How to Make Simulation Based Courses Engaging

It can be a real challenge to “engage” your learners in a simulation-based course. Traditional “Show me” and “Let me try” simulations, which are supposed to be guided learning methods are more like spoon-feeding rather than guidance. At the same time, you can’t really do away with the simulations, can you? So how do you make them more engaging and retain learners’ attention so they don’t just click-click-click through the course and get their completion certificates?

However I do believe that the same basics apply to all types of courses as far as “engagement” and “involvement” of the learners is concerned – and that is that one of the best ways to engage learners is to use context.

A typical simulation-based elearning course will have “show me” and “let me try” simulations with guidance at every step. However, once you have shown learners how to complete different tasks in the application, you could try including scenario based exercises instead of step-by-step ‘let me try’ simulations. Give the learner a scenario that they can relate to from their regular work-life, give them a task to complete and all the information they would need to complete that task in the application and then ask them to actually perform the steps to compete the task in the simulated environment. This will be much more engaging than giving them a step-list and asking them to perform the steps one by one!

Another way of engaging the learners is to have them do the “let me try” exercises within a game. So, once you present the learner with the information they need, and tasks they have to complete using that information, get them to use the “shortest possible route” within the application to complete the tasks. The more tasks they complete using the shortest route, the more the points!

For the “show me” demonstrations, try to use edumercials instead of just “Show me” simulations. Edumercials are 5-6 minute self playing animations that are either story or scenario-based and demonstrate the use of different features within an application. The demonstration is woven into the story or scenario to make it engaging.

So just a simple trick, like adding context to the simulations can make them more engaging. Does anyone have any more ideas on this?

Instructional Design for Mobile Learning

Ever since it made its presence felt, instructional designers have been coming up with innovative ideas to create effective mobile learning. Is it sufficient to just convert existing online courseware to a mobile platform or does the real challenge lie in designing courseware from scratch for the mobile platform? With smart phones and tablet PCs also entering the mobile learning foray, and thanks to the new possibilities that come with these gadgets, these questions have risen anew: what makes for good design when developing mobile learning courseware? How do we use the mobile platform so that it plays a meatier role in mobile learning than just a display device?

Let’s take a look at some strategies that are being used in mobile learning:

1. Keep it short and just in time: One of the catch phrases going around eLearning vendor workplaces especially is ‘just-in-time learning’, which involves learning modules that you can access just when you want them. For example, viewing important information on new product updates while you’re on your way to an important sales meeting; receiving the right information at just the right time can help you clinch that deal! Does that mean learners are willing to spend an hour going through a course on their smart phones? Not necessarily! Learners prefer accessing courseware over their mobiles in short bursts. Shorter learning modules that deliver key messages in a short time span work better for consumers of mobile learning. So, tell your learners exactly what they need to know and give them only important information they can use.

2. The mobile’s part in learning: When planning the high level design for a mobile learning venture, think about how you would want your learners to use their mobile devices. Do you just want them passively browsing through your course pages or could their mobile devices be used more interactively? For example, your learners could click photographs or shoot short video clips or audio interviews, which could then be used as part of responses to online group discussions or even to initiate discussions with other participants. Essentially, get your participants to do more with their mobile devices than just viewing text on the screens.

3. Make interactivity more meaningful: To make interactivity more fun and meaningful, it should leverage the inherent features of the mobile medium. I recently came across this TED talk, wherein Mike Matas demonstrates an interactive eBook created for the iPad and iPhone. Not to come across as biased toward the iPhone and iPad, but what really grabbed me during this talk were the different possibilities for making content interactive. At one point Mike Matas interacts with a conceptual animation of how a windmill works by blowing across the screen of the iPad to make the windmill turn! That’s interactivity at its engaging best!

4. Apps for Learning: Apps are becoming an increasingly important part of the learning experience on tablets and smart phones. This is especially true of a growing number of iPad owners who define their iPad experience by the apps they use. An example here is the app created by the American Museum of Natural History, which provides visitors with additional information on over 140 displays in the museum. And this is in addition to offering visitors customizable tours, directions to different exhibitions, theaters, restaurants, shops, and restrooms in the building! Another example is NASA’s Visualization Explorer app, which is available for the iPad. This app provides users with high-resolution movies and stills and written stories about advanced space-based research.
When designing mobile learning courseware, instructional designers could look at how best to weave apps into the design strategy. Rather than designing courseware to be deployed in the traditional course interface, the design strategy could revolve around using apps that give learners more opportunity to learn through practice.

