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Useful tips on how to create real-life learning experiences in online training

“You live, you learn” goes an old saying and as is the case with many simple affirmations, it holds enormous truth. Of course, the original meaning is that only by having a bad experience one learns what the positive approach should be. There’s also the wise assertion that “some people never learn” but (‘though also true) this one focuses too much on the negative so we will just let it be.

Learning is greatly aided by emotion so personal experience is the best teacher of all. While in life one can’t find any way around these ‘teaching’ moments, there is an alternative in corporate training – incorporating real-life experiences in e-learning can prove very useful and efficient.

Even when their jobs don’t involve making life or death decisions on the spot (as ER surgeons have to, for example), by way of realistic e-learning, employees can practice and acquire skills in a safe environment without affecting their peers or their customers.

It’s like the childhood ‘make-believe’ without the unicorns and rivers of chocolate. However, it’s important the simulated universe does not seem like unicorns and wild rainbows so there are a few things you can do as an instructional designer to make sure the course is as real as possible.

Mimic the actual environment

If, for example, the unit’s learning goal is to teach about the stock market, it is important that the learner actually feels as if he had stepped into the stock exchange. Today’s technology is able to incorporate all angles and render everything (with the exception of smells but surely in the near future that won’t be a challenge either) from the colors of the floor to the noises of multiple brokers screaming their offers.

It’s easy to make an educated decision in front of a computer when it is quiet and you have Google and the Financial Times archive at your fingertips but things become a lot more interesting when you have a couple of minutes in what seems like a busy train station. 3D technology allows for the sensation one is actually moving through the environment as he would in reality. This is the first step in creating a real-life like experience.

Have a good scenario

Once the scene is set, the story needs to develop. To be a good, credible one it needs a beginning, a middle and an ending. The start should contain an introduction about the setting, the most important characters and the overall situation and objective of the unit. The characters need to feel real so creating comprehensive profiles and back stories for them helps a great deal – their actions and ideas must be somewhat predictable and make sense in context.

The middle of your scenario should bring the challenges or obstacles – it’s easier if there are several smaller ones before the big hurdle. The use of problem-centered scenarios will increase learner engagement, encourage critical thinking and help develop cognitive skills.

The end should bring the conclusion of the story as well as a short recap of how the challenges presented were overcome and what the learning goal was – a sort of “children, what have we learned from this?” but tailored for responsible grown-ups.

Use avatars

Adding a face helps the learner connect with the content. An avatar can become a very effective tool for achieving learning objectives. Giving a face to your module will add interest and motivation for those involved in the modules. It provides them with a person they can relate to or even identify themselves with.

If this is what you are going for, using the first person while writing the story will add to the learner’s immersion in the course. However, caution is advised in not making avatars too funny or cartoony lest they should not be to the liking of all adult learners.

A recent academic study set out to measure the value of virtual characters in bringing about improved better engagement, focus, and retention. The authors state that: “Adding interactive characters to online experiences is an effective method to gain control over the presentation of social intelligence. People naturally respond to all online interactions as a social experience. Placing a character in an interface makes the social foundation of mediated interaction explicit. Characters give designers, instructors, marketers and relationship managers an important tool to create compelling and easily understood interactions. Online transactions become social conversations. Difficult procedures can be explained. The web is less lonely. Technology is easier to use.”

And indeed there is so much new technologies offer so readily that it would be a shame not to take advantage and use them in order to immerse employees into unforgettable learning experiences.

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