E-Learning 1.

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Been There, Done That: Notes on Developing WBT

Implementing e-learning can be a confusing and overwhelming process. Here are lessons learned from someone who's been there. When I think of e-learners, I think of gardeners. The image might initially strike you as odd--that was our reaction, too, when a recycling agency approached us about developing an online composting course. But as we, if you'll pardon the pun, dug deeper, we could see that e-learning would help the agency meet some of its marketing and educational goals. The agency wanted to • • • attract more community members by offering educational programs that accommodated their busy schedules reduce the length of classroom workshops and make composting information more readily available position the agency as cutting edge in its use of technology.

To meet those objectives, we developed a Web course with facilitated discussion groups that worked in combination with classroom training. The online course, which learners had two weeks to complete, focused on the theory of composting. Then, in a half-day classroom session, participants learned hands-on techniques and created a compost. Finally, learners were given two weeks to interact and network online, sharing information and asking questions that arose as they were working on their compost. Fifteen gardeners participated, ranging in age from 24 to 60. Their level of computer experience varied greatly, but they all knew how to use email and Web browsers. None had taken an online course previously. Since this was the agency's first foray into e-learning, we took a deliberate step-by-step approach to the development process and built in a great deal of testing. We also involved the client and potential users throughout the process. Their active participation allowed us to make small changes as we worked, rather than having to make major changes well into the process. As with any e-learning project, we got some things right and learned that we could improve others. Here are some of the key lessons we learned.

Course Development
It takes time. The development time for an online course is much longer than for a comparable classroom course. Some people have estimated it can take up to 10 times longer if you're developing new material rather than adapting existing content. So, your instructional design has to be tight. Also, because clients may be new to the process, you'll need to schedule frequent meetings to keep them up to speed. If your development team is virtual, like ours was, we highly recommend scheduling face-to-face meetings at the beginning and midpoint of the process. If that's not possible, use the phone or Web-conference often. Too much email creates confusion and makes it easy to miss things. Test frequently. In our design, we tried to follow the basic principles of usability as outlined by Jakob Nielsen and others. To ensure that our course content and navigation were clear, we pretested our template with nine users. They offered excellent comments and pointed out

problems we had overlooked. As a result of their feedback, final users rated the site as extremely easy to navigate. Since the agency hoped to one day offer the course to a worldwide audience, we also tested the Website at a distance. We asked people in other countries to log onto the site; this testing alerted us to server speed problems.

Instructional Design
Rewrite material for the Web. We spent hours rewriting the print materials the agency used in classroom workshops to make it more Web-friendly, using short sentences, bullets, and judicious bolding. The effort paid off: Users found the material easy to read on screen. To ensure that the Web version didn't introduce factual errors, we asked a subject matter expert to review the revised material. Graphics can help. Use graphics and photos to highlight key sections in your online materials. During the classroom session, we took photos of the steps for making compost. Adding the pictures to the Website greatly increased learner comprehension. Be careful, though, to keep the number of graphics reasonable. If you include too many, pages will load slowly for users with low bandwidth. Users may vary. Learners with little or no online experience may need tips on navigating through a course, in addition to technical help. Some users said they got frustrated having to go through lots of material before they found the section they wanted. It never occurred to them to click on the module that was of most interest. So, keep in mind that new online learners may take a linear approach to the material. Experienced learners did as we expected: They looked at the table of contents, then clicked on modules of interest in the order they preferred. People drop out. You can give some people two weeks to complete a four-hour course, but they'll still try to do everything at the last minute. Some participants left their online learning to the morning of the hands-on workshop. When they couldn't finish in time, they dropped out of the course. Plan for a certain amount of attrition in your numbers. A few extras never hurt, but… In addition to the main modules, we developed extra resources for users. Although online quizzes can be a chore to create, our participants loved them, and they helped get people used to the online tools. Glossaries, Web links, and lists of books and local interest groups also went over well, as did a section offering technical tips and Netiquette basics. Developing extra learning assignments may not be worth the trouble. We offered three additional projects that participants could tackle; only one out of 15 people completed any. People are busy, so they're unlikely to take on extra assignments. Build a community. Take a few well-named discussion groups, mix in some judicious facilitation, give people something to talk about, and, voila, you have the beginnings of a viable online community. Since many people are initially uncomfortable in an online forum (there are few visual clues about how others are reacting to you), try to arrange for people to meet face-to-face before or during the course. Your learners will be more relaxed and online postings will increase.

