There’s no reason that learning can’t be fun and effective at the same time. But when it comes to designing instruction, all too often one of these areas is missing from the equation.
With a mission of saving people from bad learning experiences, Michael Allen, founder & CEO of Allen Interactions, has been a pioneer in the e-learning industry since 1975. With nearly five decades of professional, academic, and corporate experience in teaching, developing, and marketing interactive learning and performance support systems, he is the author of nine books, including the widely read Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning: Building Interactive, Fun, and Effective Learning Programs for Any Company.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Michael about how e-learning has changed over the years as well as the benefits and key components of designing an effective learning experience.
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[00:18] – Our sponsor this quarter is ReviewMyLMS, a collaboration between our company, Tagoras, and 100Reviews, the company that is behind the very successful ReviewMyAMS site. As the name suggests, ReviewMyLMS is a site where users can share and access reviews of learning management systems, but in this case, the focus is specifically on systems that are a good fit for learning businesses, meaning organizations that market and sell lifelong learning. Contribute a review and you will get access to all existing and future reviews—there are already more than 100 on the site. And, if you don’t have review to contribute, there is also a subscription option. Just go to reviewmylms.com to get all the details.
[01:27]– Highlighted Resource of the Week:
The eBooks download page of the Allen Interactions Web site – Here you will find a wealth of free eBooks covering titles ranging from A Bite-Sized Guide to Microlearning to 6 Rules to Designing eLearning for Maximum Motivation to Three Essential Design Elements for Creating Engaging ELearning Games, and more. These are really practical guides that will help you with you with both your e-learning and your broader learning initiatives.
[02:03] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Jeff interviews Michael Allen, e-learning industry pioneer and founder & CEO of Allen Interactions.
[03:09] – Introduction to Michael.
A Passion for e-Learning
[04:23] – I’d like to start with your passion for e-learning – you seem to be on a mission in many ways. What’s driving that? And how will the world be a better place if (when!) you are successful?
Michael talks about what inspired him including poor teachers and different learning experiences. He realized there’s no reason that learning can’t be fun, pleasant, and effective all at the same time—it doesn’t have to be one or the other. His mission is to save people from bad learning experiences because time is not refundable. When we create learning experiences, people trust us to use their time beneficially, which is a big responsibility.
His mission is no boring learning experiences and he emphasizes when people are designing and creating instruction, they need to put themselves in the learner’s shoes. Michael sometimes asks audiences how many of them would opt to take the training or education they’re developing over any other way of learning. So we need to think of the optimal way for a learner to gain skills/insights and not waste their time.
Advancements in e-Learning
[10:19] – You have been involved with e-learning since its earliest days. From your perspective, how have things changed for the better with e-learning? Where have you seen some of the most important advances – or, at least, potential advances – occur over the years?
Michael shares that he was doing some e-learning programs in the late 60’s and says the technology they had to use was primitive yet some of the most spectacular learning programs he’d ever seen were developed in those times. The instructional design was so on point even though the technology was so restrictive. He says they wished for all of the things we have today and now that we have those things, the general quality of e-learning programs have diminished over time—we’ve just relied on the novelty and capabilities of the technology to take us through.
In a way, it’s harder now because the expectations have risen that you will use all this technology to create the learning experience, and you may be judged just by its cover. Michael says the heart of it is always the learning experience and that’s what he’s really been focused on in recent years—and the heart of his book Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning: Building Interactive, Fun, and Effective Learning Programs for Any Company.
[14:03] – What’s an example where e-learning has really realized its potential?
Michael shares an example from University of Illinois in the 70’s by Professor Smith who was a chemistry teacher. He created a laboratory simulation where you had to do the experiments online and you got to see the consequences of what you did. You were free to try anything you wanted and to him, that’s one of the spectacular things about e-learning.
If you can allow people to not only experience doing things right, but also experience doing things wrong – and see the consequences – you get a much deeper knowledge.
To Michael, one of the signs of good design is what people do after they’ve gone through a course or a module instruction.
[16:53] – Michael shares another example regarding an employee advisory resource program which was used to help teach managers and talks about how and why it was so effective.
[20:11] – How important is the concept of gaming? What advice would you give to organizations in how to think about incorporating that game mentality into how they’re designing learning?
Michael says there are fads in the field that come and go but a game-like experience is certainly an energized experience. So even though it’s popular today to talk about gamification or serious learning games, the idea that using a game-like framework keeps people engaged and on-task for a longer period of time, is a valid one. The fundamentals that make a good learning experience are the same fundamentals that make a good game. In trying to help people, he’s tried to find the basic concepts people need to get.
4 Components to an Effective Learning Experience
[22:43] – Michael shares there are almost always four components to an effective learning experience (CCAF):
- Context – in what situation are you needing to perform?
- Challenge – the challenges should come first because they wake you up, focus you, and let you know if you need help.
- Activity – give people actions or gestures to tell you what they would do in the face of the challenge (rather than something like multiple choice).
- Feedback – the feedback that makes the most difference isn’t just saying right or wrong, rather it shows the consequences of not doing things well.
[29:22] – You have championed successive approximation – particularly as a replacement for ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation). Can you explain what successive approximation is for listeners who may not be familiar with it and why it’s a better approach than the traditional ADDIE approach for designing and developing learning?
Michael talks about how ADDIE is logical and makes a lot of sense except that when he looked at the outcome of using that process, he too often found that the learning experience was dreadful. It was probably well-sequenced, thorough content but when he talked to teams who used the ADDIE process none of them thought the final product came out even close to what they thought it was going to be.
They had higher expectations/hopes and the thing that was common, so often, was people were disappointed in the output of the process. Michael’s focus is always on the learning experience first, whereas ADDIE tends to be on getting the content clarified first. He talks about the importance of the subject matter expert getting a chance to look at what you’re building as soon as possible to get confirmation you have all of the proper content.
[35:04] – Michael further explains that nobody can do an adequate job on one pass and you need to get a glimpse of where all of this is heading as soon as you possibly can so you can put yourself in that learning experience that is eventually going to be more fully articulated—and that’s the real key to successive approximations.
The approximation says we know this product/educational experience is never going to be perfect and can always be improved so you need to go at it as long as you can afford to and then stop and say that’s the best you can do. The successive idea is that you start with a base design, or base piece of the curriculum, as kind of a sampler. Then you take it through the whole process and have something you can interact with.
You can even bring in some prospective learners to see what they like and don’t like. And you’re doing this so early in the process that you have plenty of time to do it over again. Michael recommends you plan on throwing out completely, at least two attempts, before building on a third one and taking it to fruition. His experience is this is leading to far more superior output products in the same, or even less time, than ADDIE or other approaches.
[38:30] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Michael shares about his experience talking to a retired psychologist who asked him what a young child would do with toy trucks—basically all kinds of things that you wouldn’t expect (try to take them apart, stack them, bang them into each other, etc.) because you already have a definition in your head of what a truck is and what its purpose is.
So when thinking about adult learners, the psychologist told him to think about them as big children—if you’re introducing them to something new, think about the trucks and give them an experience where they can take the ideas and play around with them and try to use them in various ways because that’s deep learning for them—and that’s not the way teachers think anymore.
[43:18] – How to connect with Michael and/or learn more:
- Website: https://www.alleninteractions.com/
He also recommends checking out Clark N. Quinn’s latest book, Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions: Debunking Learning Myths and Superstitions.
[44:47] – Wrap Up
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[46:37] – Sign off