How can principles of instructional design help educators better use technology and avoid putting themselves and their students into compromising situations that lead to poor decision-making and bad outcomes?
Making Right Choices (MRC) approached us to help them update their course design and integrate new content into the learning experience. Cybertraps was originally designed in response to the proliferation of educator misconduct in the area of technology use. MRC had three major problems when they engaged our services:
- The original course was an unengaging, information dump that had major navigational issues
- The provider that had previously designed the course was unreliable and mismanaged resources
- The course design was horribly outdated
MRC had a tight deadline within which they needed to accomplish three major changes to the course:
- Improve the visual design and reduce navigational issues for learners.
- Increase learner engagement and effectuate real change in the way in which educators use technology
- Incorporate newly adopted educational standards into the material in a way that motivated learners to explore them.
A tremendous challenge working against the accomplishment of these goals was the schedule. The program was one of three slated for a new rollout to an entire state of some 600 educators at the beginning of the 2021 school year. Beyond that, certain legal issues limited our access to feedback from learners during the analysis and development stages.
The length and timing of the program was also an issue that needed to be overcome. MRC had a legal mandate to provide an hour of training. There were several topics that they felt needed to be included in that hour along with new code of ethics that had been adopted by the profession.
The training needed to be provided asynchronously which made an online e-learning course a very reasonable solution. Unfortunately, a restrictive schedule and tight budget prevented further investigation into different options. To overcome the issues with the original program and to accomplish their goals, we knew we would need to do the following:
- Divide the material into smaller portions: We didn’t want to devalue an important opportunity to effectuate change by wasting one hour of an educator’s busy schedule with boring, click-through e-learning.
The curriculum lent itself to three sections which we were confident could be covered in 15-20 minutes each. We planned to fill each section with brief, meaningful scenarios and practice to aid learners in recognizing cybertraps and taking appropriate action.
- Incorporate more stories: Assigned to the team was a superb Subject Matter Expert (Frederick Lane, JD). He was not only a font of relevant information on the topic, but was also an encyclopedia of impactful stories. We were confident that the entertaining and insightful stories he had gathered would make a powerful impression on learners.
- Increase Engagement: Rather than simply explain the information, we planned to include more scenarios, activities, and viewpoint questions that would get the learner immersed into the learning experience.
Staying within budget and delivering on time were crucial aspects of the project. MRC had experienced immense frustration with other learning experience designers for several years. We knew their experience with Brilliant Educational Services needed to be, not just different, but superior. We wanted them to feel confident that their time and money would not be misused and that their learning solution would get the results they needed.
Initially, we considered a total rewrite of the program to a fully scenario-based, interactive course that takes the learner through a day in the life of an educator. Throughout the course, the learner faces increasingly challenging situations in which they need to make choices about the way they interact with students and colleagues using technology.
Unfortunately, scheduling, budgetary, and legal constraints significantly limited the scope of the revision. But those hurdles didn’t prevent us from improving the learning experience. In redesigning and reproducing the e-learning course, we crafted a significantly better learning solution for MRC.
We quickly agreed upon an e-learning course. However, understanding MRC’s preferred approach and taking the schedule into account eliminated the option of dividing the program into smaller modules. But we were still able to design a solution which accomplished that goal in a different way.
Firstly, we increased the relevance and relatability of the material by including several of the current stories curated by our SME.
Then, by using isometric illustrations and graphics along with simple motion effects, we updated the design to appear more modern and reduced the probability that the course would gradually become dated.
We significantly improved interactivity and engagement in the course by designing a customized menu. This menu divided the program into three manageable chunks and allowed the learner to pause the course between sections. The menu also included full access to the updated educational standards recently adopted by the industry. This way learners could peruse the code of ethics during the course at their leisure. We also integrated an interactive course map into the menu that allowed the learner to review portions of the course they had already completed. Beyond that, we made every effort to include interactive elements throughout each section to maintain learner engagement: motion menus; interactive, opinion-based questions and quizzes all increased the quality of the learning experience for MRC.
Design & Development Process
We initially designed the entire program graphically in Affinity Designer. We pulled in elements, illustrations and photographs from different sources to create a cohesive, unified design and included design elements from the book written by the SME. Once the design elements were completed and the storyboards had been approved, we authored the program using Articulate Storyline and produced the narration and sound design with Apple Logic Pro.
Implementation presented several issues in conjunction with course navigation. The tight schedule left us limited opportunities to pilot test the course with a focus group. Initially, we got feedback about learners having trouble understanding some design and navigational elements. Most learners were well-accustomed to click-next-to-continue-e-learning. So having the ability to navigate the program, almost like a game, proved to be somewhat of a steep learning curve for a few. Overcoming those hurdles involved responding quickly and courteously to some strongly-worded learner feedback, acknowledging where mistakes may have been made, parsing feedback to understand the root of the issue and taking the initiative to engineer the appropriate solution.
This program helped both ourselves and MRC to appreciate the value of two crucial aspects in the design and development process:
- Schedule adequate time for needs analysis and learner feedback, even if a project already exists. Even when redesigning a course, a good understanding of why the training is necessary and what it should accomplish is critical. Time is needed to determine the best learning solution and the goals that solution can realize. Learner feedback in the design and iteration process ensures that the course accomplishes those goals and affects real change.
- Stories have tremendous value in developing a learning experience. There is often a tendency to focus on solely presenting information. But stories put that information into a relevant context and provide realistic scenarios with which the learner can interact. Stories link information and action, connect actions with consequences, and are an outstanding resource in developing engaging learning experiences.
The program is already benefiting teachers and educational administrators in different states. The most recent rollout into a new statewide school district has been a success. MRC is getting comments from educators expressing appreciation for the value of the information and about the interactivity of the course being more enjoyable. Some have expressed regret that material like this was not part of the curriculum or training they received when they initially became teachers. MRC hopes to see this course implemented in more and more school districts nationwide. They are monitoring the activities of educators in areas where the course has already been circulated to look for fewer reports of educator misconduct related to technology use.
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