Administration and Evaluation
Start with a familiar face. Although we were the course facilitators, we asked a staff member from the agency to act as the initial contact. Learners were familiar with her, and were initially more comfortable asking her questions about the course. Assign passwords yourself. We found it best to assign user names and passwords. Letting learners choose their own created confusion. Since many people didn't respond to the request to do so, we ended up assigning passwords anyway. Keep instructions short, but repeat them. People generally don't read instructions, so keep them to a minimum. We sent out extensive materials before the course started, but almost no one read them. Some participants said they forgot we had sent them. We found it much more effective to simply respond to questions or repeat administrative details on the course site. If possible, avoid asking participants to fiddle with their monitor or other hardware. Often, the program will work without those adjustments, and asking users to make even simple technical changes can create anxiety. Be proactive about technical help. We offered email technical support, followed by phone help if necessary, but only two people used those resources. Most users said they either had no problems or they read the "Tips on Using this Course" section online. Our thorough usability testing had revealed potential problem areas ahead of time, so we were able to either alert users to potential issues and how to solve them or work around problems. Talk to people. After the course, we asked learners to fill out a written evaluation. To encourage participation, we offered a gift draw to those who submitted their evaluations on time. We also went an extra step and conducted telephone interviews and a focus group. The information we gathered from those efforts was invaluable, and much more in-depth than we would have received through a written questionnaire alone. We asked participants how they felt about the online discussion groups, what their navigation approach to the course was (whether they proceeded linearly or skipped around), what they enjoyed in the material, and what should be added or deleted. So, how did it go? Twelve of 15 participants completed the online and classroom sections of the course. All 12 said that, based on their experience, they would take an online course again. With spring coming to North America, we're busy revising the course for the upcoming gardening season. Roses, anyone?

Write Right: Polishing Your E-Learning Prose

You've developed your first e-learning course. The content is brilliant and the design gorgeous. But what about the text? Here's how to make sure your writing is clear, concise, and correct. Your learners will thank you for it. Picture this: A worker sits at his desk, staring at his computer. He's trying to complete an elearning course his boss assigned. It's now Monday; it's due by Thursday and he's no closer to finishing than he is to writing the novel he's dreamed of for years. Why? Because the course is poorly written, with incomplete explanations and confusing instructions. As he stares blindly at his computer, the man wonders when someone will produce an e-learning course that's easy to use.

Too often, e-learning course writers fail to keep learners in mind, assuming they'll have a trainer available to answer questions. But that's not always the case. E-learning participants working on their own don't want to spend valuable time deciphering poor writing when they should be learning. To ensure that your writing helps instead of hinders e-learners, keep several guidelines in mind. Remember the audience. If you want your work to be well received by others, you must first determine who your audience is. For whom is your work intended? Is it for people new to the topic? Is it for subject matter experts? Is it for people whose skills fall somewhere in the middle? Identify your audience and their skill level, then begin writing content that's focused for that group. For example, let's say you're an instructional designer creating a course on HTML. For a beginner course you may write, "HTML is the code behind documents that appear on the Web." However, a more advanced audience would be bored with that level of content. So, you must refocus the content for those learners, perhaps rewriting the sentence to read, "The SSIs embedded in HTML documents sometimes require CGI script." Don't use that tone with me. Once you've identified your audience, you should choose the tone of your writing. In other words, the words you use and how they come across to the readers. Should you use an academic tone? A sarcastic one? Maybe you prefer a humorous tone, or a sad one. The tone you choose will depend on your audience and the subject matter. Picking up a newspaper, you'd find it offensive to read an article about someone's tragic death that's written with humor. That's because the subject matter and the tone don't match. If you use the wrong tone in your e-learning course, you may turn your learners off before they ever begin to see the value of your teaching. Based on your audience and the subject matter, determine the tone you want to use, and then stick to it. For example, writing a course on decision making for entry-level managers, you might choose an authoritative tone to instill confidence in learners. Good: When you encounter a performance problem with one of your employees, speak with the person about the situation in a confidential setting, address the issue in an objective manner, and allow the person to explain his or her actions. Bad: Is one of your employees not performing as expected? Don't know what to do about it? What do you think you should do, Einstein? Confront the person, of course! The first example offers the beginning managers a practical method to follow. The tone is clear, straightforward, and authoritative, matching the seriousness of the subject matter. The second example uses inappropriate sarcasm and insults the learners. See the difference in tone? One last note: Always be careful when using humor. What you find funny someone else might find offensive or sophomoric. Fashionable lengths. No one wants to read the world's longest sentence or scroll through endless paragraphs of text to find that one snippet of information they need. What learners want is simple: brief, easy-to-read, and comprehensible writing. Don't overload your readers if you want them to retain information. Whenever possible, write short sentences with simple wording that gets to the point. Long sentence: When you begin the process of decision-making, as all managers and employees must do at some point in their careers, it's important to keep in mind several things: the people you must involve in the decision, because no one can do it alone; the resources you will need to accomplish the

