As I was preparing to write this blog post, I searched for the phrase “with great risk” on a stock photo site. There were the typical overwrought visual metaphors we all know and love in business, but the results quickly devolved into sharks. Many photos of sharks, some jumping out of the water and one eating a suit-clad millennial while jumping through the water. Oh, also the Brexit. Great risk.
In training, most of us probably don’t face huge risks on a daily (or yearly) basis. If you were into that kind of behavior, something tells me you would've pursued a different career. Hey I’m no adrenaline junkie either. No judgment here.
With all of the trends in the e-learning industry today, and even the broader world of consumer software, there are actually a lot of opportunities to take some risks with your courses. Shake things up a little and maybe, just maybe, grab people’s attention. Or flop and thank your lucky stars that you piloted the new thing first. But probably, especially if you churn out tons of training from the same mold, year after year, your learners will be delightfully surprised and refreshed by something that may feel risky to you when you’re designing it.
Want to give it a try? Here are a few ideas to inspire you:
That’s right, I went there. Ok, it’s probably really difficult to image a corporate training situation that could benefit from death. However, think about this more broadly. We get a lot of instructional design inspiration from video games, and dying is one of the oldest, best-known mechanics used in games. You can check out a great discussion of this topic in Kym Buchanan’s article on Pop Matters, but here is the part that stood out for me:
Dying in games is special. It’s a form of feedback to the player. The message is almost always that I’ve made a mistake. If I had made different choices, then I wouldn’t have died. After I resurrect, if I make different, better choices, then I won’t die again (or at least not in the same way). Feedback is useful for learning, so for an essentially immortal [character], dying is a learning opportunity.
The article goes on to talk about how dying in games can foster resilience, especially given that most games are built on a learning-by-doing paradigm. Doing so requires taking risks, and a genuine risk requires some potential cost to you if your risky choice doesn’t pan out.
To apply this idea to e-learning, you don’t have to actually kill off your learners. But maybe you frustrate them a little. If they make a mistake, instead of feedback and remediation, you make them do the task again. Or they lose the scenario, thereby losing points on a leaderboard, and are required to complete a different scenario based on the same learning concept. You need to create an experience that is frustrating, but also engaging and challenging. Make it so that people actually want to go back and do better.
Visual design is a wide-open world, and frankly there is no excuse for e-learning that’s bland, unattractive, or difficult to navigate. Making e-learning that is visually appealing is the basic standard we should all hold ourselves to, so how can you be risky with design? One idea is to bend your brand standards, or work outside of them altogether. What would it be like if your course didn’t have your logo or company name anywhere? Another risky design idea: be bold. Not everyone will like it, but they will remember it. Choose colors that you don't usually use or a clean interface with stark, strong text. Instead of the typical stock photos that your learners have seen over and over again, try using illustrated characters or shoot video of actual employees. Create something that stands out in a big way.
I had to come up with a third D idea. We say this one a lot on this blog, but it bears repeating because it can be scary. Do something different, something your learners have never seen before. If nothing else, it will be memorable, and what are we doing in adult learning if not trying to cut through all the other stuff competing for people’s attention? And I know there are some of you thinking, but we do compliance training, so it has to be launched from our LMS and it has to last for 30 minutes and it has to have a 10-question assessment at the end and gamification is out of the question. Ok, so challenge yourself here: what can you do within those constraints to offer your learners a fresh experience? Maybe it’s ambient music and subtle sound effects. Maybe you hire a narrator with a British accent. Find some big or little way to offer your learners something new. Take a risk.