Wednesday, January 07, 2009

When the Content is Really Boring....

So you've got some great ideas on how to make your content more engaging, how to get the learner into the flow. But what do you do when the content itself is just plain boring?

You can't just send in the clowns. You can't put lipstick on that pig.

Sometimes you have to get in and out as quickly as you can, minimizing everyone's pain...

Admit to the learner upfront that the content may be dry. Set the expectation. And then remind them why they still have to learn this stuff.

Michael Allen urges designers to provide "meaningful and memorable learning experiences." In Michael Allen's Guide to e-Learning he reminds us to motivate the learner by giving them the WIIFM (what's in it for me). Sell the course to the learner. Tell them why they care and what the personal advantages are. For more on learner motivation, read Tom Kuhlman's tips.

And, please, keep it short! Cathy Moore urges us to chop the basic fluff out of the course. Stick to the meat. Don't restate the obvious. Don't teach the learner what they already know. Don't go over material they've already been taught. Don't...oh wait, I'm getting verbose...

What do you do when you're handed a pile of content that makes you want to roll over and die of boredom?

Photo credit: Evil Clowns by Pink Moose


Unknown said...

man, is this post ever topical.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is certainly a familiar situation!

With any luck, the client has a reason why the learner needs to know the boring stuff. As in, the learner will actually DO something, preferably something useful, once they know the info.

So one way to make it less boring is to start out with a scenario that throws a character into a problematic situation, asks the learner what the character should do, and shows how knowing the boring info will save the day.

Another important trick is to push the client to identify what information the learner really, really needs to know *in their head at all times* and what can be punted to a job aid to be referred to as necessary.

A really common problem is to dump a lot of info into a course that would be more useful outside the course, searchable on the intranet or included in help files or even just printed on a card that learners can look at. If you can get that info out of the course and into job aids, you can use the course to show the learner how to use the job aid to solve interesting, real-world problems.

Stephen Downes said...

> And then remind them why they still have to learn this stuff.

No. Remind them why they *want* to learn this stuff.

Anonymous said...

What I WANT to do, is poke my eye out with a fork - much more fun.

What i would do is be pretty forward up front about the sahara-like qualities of the content and try and convey the WIIFM aspect. What else can you do really?

Cammy Bean said...

Great comments, everyone!

@Craig -- working on something fun at the moment, I presume?

@Cathy -- I like that approach a lot. Push most of the 'content' out to job aids and then just present the learner with a few compelling scenarios.

If the job itself is really boring, the content will probably be really boring, too. But it's the learner's job, which is why they should *want* to learn the material (to Stephen's point).

It's hard to motivate reluctant learners/reluctant employees/reluctant students...

@Sue Please don't poke your eye out.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Cammy

Your last question about what to do when the content in the assignment is boring is the crux. Well Cammy, if you are a school teacher there will be plenty of opportunity to think about this one.

First, I'd say you revert strongly to the rules you give explicitly here - keep it relevant and don't introduce fluff in order to attract.

Innovation is the only word that I can come up with here. The expert teacher takes the boring content and uses good metaphor or analogy to make it interesting. If used appropriately and skillfully they're not fluff - they become good teaching.

How does the instructor choose good metaphor or analogy? The target group being taught must be known as individuals in a cohort. For the instructional designer this can be difficult or impossible to know. For the good teacher, this is standard practice.

So I guess you can see why there is the gap between ho-hum instruction and engaging content.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Clark said...

Here's where your SME is your friend. They do this stuff because they find it interesting (cf Stephen's comment). Find out what makes it interesting for them, and bake that in. Also Cathy's trick: make it problem-based. And the WIIFM, as Sue suggests.

Dan said...

I have to agree that punting as much out to other places, such as job aids, makes sense.

I've found that often a lot of really dull content gets thrown in to the pot 'just in case'. The learner is very unlikely to benefit from it as it will be irrelevant to them at that point and it will simply impede the learning of the really important stuff.

In my experience this tends to happen when the person commissioning the learning doesn't understand the importance of objectives, so you end up with a lot of wishy-washy verbs like 'understand' and 'appreciate' which gives the designer a headache in either determining its relevance or creating meaningful interactions to test it.