goal of your decision, which can be people, money, time, and so forth; and the effect your decision will have on those you supervise, as well as those you answer to--such as your manager, your customers, your suppliers, and even your stockholders and the public--which will help you fully analyze the decisionmaking situation that you have encountered at work as a professional and experienced manager. Edited sentence: When you begin the decision-making process, keep in mind three factors: the people you must involve in the decision, the resources you will need to accomplish your decision, and the effect your decision will have on others. The first sentence is clumsy and confusing. It loses its meaning and impact because it tries to do too many things. To be more effective, the sentence should be broken up into smaller pieces and unnecessary content edited out. The second sentence is a much better length; it retains the main ideas and eliminates the unnecessary descriptions. Supporting sentences can now be written that expand on the three factors. Crystal clear. It's crucial that readers understand what you've written. Clarity comes from simple and to-the-point writing. Evaluate which words and sentences best convey your meaning, and then select the most straightforward ones. Don't add big words just because you can; show off your intelligence by writing clearly and specifically while using the simplest terms possible. Confusing sentence: In order to ameliorate your decision-making skills, endeavor to utilize a formal decision-making process that will facilitate optimal results and surreptitiously ensconce you in people's minds as a decision-making guru. Edited sentence: To improve your decision-making skills, try using a decisionmaking process that will give you the results you want, while establishing you as an expert in the field. The first sentence fails to make its point because of the confusing and pretentious way it's written. It loses its meaning and impact because it uses too many large and unnecessary words. To be more effective, this sentence should be written more simply. The second sentence dumps all the unnecessary words, sticking with everyday language that most readers will recognize and understand. Lights, camera, action. Action sells. Just check out the movie selections at your local video store or the best-selling video games. Popular movies and games put the users right in the middle of the action. The same could be said for effective writing, which uses active verbs to engage readers. Examples of active verbs include: use, look, listen, act, plan, perform, discuss, determine, and other words that indicate an action. As with all rules, however, there's an exception. All writers sometimes use passive verbs, because it's impossible to completely escape them. Passive verbs include forms of to be (am, is, are, was, were, been) and other verbs that take the focus off the action and place it on the supporting verb (The paper was written by John instead of John wrote the paper). Writers must use passive verbs when they describe a state of being, for example, I am an instructional designer. So, while there are times when you need passive verbs, attempt to use active verbs when possible. They make learning more exciting and enjoyable.

Be kind to strangers. As the designer, you understand how to get around in your e-learning course. But keep in mind e-learners who are viewing it for the first time. The following suggestions will help you create products that are learner-friendly. • • Use headings. These brief statements describing the information that follows offer learners a system of landmarks on their e-learning journey. Outline the material. An outline at the beginning of your e-learning course familiarizes learners with the information you'll present and gives them a reference point to return to should they get lost. The outline designations can also be used in front of headings to provide learners with a second level of material recognition. Set an example. Often, the most effective way to explain your point is by using an example that brings it to life. Examples are especially useful when describing a difficult or obscure concept, and can also help emphasize the importance of an idea. Give specific and detailed instructions. People want clear, straightforward instructions that get them successfully from point A to point B with minimal effort. For example, if users must accomplish several tasks on a page before continuing, tell them that. Example: Complete each sentence fragment below by typing your response in the space provided. Compile these sentences into a paragraph and type it in the text box titled Your Paragraph. After completing these tasks, click Continue to move on to the next page. While these instructions may seem obvious, they let learners save their brainpower for more important activities, such as understanding and retaining your course material. Using these guidelines will set you apart as a learner-friendly designer who understands the frustrations of your audience and wants to fix them. You'll quickly become a trusted ally in the ever-growing minefield of e-learning experiences. So polish that prose, and watch your learners succeed!

