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Creating Engaging Online Learning

Online learning comes in two general forms: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous online learning happens when several individuals (learners) are communicating or interacting with each other at the same time. This often happens online with a webinar. An online chat room or instant messaging system could also be deemed synchronous. Learners need to be present at a specified time and at the same time or “in sync” with the instructor. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, frees the learner from the time the instructor is available. The basic types of presentation in asynchronous online learning today can be categorized as follows:

  • page turners,
  • limited interaction,
  • scenario and branching,
  • game based, and
  • full blown game/simulation or virtual reality type immersions.

Of these, the most widely used is, unfortunately, the page turner. Anyone with a PowerPoint presentation can easily and inexpensively convert it into online learning. This can be done using any one of a plethora of tools. Name an organization that does not have PowerPoint as part of its standard load on user’s computers. It’s hard to avoid thinking in PowerPoint-ese. Given this profusion, it is easy to see that a PowerPoint presentation is simply converted and becomes the de facto online learning style used.

Moving on to the next level is the limited interactions style of asynchronous online learning. By forcing the learner to interact to obtain some type of information you can improve the overall experience of the learning. Generally, this is done by inserting a hyperlink or image link that presents additional information. There are many iterations of this type of interaction – click on something to read or listen for more in depth information. Creating this type of learning can be done with limited programming skills. In fact, it can be done using some more advanced PowerPoint skills. More often, the instructional designer will use a more advanced type of rapid development tool to create this.

Branching and scenarios that cause a learner to make decisions increase the knowledge retention even further. We have now generally moved out of the PowerPoint based online learning courses. Depending on the complexity of the scenario and branching data being tracked, an instructional designer can certainly create quality learning using rapid development tools. The more complex the course, the longer it takes to program. Using a “canned” branching or scenario based interaction provided by the tool can work, however, in my experience, each interaction needs to be heavily modified in order to meet the demands of the concept being taught. This is generally done by programmers working in conjunction with an instructional designer.

Finally, game and world development provides incredible interactions that are not scripted, especially when artificial intelligence is used. This gives learners the best of real-world situations in which to train.

Chapman Associates releases studies of costs associated with these different presentation forms mentioned above. In 2010 the average development cost ranged from $10,000 to $53,000+ per seat hour depending on the type of presentation format. Clearly, time and cost to develop are major factors in choosing the right presentation form for your courseware.

Earlier I stated that many “canned” interactions provided within rapid development tools need to be heavily modified in order to meet the demands of the concept being taught. Not only that, but generally a programmer was needed to make these modifications. The “canned” interactions provided by many rapid development tools are either inappropriate, of poor graphical quality, or are so limited in number that a learner begins to see the same thing over and over again. Content is forced to take a back seat to the interaction. Content should always drive everything in courseware. This begs the question “Are there tools available that have enough quality interactions that the experienced instructional designer can use – without continual need of the programming community – and at an entry point cost-wise that will increase the overall effectiveness of online courseware without breaking the budget?”

I’ve used numerous tools over my 15+ years programming online learning. I am a technical director charged with leading a team of programmers, graphics artists and game developers who work hand in hand with a cadre of instructional designers and project managers to deliver high quality online learning to our clients. My team is constantly looking for ways to decrease our overall development costs while increasing the quality of our products. As such, I constantly evaluate and change out the toolset we use.

I’ve recently started using Raptivity. This is a tool that I feel gives the instructional designer or subject matter expert the ability to create quality and engaging interactions that are not repetitive – 180+ interactions that can be modified – without programming. I’ve never seen a development tool that provides the breadth and depth of interactions this tool has. An example of a flash card based interaction that can be published to either Flash or HTML5 is shown in the image.

180+ interactions seem like a bit overwhelming? I started with Raptivity’s Essentials pack and attended one of the numerous webinars that are always available. Raptivity’s help tool also has a multitude of examples on how to use the interactions that I’ve taken great advantage of. I’ve also connected with Raptivity support and found the support team to be very knowledgeable.

Over the next set of blogs I will cover how, by using Raptivity, a subject matter expert, instructional designer or team of online learning practitioners can create quality online learning that is effective both in terms of education and cost. I’ll get into the “nitty gritty” and have fun showing how to use this fantastic tool – complete with screenshots of actual interactions

Next up – “Getting Started with The Essentials Pack in Raptivity”. I look forward to an engaging series of comments and discussions from these blogs.

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