Whether face-to-face or online, gaining attention is a crucial element to course design. This element is prevalent in both Gagne’s 9 Elements and Keller’s ARCS Model. The important thing to consider in implementing this element is that it does not need to be a single occurrence at the start of course, but can be integrated throughout the course. And it must have a learning objective and/or reinforce the content at hand. Caution, don’t overdo it. Adding attention grabbers can also become annoying distractions. So, be careful and get your beta testers’ opinion too.
- It’s ok to use humor, just be careful not to offend. Also, make sure it is not culturally specific…everyone should get the joke.
- Quality graphics or animation are great. Remember only use them to reinforce and support the learning objective(s).
- Sims, scenarios or videos of how the content is applied will not only get their attention, but also reinforce the relevance of the course.
- Do not be hesitant because something may be perceived as silly. I propose that increases in silliness have a positive correlation with learner retention. Yes, that is my hypothesis. At this time I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this. I would share this evidence with you, but my dog ate it.
- Add educational games, puzzles, group exercises, etc.
Most importantly, if you have fun and add your personality in designing and/or facilitating the course your audience will have your attention and attention will be given to the content you are delivering. And of course retention and learner motivation will follow right along with it.
How do you gain attention?
Whenever I design a course, e-learning or classroom, I will write a course design plan (CDP). How CDPs are written may vary in the instructional design field. What we call them varies too. Either way, they lay out a great foundation for the creation of sound instruction.
Here is what I include in my course design plans:
- Course description
- Target audience
- Participqant prerequisites
- Learning objectives (terminal and enabling)
- Evaluation plan (I subscribe to Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels)
- Course map
I have been following this format since grad school and it has not failed me yet. After writing a CDP, I then proceed to creating storyboards or go directly to development phase, depending on the complexity of the course and if there are other developers involved in the project.
Here are a few helpful resources:
ISD From the Ground Up – This book is great resource for CDPs, lesson plans and applying Gagne’s 9 events of learning. It has been on my bookshelf from my early days in e-learning.
Training Management Plans From Don Clark’s Big Dog, Little dog site, which is chock full of ISD resources.
Do you use a course design plan or something similar?
Gain attention – This works great in e-learning. Use of animation, audio, graphics, etc. make this any easy task. The important thing is to tie it to the content and to “stimulate learning” of the subject at hand. Do not just get the learners’ attention, but get them curious and motivated to learn about the subject/skill your course addresses.
Inform learners of the objectives/direction – I always include objectives. Learners should, and want to, know what they are going to learn, but do not include objectives as written in your course design plan; they’re very dry and boring that way. State them as if you were face to face with the learners. If your course has characters, let them tell the learners what they will learn and what to expect.
Stimulate recall of prior learning – Have an exercise(s) that will assist learners associate the subject with concepts they are already familiar with or link the exercise to prior experience or knowledge. You need to really know your audience to pull this off, which requires a thorough needs assessment. In the classroom you can also use this event to measure your audience and tailor the training to them, if needed. In an asynchronous e-learning environment you will not be able to do this in a direct manner, but you can allow for self reflection and user control of the course. The user should be able to pick and choose the content they need. Even if you are making a very linear course, you should at least have a very accessible contents menu.
Present the content– This does not mean shifting into page turner mode. Keep it interactive. This can include using a character and story to deliver the content, breaking it up with questions and input from the learner, games, branching scenarios/sims, etc. I also like to use interactive Flash animation to put emphasis on the content and to allow practice and application of the new skill or knowledge. FYI: Typically the following feedback levels (5-7) will be incorporated into the “present the content” event.
Provide learning guidance – This is an opportunity for the learner to apply the learned knowledge or skill, but with guidance. A good example is a simulation. Whether a software sim or a soft skill branching sim, it should have sound instruction/directions and feedback for incorrect choices or answers. Unlike classroom training you cannot directly gauge the challenges the learner is having and any feedback provided is pre-scripted. The only alternative is a way for the learner to post questions or need for clarification through the course, such as an e-mail function. This will still not provide immediate guidance, but is an alternative if the course’s feedback is not enough. Another reason that course evaluation and redesign is important.
Elicit performance – Allow the learners to practice the new skill. An interactive exercise or a simulation. Remember, this event does not require as much guidance as the prior event. They should be at the point where they can apply the skills and wish to practice those skills. For example, a software sim in a “try me” mode, but with little are no instruction. Feedback can be provided, but more likely at the end of the event. This is an opportunity for the learners to confirm their understanding of the content and a chance to practice and increase the likelihood of retaining information.
Provide Feedback – For e-learning courses, feedback is folded into the 2 prior events/feedback levels.
Assess performance – With very few exceptions, I include an assessment at the end of the course (switching events events 8 and 9). I will include feedback for both correct and incorrect answers. For correct answers I may provide some additional pertinent information, which may boost retention. And for incorrect answers I will provide feedback that provides information on why their answer is incorrect and, if appropriate, what the correct answer is and why. If the content involves software I may also include a screenshot if it helps. Although this is the eigth event I always make it the last event, after Enhance Retention and Transfer. My experience is that once the learner has completed the assessment and received their certificate and credit for the course, they most likely exit. So, I swap the ninth and eigth events.
Enhance retention and transfer (closure)– Prior to the assessment I will provide a conclusion. I highlight and review important elements of the content and re-affirm if the course objectives were met. I will also discuss how this new knowledge or skill will be used in the workplace. This is also an opportunity to provide review questions prior to launching an assessment (event 8).
This is how I apply Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning. Please feel free to add your comments on how you apply the nine events in e-learning courses. Thank you.