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Information is not Instruction!
The most profound statement uttered in the learning community in the last 10 years was the simple declaration by M. David Merrill, professor of instructional technology at Utah State University and a respected expert in multimedia training design. "Information is not instruction," Merrill told Training magazine in a 1998 interview. Although he was discussing the inadequacies of Web-based training, Merrill's statement reflects that it has always been too easy to become enamored with the technology side of technology-based training--at the expense of proper design and learning outcomes. In the early days of computer-based training, there was an initial rush to pour content into electronic tutorials. A few innovative designers made the most of the limited media and created engaging simulations, quizzes, even games. But this was the exception to the rule, and most learners were forced to passively read the text on the screen, clicking the space bar to move on. These types of programs, derisively known as page turners, tainted the image of CBT for many years. With the advent of interactive videodiscs and multimedia CD-ROMs, designers gained the ability to add graphics, animation, audio, and video. Today's CD-ROM training programs often use creative themes and production elements that make them look more like the latest blockbuster movie or Nintendo video game. These bells and whistles can keep students engaged, but many

of these programs still lack sound principles of instructional design. The yield is an audience that has been entertained but has not acquired new skills or knowledge. This tradition carried into early Web-based training programs, which were nothing more than online documents. Trainers created electronic versions of traditional printed student manuals, articles, tip sheets, and reference guides. Although they're valuable and accessible resources, these conversions to the Web cannot be considered true training programs. Instead of page turners, we now have scrollers. The rush to the Web without considering instructional design led to Merrill's passionate defense of a scientific approach to learning. In his interview, Merrill put it simply: "If you don't provide adequate practice, if you don't have an adequate knowledge structure, if you don't provide adequate guidance, people don't learn." Adult learning principles haven't changed To guarantee the effectiveness of any training program, it's important to remember that while technology will always change, the way adults learn will not. In fact, modern theories of adult learning, known as andragogy, have roots dating back to 1946 when Malcolm Knowles was an educational director for a YMCA. His initial observations and later research would lead to a landmark book in 1970 titled The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy versus Pedagogy. Knowles's theories of adult learning are complex, but his conclusions are just as valid today as they were 30 years ago. They include these observations: • • • • Adults need to know why they're learning something; they must believe it will have a personal benefit. Adults have lifetime experiences that should be tapped and built upon. Adults learn best from hands-on, problem-solving approaches to learning. Adults will expect to apply new knowledge and skills immediately, which will aid retention.

A systematic approach to training Just as Malcolm Knowles is widely regarded as the father of adult learning theory, Robert Gagne is considered the foremost researcher and contributor to the systematic approach to instructional design and training. Gagne and his followers are known as behaviorists, and their focus is on the outcomes, or behaviors, that result from training. Gagne's book, The Conditions of Learning, first published in 1965, identified the mental conditions for learning. Different types of knowledge and skill require different conditions for learning and retention. A simplification of Gagne's "events of instruction" include the following nine steps. Gain attention. In order for any learning to take place, you must first capture the attention of the learner. A program that begins with an animated title screen sequence accompanied by sound effects or music startles the senses with auditory and visual stimuli. An even better way to capture learners' attention is to start each lesson with a thought-provoking question or interesting fact. Inform learners of objectives. Early in each lesson, they should encounter a list of learning objectives. This initiates the internal process of expectancy and helps motivate them to complete the lesson. These objectives should form the basis for assessment and evaluation.