5. Mobile and Social Learning: Needless to say, mobile learning and social collaboration go well together! I experienced this first hand at a blended learning program conducted for mid-level management in Harbinger. The blended learning design included twitter feeds that participants could access over their mobiles. These feeds played an important role in the learning design because they contained information that the participants would need to successfully complete a mobile assessment at the end of the session. If you hadn’t been accessing these tweets, not only would you miss out on an important modality in the blended learning program but you would also find it difficult to get a good score on your assessment.

Both the apps described in point 4 (the American Museum of Natural History and NASA’s Visualization Explorer) allow users to connect to and share information on social networking websites.

These are just five different ways of ensuring engaging and effective learning design in mobile learning courseware. I’m sure there are a lot more out there, but these five should get instructional designers thinking and looking out for more creative ways to make learning mobile.

The Customizable Product Training Framework

I spoke about this framework in my earlier blog and thought I would detail it out at this point.

A quick recap – Training people about any product and its features is an integral part of the product life cycle, be it at product development stage, its introduction in the market or its growth. At each phase of the product life cycle, there are various people to train – sales and marketing, technical support staff, customer support staff, the consumers, resellers, solution consultants, to name a few. You also need to update the courseware with every product update and upgrade.
All this training can be quite expensive!
With our many years of experience in product training design and development for customers all over the world, we at Harbinger have formulated a unique solution that gives a rare blend of easy customizability, production expertise and a templatized approach that helps crunch the training cost!
We call this the Customizable Product Training Framework and devised it in three steps.

Step 1: The Product Training Taxonomy

Product Training Taxonomy - Extract
Product Training Taxonomy - Extract

We studied and put together the integral requirements for product training which

  • identifies various training audiences
  • describes the training objective for each
  • lists what the training should cover
  • identifies the effective training modality for the content

We call this the “Product Training Taxonomy” and an excerpt from the complete taxonomy is given here.

Step 2: The Product Training Courseware Model

Product Training Units
Product Training Units

We then detailed the content coverage that will meet each course objective for each audience and broke this down by audience type and content to be covered. An excerpt of this “Product training courseware model” is given here.

Step 3: The Product Training Courseware Templates
We then studied and identified the types of screens, interactivities, exercises and assessment question types which would be typically used in product training programs and built the various screen templates that could be used to teach these content units. The templates were built using the universally accepted and easy-to-update Flash-XML architecture. In this, we have put in all the “variable” elements of a course, like graphics, audio, on-screen text etc, in XML, which can be easily updated using simple XML editors like Notepad. The “constant” elements like the user interface have been designed in Flash.

The Result
The result of this extensive thought process was a framework that allows you to do all of the following – rapidly and cost effectively:
1. Build a single product training course for multiple audiences – from sales force to consumers
2. Build multiple courses for different products based on the first product training course
3. Update the courses with each product upgrade
4. Localize the courses into multiple languages for a global reach

Write to us at producttraining@contentservices.harbingergroup.com for more details!

6 Product Training Courses – At The Cost and Speed of One!

You see new products being launched in the market everyday – mobile phones, drugs, insurance policies or new service offerings. Have you ever wondered what determines a product’s success? Is it the market research that went into identifying the right product? Its top of the class features, design, packaging, branding or effective selling? It’s probably the right mix of all these! But there is one more crucial factor – ensuring that the right information about these products is available to the right people at the right time. In other words – effective training!

To ensure product success, you need to ensure that your sales force, customer support and marketing teams, resellers, technical support teams and even your prospective and existing customers are well trained on the product throughout its lifecycle. However, design and development of courseware can be expensive, especially if you have to keep updating it with product updates and upgrades! So how do you get product training that’s cost effective, can be rapidly developed and made to reach a wide audience in a short time frame?

With our vast experience in building product training courseware over the past several years, our instructional designers and technical architects have put together a “framework” that:

  1. identifies the training objectives for each audience type
  2. details the course coverage to meet those objectives and
  3. identifies the training modality that would work most effectively for each

We then built a customizable course architecture and a set of templates that will be typically used to teach and present content in a product training course. These have been designed to show product features, product installation and configuration, product USPs and such information that you’d want to teach about your product.

So with your design all laid out and ready to use, your development becomes quicker, more cost effective and easier to manage – thus reducing your costs!

Sounds like what you wanted? Get in touch with us to know how we can make this framework work for you!