Too many eLearning courses are lectures in the form of slides with content that learners must either read or listen to. The content usually contains abstract topics, such as processes, that learners are then expected to apply in real life. The problem is that there is a gap between a concept in a course and applying it in action.
If this gap is too large, what is learned may not transfer to new behaviors, actions, and job performance.
In this Chief Learning Officer Magazine article, "How Do People Learn Best," author Dennis Bakke makes the argument that the case study method is the "best tool in business education" because people learn from real world examples, which is the next best thing to learning from actual world experience. However, not enough eLearning courses use this approach.
Two Simple Methods: Using Real World Examples in eLearning
Using eLearning to present a new concept will only get you so far. Without real world, practical examples, much will be left up to the interpretation of individual learners when it comes to how they apply what is in the eLearning course. You can add real world examples to your eLearning courses using case studies and scenarios.
Case Study: For purposes of an eLearning course, a case study can be a brief story of a decision that was made in the business and the events that led to the decision. Then the decision is analyzed by the learner.
How, you ask?
In eLearning it is best to keep it simple. In a case study, instead of doing one long case study at the end of a course, you could do a short case study on a single concept in the eLearning course. This way, you keep the attention of your learners. In a slide or two, describe the case and the decision that was made. In an assessment question (or multiple questions), you can ask the learner to answer questions about the decision and whether the outcome was appropriate.
Scenario: I distinguish scenarios from case studies in how far the story goes. In a case study, an example has a conclusion and the learner is expected to analyze the conclusion of the story. In a scenario, the story stops just short of the conclusion and the learners is expected to provide a decision (a conclusion).
A simple scenario method can be used eLearning. For example, I like showing a picture of two people having a conversation. The audio will stop right before one of the characters provides a response to the scenario. Then an assessment question can be used to have the learner choose what the person should say or do next based on the concept learned in the course.
There are many ways to pull off the real world example in eLearning, and designers can get as fancy and complication as needed, including using animations and video. But the idea is the same, to present a real world example so people can better understand how to apply what they just learned.
How have you used case studies and scenarios in your eLearning courses?
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.