Stimulate recall of prior learning. Associating new information with prior knowledge can facilitate the learning process. It's easier for learners to encode and store information in long-term memory when there are links to personal experience and knowledge. A simple way to stimulate recall is to ask questions about previous experiences or build upon an understanding of previously introduced concepts. Present the content. This event of instruction occurs when you actually present new content to the learner. Content should be chunked and organized meaningfully, and typically is explained and then demonstrated. To appeal to different learning modalities, a variety of media should be used whenever possible, including text, graphics, audio narration, and video. Provide "learning guidance." To help learners encode information for long-term storage, you should provide additional guidance with new content. Guidance strategies include using examples, nonexamples, case studies, graphical representations, mnemonics, and analogies. Elicit performance (practice). In this event of instruction, the learner is required to practice the new skill or behavior. Eliciting performance provides an opportunity for learners to confirm their correct understanding, and the repetition further increases the likelihood of retention. Provide feedback. As learners practice new behavior, it's important to provide specific and immediate feedback of their performance. Unlike questions in a posttest, exercises within tutorials should be used for comprehension and encoding purposes, not for formal scoring. Additional guidance and answers provided at this stage are called formative feedback. Assess performance. Upon completing instructional modules, learners should be given the opportunity to take (or be required to take) a posttest or final assessment. They should complete this assessment without receiving additional coaching, feedback, or hints. Mastery of material, or certification, is typically granted after achieving a certain score or percent correct. A commonly accepted level of mastery is an 80- to 90-percent score. Enhance retention and transfer to the job. Determining whether or not the skills learned from a training program are applied back on the job often remains a mystery to training managers--and a source of consternation for senior executives. Effective training programs have a performance focus, incorporating design and media that facilitate retention and transfer to the job. The repetition of learned concepts is a tried-and-true means of aiding retention, although often disliked by learners. Applying Gagne's nine-step model to any WBT program is the best way to ensure an effective learning program. A WBT program that is filled with glitz or that provides unlimited access to Web-based documents is no substitute for sound instructional design. While those types of programs might entertain or be valuable as references, they will not maximize the effectiveness of information processing--and learning will not occur. A quick test for WBT Whether you're evaluating one of the thousands of WBT programs now available off-the-shelf, or creating your own program from scratch, remember that the instructional design is more important than the technology. Although the six questions below do not encompass all that's known about the science of instruction, they'll go a long way towards screening out the programs that are nothing more than passive forms of information.

1. Does the program immediately capture a learner's attention? 2. Does the program explain its own relevance? Does it answer the learner's question,
"What's in it for me?"

3. Are learning objectives presented? Are they specific and measurable? 4. Is the presentation of content engaging through both design and media? 5. Does the learner have an opportunity for practice and recall (beyond stale multiple-choice 6.
questions)? Does the program include a final posttest or other device to indicate mastery?

Effective User Interface Design: The Four Rules
In last month's column, we looked at the design of user interfaces, which I consider the most neglected topic in the discipline of online learning. We defined the basics of human computer interaction and explored user frustrations that are all too common, unfortunately. This month, we examine four rules that you can apply to new projects to ensure that learners are focused on the content rather than on navigation. Rule #1: Help them remember. Following are several design objectives to keep in mind to help learners navigate an informationpacked site. Chunking information and organizing menu structure Using what we know about short- and long-term memory, we can apply the following strategies to maximize the effectiveness of a program's menu system. A menu should ideally have no more than seven items on it. If it does have more than seven, determine whether it can be split logically into a higher-level menu and a submenu. This helps learners remember which menus contain certain items. The order or placement of menu items should match the structure of the tasks and subtasks. For example, a main menu for a sales training program might list the classic four-step sales call in chronological order: • • • • Lesson 1: Lesson 2: Lesson 3: Lesson 4: Building Rapport with Customers Presenting Product Information Handling Objections Closing the Deal.

In turn, when the learner selects Lesson 3, a submenu might be sequenced along the consecutive steps of Classifying Objections, Responding to Objections, and Confirming Satisfaction. If there is no sequence associated with menu items, place the most commonly used options at the top of the menu and least-used items on the bottom. Submenus should have titles that reflect the selected option from the previous menu. For example, the submenu described above for "Handling Objections" should maintain those words as the submenu's title. The cleanest way to handle nesting menus is to use expanding menus where the learner never loses sight of the original menu structure.

