going to make a learner feel like it belongs to her? In this sense, perhaps it’s time to start including emotional outcomes, as well as learning outcomes, in your next project specification.
Find out more by attending Saffron’s seminar on emotional investment in learning at the upcoming Learning Technologies Summer Forum. You can register here for free.
- Square pegs and round holes: How to make e-learning more mobile responsive
- Friday, April 26th, 2013
A few days back I was browsing my favourite website on my sister’s new smartphone. Even though I made sure I was accessing the mobile version of the site, I still wasn’t able to see content I could see when browsing the same site on my PC.
The impact on the user experience that just a small impediment like this makes is huge. Rather than try and force a square peg fit in a round hole, when something isn’t compatible, we prefer to leave.
So are you providing the right shaped space for your learners? Mashable has already declared 2013 as a responsive web design year, and rightly so: responsive web design for e-learning courses is something of a specialty at Saffron Interactive!
The basic idea is that all the hard work of designers and developers doesn’t get messed up when viewed on devices with different screen resolutions. This is becoming easier and easier because of the advent of CSS3 and its design techniques such as fluid grid layouts, media queries and flexible images. Media queries are used to figure out what resolution of device is being used by the user while flexible images and fluid grids then resize correctly to fit with the screen accordingly.
Ethan Marcotte was the person who coined the term “Responsive Web Design” in 2010 on his “A book apart” website. Since then many of the best projects have been developed using his Responsive Web Design techniques. Some of my favourite sites that use this approach include:
So how do we apply these ideas when we’re developing e-learning? Before you start designing courses or portals according to responsive web design (RWD) principles, there are a few technical things you need to consider:
- Most mobile devices are not compatible with CSS media queries;
- As RWD works on image resizing, the full image is downloaded on a user’s device and then resized to fit the screen, potentially taking time and impacting on performance;
- Though RWD aims to resize content for any device, there still will be few devices out there that won’t give 100% optimized user experience due to unusual resolutions; and
- Not all browsers (i.e. IE) support CSS3.
For those interested in exploring the topic in more depth, check out the following resources:
- How to waste millions on an LMS by confusing features with benefits
- Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
These days, whizz-bang platforms in the world of e-learning are aplenty. The problem is that great content isn’t. In fact, the typical experience of e-learning content remains so negative that to many outsiders the word itself seems somehow doom-laden and ill-fated. (Forget this preconception at your peril, by the way.)
Now imagine an empty Facebook – no friends, no comments and no memes – and you are imagining the actual appeal to the learner of that shiny platform which looked so good at the Learning Technologies show. (Or you are imagining the final years of Friendster, MSN Spaces or Bebo … !)
Yet the continuing assumption that platforms somehow replace the content in them is what drives vendors to invest millions in developing clever platforms (and put them on sale at prices which are not so clever) whilst ignoring the most important person: the learner. She is not interested in features, but in benefits.
And real benefits are derived from content. Think about Wikipedia. That simple combination of useful learning and easy collaboration is the explosive formula you should be aiming for. Now think about search engines before Google arrived. That overburdened, ‘desperate to be useful’ mess is what you are not aiming for.
My point is that all features really do is facilitate the smooth delivery and discussion of content. Some features are indeed revolutionary, but mimicking those won’t redeem a poorly planned content strategy. And be economical – a feature which is cool but not used may as well not be there at all.
The uncomfortable truth which LMS vendors don’t like to mention is that spending your pennies wisely on an affordable open source option can do this facilitating just as well as spending millions on a proprietary one. Let the content sing – and make sure it can sing. That’s your why. The platform is just the how.
It’s all about conversation
Understanding the ‘why’ before you get to the ‘how’ is another version of the features / benefits problem. A case in point is mobile learning.
The putative ‘how’ of mobile is becoming easy. Most authoring tools now publish in html5. But will html5 redeem courses which are non-interactive, overlong and poorly designed? No. Will dull content become interesting just because it is on a smartphone? Maybe, but not for long. The delivery mechanism is a feature – not a benefit.
