Make e-learning memorable

Could soothing music, humour or even games make an e-learning course more memorable for your employees? These add-ons are being adopted by e-learning creators, who believe programs must consist of more than just online pageturning or box–clicking exercises if they are to engage the learner.

Mike Foren, director ofCenREL, the Centre for Rapid e-Learning, wants to bring music into the world of e-learning. Coming from a multimedia background, he noticed that a lot of e-learning has no audio and much of it is still heavily text-based with “a bit of interactivity”.

Foren highlights a recent study carried out by academics from several US institutions, including Harvard Medical School and Harvard Graduate School of Education, that suggests instrumental music training may “enhance auditory discrimination, fine motor skills, vocabulary, and non-verbal reasoning”.He says: “We know music is hugely evocative and can help you remember what you were doing when you heard it, so we thought we’d put the idea out there that adding music to e-learning could assist in learning.”

CenREL has a library of music with acquired rights, which it can add to a piece of raw e-learning produced in PowerPoint. It can also add narration, tests and quizzes. The music will occupy 10-30% of a production, but CenREL will also provide clients with a music-free version so it can gain feedback from learners on both approaches.

The use of music will doubtless trigger debate in e-learning circles, buta multi-modal approach – such as words, pictures and audio – can be more effective when it comes to knowledge retention than a single mode approach.

A report commissioned by Cisco, entitled Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says, states that when the average student is engaged in higher order thinking, and is using multimedia in interactive situations, their higher order or transfer skills can go up by 32% compared with what they would accomplish via traditional learning.

Laura Overton, managing director of Towards Maturity, an independent not-for-profit organisation that supports a community of companies and individuals interested in improving the impact of learning technologies in the workplace, says e-learning providers should be more creative and look for new ways to improve retention.But she also warns that creating a memorable e-learning intervention is not just about adding new interactive technologies to make it “bigger, better and more fun“.

Towards Maturity’s recent review of workplace learning technologies, Driving Business Benefits, found that poor e-learning often comes about because many providers are neglecting the basics.

“A successful solution is about having technology-enabled learning that is fit for purpose and relevant to needs, and not everyone is taking this approach,” she says.

“Thirty-five of our research sample were not sure that their learning was relevant to their current job roles. A program can be well crafted and executed and look great in the lab, but if it doesn’t help individuals progress in their career or do their job better, it will not stick in their minds.”

David Marshall, CEO of managed e-learning services provider Marshall ACM, agrees. Hemaintains that if you are aiming for a memorable program, you still need an instructional designer to look at the entire briefbefore considering any multimedia. He says interactivity can be great, but he also singles it out as the culprit in some poorly targeted programs.

“It is perceived wisdom that [multimedia] is the ‘outstanding attribute’ to aim for. However, sometimes it just isn’t appropriate,” says Marshall.

“For instance, investment bankers taking our anti-money–laundering training course would react badly to waiting for video clips to download and our academics at universities find animated graphicspatronising.”

As for music, he agrees it can focus the mind in the right context but adds that he’d rather choose the music he listened to than have an e-learning consultancy decide it for him.

Case study: Macmillan Cancer Support

Macmillan Cancer Support is offering 48 online courses from Video Arts as an alternative to face-to-face soft skills training for its 4,000 health and social care professionals across the UK.

The courses – which cover subjects such as communication, people management, customer service and equality and diversity – are available through a virtual learning environmentcalled Learn Zone, and can be accessed any time and anywhere.

Lesley McGuire, Macmillan’s learning technology manager, explains that it wanted to provide a more holistic approach to learning and development, which meant it didn’t always have to pull people away from their workplace for training.

Taking a self-study approachmeans it is vital that the learning is memorable so the video content shows engaging characters in a range of situations, interspersed with questions and tutorials.

“The use of humour makes the learning engaging, memorable and fun,” says McGuire.

“The quality of the materials is so good that we can now offer a viable alternative to face-to-face training.”

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