Using mental models or visual metaphors A mental model or visual metaphor is the internal picture we create to help us understand how things work. Though we're not conscious of our mental models, they help us to use computers effectively. Designers use visual metaphors to take advantage of what we already know when helping us understand something new. A good example of a visual metaphor is the directory structure of a computer. While the computer actually stores files and data haphazardly on its hard drive, the visual metaphor presented to the user is that of file folders and a vertical ordering system. This metaphor gives an artificial but clear sense of order to the system. As users we imagine that our documents are being held in these little folders, and that there is some kind of depth to them. Mental models and metaphors, however, are still subject to short-term memory restrictions. Most users begin to get lost when their model contains more than three layers or paths. Imagine a training program that has a main menu (the first level) from which students gain access to a specific lesson (the second level), and eventually click on a More Information hyperlink, which displays some additional text (the third level). At this point, most users will still have a clear understanding of where they are in the program, and how to retrace their steps, if necessary. But if they are again presented a link for more information, such as a case study from within the More Information section, they will begin to lose track of their location or the relationship of the onscreen content to the overall lesson. Using multiple access points A simple way to relieve the burden on users' memory is to provide multiple ways to locate and access the content. Common methods are described below. • Main menu. The primary access point is always the program's main menu, which should be well organized and descriptive. Rather than using generic names, such as Lesson 1 and Lesson 2, use descriptive headings such as "1: Overview to Customer Service" and "2: Dealing with Difficult Customers." Index. An index of key topics or all learning objectives helps users find specific information. A well-indexed system will enhance any training program's subsequent use as a just-in-time support tool. Keyword search. The keyword search enables users to type a word and have the program scan the entire text for all occurrences. While a powerful feature, a keyword search only looks at onscreen text and cannot identify information presented as audio narration or in pictures. Site map or content map. A visual representation of the order of the topics in the program, or content outline, is called a site map. Typically, it displays the entire menu system graphically, extending down to individual learning objectives.

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Rule #2: Put the user in control. An effective interface puts users in control of the program, or at the very least, lets them feel like they're in control. By giving users control, you ease their anxieties, minimize their confusion, and create an environment that's conducive to learning. Descriptions of a number of time-tested ways of putting the user in the driver's seat via status or warning messages follow. • Loading delays. If a computer is busy for longer than three seconds, the program should display what's called a status message. If the delay is due to bandwidth limitations, there is little you can do to forewarn the user. However, if you're using streaming media or Flash animations, you should anticipate the preloading delay and provide a warning message of some type. This message alleviates users' concerns that the computer may

have "frozen." Though the message in itself doesn't provide control to the user, the communication helps them to feel that they're still in control. Taking a test. Final exams are often timed and intentionally prevent learners from leaving the test module until they're finished with the test. This kind of program control is designed to keep users from looking for correct answers in the lessons. Before the test is started, a confirmation message should appear that advises the student, "You are about to begin the test. Once you start this test you will have to finish it in one sitting. You will not be able to take the test again. Are you sure you are ready to take this test now?" Action buttons should be clearly labeled Take Test or Return to Main Menu. Previous page. Perhaps the most obvious undo feature is the Previous page button or Back button in a linear tutorial. In addition to giving learners the control to move forward in a program, an effective interface also enables them to move back to a previous page.

Rule #3: Use consistent and logical designs. Users can quickly learn a new visual metaphor or a new mental model, but they also quickly create expectations that the interface they see will be consistent. A program's interface is the door between the student and the instruction. In order to facilitate access and reduce confusion, consistency in interface appearance and behavior are paramount. Clear and logical screen layouts An intuitive interface begins with the overall layout and design of the screen. Four principles of screen layout include the following: • • • • Place screen objects together in a logical order. Place buttons where the user's eye can easily find them. Give buttons clear symbols or labels. Group buttons together based on their function and frequency of use.

Web-based training programs often have navigation bars running vertically down the left side of the screen, or horizontally across the top of the screen. This is because scrolling text windows are a common user interface element on the Internet, making horizontal buttons on the bottom of the screen--which are standard on CD-ROM programs--impractical. Buttons should always be given clear labels, with both text and graphical indicators, if possible. Common button-naming rules include • • • • • • Use Menu to label the button that accesses the main menu. Don't use the ambiguous Main. Use Help to access navigational guidance. Don't use Hint or Panic. Use Exit to end the program. Don't use Quit, End, or Stop, which might refer to quitting the immediate exercise or lesson. Use Forward or Next and Back or Previous to designate page turning. Don't use Up or Down. Use complete screen counters, such as "1 of 30," not partial counters, such as "Page 5," that don't indicate how much longer the lesson will last. If your program runs on Windows, refer to the keyboard Enter key as Enter, not as Return.

Consistency in visual cues Early seafaring explorers used celestial navigation to make their way across the high seas. Like the North Star, the buttons your students use to navigate should never change in their appearance or location on the screen. Button identification is a fundamental part of a mental model. Changing a button's location or appearance will cause users to think they're seeing a new button with new functions.