The real ‘why’ behind m-learning is the pressing need to create learning which competes with the far higher standards of availability, accessibility and user experience we have come to expect from e-content. This applies to any device.
Above all, you are aiming for a user experience which holds a conversation and rewards the learner for her participation. The first prerequisite to holding this conversation is to speak in her language. The second prerequisite is to have something worth saying.
Technology can help deliver on these prerequisites, but it won’t redefine them out of existence. And if you fail to accomplish either, you may as well have stuck a post-it note to her desk.
- Top tips for managing translations (part 2)
- Wednesday, April 10th, 2013
Continuing from last week’s blog post, one of our most experienced language specialists at Saffron has put together another five top tips to help avoid your e-learning projects getting lost in translation!
- Is the translator qualified?
There are too many people out there who speak several languages and advertise themselves as translators. If you’re looking for quality, check whether they’re registered with a professional body. Do they have a university education in the foreign language(s) they claim to be proficient in? At least if they’re certified or qualified in some respect you can be ensured that they have high standards and a strong sense of ethos.
- Does the translator have relevant experience?
Choose someone whose previous experience is relevant to what you need. For instance, if you need to translate a course about security at work on a boat construction site, a translator with an understanding of engineering terminology would be most suitable. If, however, your next project is about turning a particularly difficult piece of legislation into an interactive course available to all employees within an organisation, you should look for someone experienced in translating creative writing.
- Localise (not localize!) the language
Make sure your translator understands the local culture and language of the learner. An English course for a British audience may use different terminology and idioms than a course designed for an Australian or American audience. And the same applies for other languages such as French and Portuguese!
- Respect the course’s original style
As well as defining the learner, also take care in briefing the translator about the tone and style of the course. It’s a waste of time writing high quality English content for a course that’ll be translated into six languages if that isn’t also reflected in the alternative languages.
- Get straight to the point
Have you ever noticed how the English section of an instruction manual comprises less space than other languages? So do bear in mind that most translations from English will usually contain at least 30% (or even 50%) more words, and that those words may be longer than in the original text. (Consider that speed limit in English can be translated as Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung in German!)
As parts 1 and 2 of my tips should impress on readers, it takes much more than a dictionary to be a good translator and translators are not made overnight. Stay tuned for part 3 of my translation tips!
- Top tips for managing translations (part 1)
- Thursday, April 4th, 2013
One of our most experienced language specialists at Saffron has put together her five top tips to help avoid your e-learning projects getting lost in translation!
- Hire a native speaker
It’s a common mistake to assume that just because someone speaks a foreign language that they can translate everything into anything. Remember that only native speakers of a language will know the local customs and habits that subtly affect and impact on a language. You can’t substitute for the real McCoy!
- Check that the translator matches your requirements
It can be quite difficult to know your translator’s efficacy when you don’t speak the language(s) they’ll be translating into. Since the storyboard you’ll be sending will probably be written in English, even if they’re a native English speaker, it’s crucial that you test their English reading and writing ability. If your translator doesn’t understanding the storyboard, they’ll be sure to mess up their translations!
- Train the translator
Every company has an induction programme for their new employees, so why not use that material to train the translator? This will give them a great insight on your company’s standards and will help them assess and adopt your company’s writing style.
- Translate from A to B, not B to C
Avoid at all costs translating from another translation. If you have a version of the course in the original language, send that version to the translator. The best example to highlight that issue is the Bible. It’s been translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to the current versions. Studies of the bible in the 1990s and 2000s indicate that quite a bit has been lost in translation!
- Distrust automated translation
So many aspects of your working life have been digitalised that it’s easy to forget what technology is supposed to be for! And this is perhaps most true in the translation industry. Ask your translator what system they use, and how. Make sure they use technology only to assist their translations, rather than using it to fully automate the entire process. If they use automated translation, you might as well use Google Translate; the result will be the same and you will save yourself money in the process! Remember that language is fundamentally about people and emotions, not machines.