Tag Archive | Learning modules

keep it simple stupid


Sometimes we forget the profound nature of simplicity. We get lost in the drive to complicate projects because there is a belief this makes them look more refined and intellectual. However, it was Charles Bukowski, who said,“Simplicity is always the secret, to a profound truth, to doing things, to writing, to painting. Life is profound in its simplicity.”

One of the greatest challenges when writing eLearning modules, is to maintain a level of simplicity, without falling into a mire of patronising statements. Keeping the writing simple in a module is paramount to the engagement of the learner. This can be as simple as substituting the word ‘paramount’ for ‘key’.

How often have you had a conversation with somebody who inserts huge pauses in the conversation because they’re desperately trying to think of a smart word to use? It’s unnecessary, annoying, and when they do eventually say ‘conflagration’ instead of ‘fire’ I find myself praying for a Taser.

Using simple words to populate simple sentences is an underappreciated art form, and we should all re-embrace the art of simple syntax. A sentence that is simple and direct will always win the day because it’s easy to grasp, and if it’s an instruction, it’s easy to act upon.

Once I’ve finished a first draft of a module, I trawl through it searching for complicated sentences that I can simplify. And by doing this, I refine the writing into a comprehensive whole that is easy to understand. Each sentence should only need to be read once. Having to re-read sentences is time consuming for the learner, and indicates that the module is not doing its job properly.

Think about some of the great opening sentences of books that are simple, yet profound. One of my favourites is the opening line of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs:

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves”

Or the opening line of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22:

“It was love at first sight.”

These simple sentences set a tone that no complicated sentence could do. They immediately convey a sense of voice, pace and atmosphere, without having to be verbose or bombastic. Ernest Hemingway called these ‘true sentences’ and by this, he did not mean they reflected a philosophical truth, but the sentence was true in the sense that it said exactly what it wanted to say. No more and no less.

So, when you write your next module think about the profound nature of simplicity and make sure you avoid the unnecessary clutter of sentences that distort meaning and interrupt the natural flow of syntax.

Making your point clearly the first time round is an invaluable skill in this life.


The value of creativity in eLearning


We all love good stories. They entertain and fascinate, provide new worlds and create new thought. A traditional story comes in three parts, beginning, middle and end, following Aristotle’s three act structure. This is a formula we’re all familiar with and it’s easy for us to navigate our way through this structure. When I’m developing an eLearning module, I think about this structure, but more importantly, I think about how I can use this structure to make the module more creative.

There is absolutely no reason why eLearning modules can’t use elements of creative thinking to heighten their engagement for the learner. I use a technique that I call Fictive Embedded Information (FEI), where I develop a storyline for my module and populate it with the relevant content. This enables me to tell a story, provide a narrative arc and inform the learner at the same time. With all three elements working together, the learner is presented with a more engaging way of absorbing information.

I recently used this technique on a module that I wrote for a large media organisation. The module focussed on how changes to the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) were going to affect customer facing employees. Now, this kind of information is not the most riveting subject, hence the need to bring it to life. Based on this, I developed two characters, private investigators, who were to test employees on their way of working, in light of the changes to the APPs.

I began the process by writing thumbnail characterisations, giving the characters likes and dislikes and even a small amount of backstory to bring them to life. I also gave them a strong reason to be written into the module by developing connections between the characters and the content supplied by the client. The end result was a clear connection between the characters and the content and this is essential, otherwise the characters look like they’ve just been thrown in for the sake of it.

Once I had my characters connected to the content, I was able to write the storyboard using creative and critical thinking. It’s this blend of thought that allowed me to communicate information through a storytelling technique and maintain the balance between the creative and critical components. This balance is vital to education and it’s imperative that the two remain balanced if the process is going to work.

The final product was an engaging learning solution, which employed a storytelling device to transform rather turgid information into content that was more readily absorbed. The other elements that brought great value to the module were using a graphic novel format, voice over artists to play the characters, and the final ingredient was humour.

By using the tools of fiction to communicate information, we develop a more active way of looking at a topic, and for the learner, this addition raises the engagement of the experience. Storytelling is one of our most ancient arts and it should have a much stronger presence in the way we convey information in the workplace.