Menus that behave predictably Menus are the key structures for organizing and accessing information and must be planned with great care. In addition to logical sequencing and having no more than three layers of menus, the menu action must be consistent throughout the program. When a user clicks on a menu item, similar actions must occur for each item on the menu. Main menu items that are clicked can lead to submenus, or the buttons can directly launch a lesson or simulation. But don't mix the two actions on the same menu. For example, if clicking "Module 1: The Cardiovascular System" launches a submenu, but clicking "Module 2: The Nervous System" launches a 30-screen linear tutorial, students can get confused. They may think "Oops, where is that submenu? Did I accidentally click something to launch this tutorial?" or "What's going on? Will I get to the submenu after this tutorial?" Rule #4: Provide informative guidance and feedback. Web-based training has significantly transformed training, replacing many traditional classroom sessions. But students of all ages are still students and perform best when given guidance and feedback. Just as in personal relations, politeness and courtesy should be extended in all technology-based training situations. Page counters Every linear tutorial should have an onscreen page counter that tells users, which screen or page they're on and how many more are in the lesson. A simple message such as "Screen 5 of 25" clearly describes what's required to finish the lesson in the program and engenders learner confidence. With self-paced programs that can be taken at any time, this type of progress marker helps users answer such questions as, "I have a meeting in 15 minutes--can I finish this lesson or should I quit now?" Some designers recommend using time estimates rather than page counters. For example, "Lesson 1: Overview (10 to 15 minutes)." However, estimating the time needed for self-paced training is difficult. Be aware that although a range is given, some learners may feel anxiety from the implied time limitation. GUI evaluation checklist When reviewing and evaluating the computer interface of your technology-based training program, you should be able to answer yes to the questions below. This checklist is suitable for CD-ROM and online learning programs.

Do all buttons and icons have a consistent and unique appearance? Are visual cues, such as mouse cursor changes and rollover highlights, used on all buttons consistently? Are buttons labeled with text descriptions (or with rollover text)? Do buttons "gray out" or disappear when they’re inactive?

Do nonbutton graphics have design properties distinct from that of buttons? Are navigation buttons displayed in exactly the same screen position every time they appear? Are buttons grouped logically and located where the user is likely to be looking? Do users have one-click access to help, exit, and the main menu? Are users returned to where they left off after closing the help window and canceling the exit screen? Does every menu have a title? Does every menu screen include an option to return to the previous or main menu? Are there fewer than three levels of menus? Do menus have seven or fewer items on them? Are items on menus descriptive rather than general? Are menu items listed in a sequential or logical order? Do menus indicate which items a learner has completed? Are confirmation messages used in such areas as student registration, exit, and final exams? Are there clear instructions associated with menus, questions, and other tasks? Are error messages written in plain language? Are status messages displayed during delays greater than four seconds? Are exclamation points and sound effects used sparingly? Is there a bookmarking feature that enables users to exit and resume later where they left off? Can users move backward and forward in linear

tutorials? Are page or screen counters used to show progress in linear lessons? Is the visual metaphor consistent and intuitive in nonlinear simulations? Are all pop-up windows positioned on the screen so they don’t cover up relevant information? Does text appear clearly and with normal margins and spacing? Do information input screens force all capital letters, and is input evaluation case insensitive? Can users interact with the program from either the keyboard or the mouse? Are text fonts used consistently? Are audio volume levels consistent? Do users have the option to replay video or audio narration? 10 Tips to Optimize Your E-Learning

Digital learning: You love it, you hate it, you praise it, you curse it. It's a solution to your training problems; it can also be a challenge. Here are 10 tips to optimize the experience for learners and instructors. Tips for Learners 1. Technical assistance. Using unfamiliar technology will inevitably require some help, but you should do what you can to minimize technical difficulties. For one thing, ensure that all your equipment meets the basic hardware and software requirements of the course. Then practice using the software, running the tutorials, and scanning the manual or browsing the help files. 2. Netiquette. Remember your online manners. Lively, on-task discussions belong in the online classroom; personal attacks do not because they take away from the learning process and demean other participants. You should be as familiar with the discussion board or listserv policy as you are with the class participation requirements. If you're new to Netiquette, here are a few 3. Preparation. The freedom to learn asynchronously requires extra motivation and time management skills, especially if you're scheduling around work and home life. When the instructor sets a due date for an assignment, you should complete it on time. Creating a space away from distractions will help you focus on the material. If time allows, you should read ahead for the next lesson and prepare questions while reading the assignments or participating in class discussions.

4. Shortcuts. Keyboard-based shortcuts can reduce mouse time and prevent wrist injuries. Here are a few tips for PC users: • • • • • • • Tab will move you from link to link. Alt-Tab will allow you to toggle between windows, for example, MS Outlook, Internet Explorer, and Word, without having to select them from the task bar. Control and left or right arrow will move you from word to word, backward or forward, respectively. Control and up or down arrow will move you from paragraph to paragraph, up or down, respectively. Control-X will delete highlighted text; Control-Z will undo the action. Control-C will copy text, and Control-V will paste it. Control-A will select all text.

Mac users can turn to www.unl.edu/compsale/shortcuts.html for shortcuts. Tips for Instructors 5. Communication. Some online courses require participation via threaded discussion boards, email groups, or chat rooms. In those formats, it's important that learners get timely responses to questions. If a question requires additional thought, you should acknowledge the question and indicate that you'll respond soon. Take advantage of email tools such as MS Outlook's Out of Office Assistant, which can send automatic emails stating when you'll reply. 6. Fonts • Type and style. Used judiciously, varying font size and type can indicate emphasis and increase interest. You should avoid exotic fonts, however, because not all computers will have them, and such fonts are hard to read on screen. A readable balance is best achieved with sans serif fonts--contrast this M with this sans serif M--but it's best to allow users' settings to preside. Also, don't overuse bold and italics. Underlining should be used sparingly, if at all, because the effect could be confused with a live link. More information about font type and style is available at the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (very technical). Also see, the Tufte book review on visual displays. Color. Just as important as the font type and style is its color. Don't base discrimination of information solely on color differentiation: Some learners may be color-blind. Also, don't hinder readability with poor contrast between background and text. For more information about colorblindness and the Web, see the Visibone color blindness resource and the Visibone color laboratory.

7. White space. We can't say enough about chunking text. Separate main ideas into readable sections. It's better to scroll down than to scroll across. As you chunk lesson information, apportion information on the screen--for example, use bullets to emphasize a series of important points. Be generous with navigation points (top, back, next, menu, exit) placed in screen-sized chunks to help readers maneuver and reduce mouse use and scrolling. Bonus: Also, keep pages to about 35 to 50K in file size and about three pages of printed text. If you can count to 10 and your page is still loading, it's taking too long. Be judicious with graphics, images, and animations. They can significantly increase download times and distract from the text if their points are unclear.

8. Hidden links. Navigation should be easy; don't hide the links with cutesy effects. Links should look like links--underlined text where the cursor changes to a pointing finger when the mouse rolls over the text. The default (expected) colors are blue for unvisited links and purple for visited ones. Wording of the links should be carefully chosen as well. "Email the Webmaster" or "Email the instructor" may be frustrating when learners' browsers are not configured to their email. Provide the actual email address as part of the link, for example, "Email the Webmaster (Webmaster@astd.org)." A nice extra step is to include such contact information at the bottom of every page, along with "last updated" and "last reviewed" dates (the latter for pages whose content does not require constant upkeep). Bonus: Using "click here" is passé, so make sure that underlined text can stand on its own. Here are some examples of link phraseology: Bad standalone: Here are this week's discussion questions. Good standalone: Review Unit 7 with these discussion questions. 9. Accessibility. Accessibility is easy navigation, not only for people with disabilities, but for everyone. Accessibility aids, such as alt tags (the words that describe an image when the cursor is placed over the picture) and transcripts of audio files are helpful for learners with disabilities who may require screen readers to tell them what's on the page. But alt tags are also helpful for people who have decided to turn off images because they don't want to slow down their already sluggish Internet connections. Did your programmers verify accessibility? If not, at least make use of the Bobby tool, which analyzes Webpages for their accessibility. You should also be familiar with your organization's accessibility guidelines, as well as any applicable agency, state, or federal requirements. For more information about federal accessibility requirements, see Section 508 and the international accessibility guidelines at the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative. 10. User testing. Webpage design is independent of the content. Just as instructors and educators assess the validity of test questions, so should they assess the design of the e-learning vehicle. Consider these questions: • • • • Can the learners determine where they are and navigate the site easily? Has the coding been validated? Do all the links work? Does the e-learning really require the effect of that snazzy plug-in?

Another crucial question also deserves an answer: Can the learners get help easily when problems arise?

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