Two stories of student involvement in training
It was a family wedding. Hurrah! After two years of being cooped up at home due to COVID-19, we were finally able to see loved ones, feast on holiday food and share banter. And so I met this distant cousin of mine whom I hadn’t seen in over ten years. Let’s call him X.
After the initial questioning and catching up and the inevitable talking about the weather, our conversation gradually moved to work. We exchanged cards. Yes, I also take my cards to the neighborhood grocery store, so don’t judge me, okay? But in my defense, X carried his cards too!
Anyway… I talked about my work and he listened intently. And then he said, “You know, the L&D team at my company is great. They always make it so you’re playing a game or having fun, and you’ll learn at the end!”
What? Did I hear that right? Here, right in front of me, was every L&D-er’s dream audience… someone who loves what they’re putting out and is eager to get it going.
My curiosity naturally piqued, I asked if he could show me something as long as it wasn’t confidential. He assured me he wasn’t and then proceeded to run the LMS on his cell phone (which looked really cool by the way). Uploaded the course. It was Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI).
He loaded the course as I waited with bated breath, and there it came. The course followed a “gamified” approach. The entire course map was laid out and you could choose the topics you wanted and view them in any order. And for each topic you selected, you were shown a policy section for that topic. This was followed by some recall questions about this section. And guess what? You have earned points!
It seemed like each topic was assigned a weight. So if you chose to go through a topic with higher weightage (I assume more important topics) you got higher marks and so on. And at the end of the course, viola! You should see the total number of points you have earned along with the celebration text and sound. The course then pulled data from other students’ performances (I’m guessing xAPI) and said you were in the top 6% of students. I should really be proud of myself, shouldn’t I?
A huge sigh of disappointment! What promised to be a well-designed course (from X’s feedback and first impressions) fell apart on the slightest examination. I noticed during the course that the policy was very strong about violations, so I wanted to know if there was a system where they could report if they noticed something. X didn’t know. Either it wasn’t in the course at all, or it was and he wasn’t paying attention.
Gamification: Another story
At this point I want to move on to another story. This goes back to our early days, at least 16-17 years ago, when the idea of eLearning was still somewhat new… and gamification was even more new. It was a new job with a new client where only a few details of an existing gamified course needed to be updated.
The course was about compliance, although I forget the exact topic. The main thing was that the course, developed by an external partner, won a number of awards. Even the client was really excited about it. They told us that it created a lot of buzz among the staff and that people enjoyed going through it. Of course, we were also excited to see it.
So they shared the current course and here is what we can see. The course was divided into three sections, with each section based in a city. When you clicked into the section, a landscape view of the city became visible where you had to look for hidden parrots. There were about five or six of them in each city and they hid a ton of content.
You basically moved your mouse around the entire cityscape and clicked on random spots until you spotted a parrot. And when you… guess what? One piece of information has been revealed. This piece was basically a piece of text copied from a policy document. There were other “engaging” elements in the course, but I can’t really remember any of them today. All I remember is:
- The course had a stunning visual aspect
- Made the students go on a treasure hunt (find parrots hidden all over town)
- It ended on a sour note, revealing political documents followed by an equally boring Q&A
Another huge disappointment!
Why student involvement in training is important
Student involvement in training is really important. It’s essential to grab your students’ eyeballs and make them pay attention. If they don’t pay attention, how will they understand or absorb anything? But engaging in training is not the end goal in itself.
The end goal is something else. We want them to pay attention so they can learn. We want them to learn so they can do whatever the course talks about – either build a skill and/or confidence in a skill or modify their behavior and so on. Thus, engagement in training is a means by which we can achieve our ultimate end goal, which is effectiveness – which is the ability of the learner to successfully achieve the objectives set out in the course.
In this regard, internal involvement is always better than external involvement. The first draws the student deeply into the material being taught. It can absorb them without needlessly distracting them from the content. On the other hand, the latter (alien) is a shallow form of engagement that uses bells and whistles to distract from the material. A course that offers shallow engagement is only fun and is actually worse than a boring course.
So what does deep engagement in training look like? I would say that it is a state in which a student willingly and enthusiastically participates in an educational activity, works hard to achieve a predefined goal, and is successful in moving toward that goal. Quite a mouthful, huh?
Put simply, a deeply engaging course is one that makes students live their true selves in the context of the course, doing their work, taking action, making decisions, and experiencing the consequences of their actions and decisions. In even simpler terms, scenarios. Ones that reflect real life in terms of the complexity of the situations we face and have consequences and detailed feedback built into them.
Both the courses I talked about above only had a shallow kind of involvement in training. There wasn’t a single scenario in sight. No decision making. No consideration or consideration of the pros and cons of the action to be taken. The students were excited to go through them, but to what end? To have fun?
This is exactly the problem when we rely solely on student feedback to measure the success of a course (hello, smiley sheets!). We tend to get feedback from students on our courses and then wonder why we still don’t have a seat at the table. In both cases, I saw that the teams put a lot of effort into creating the courses, but it was painful to see them fall short of their ultimate goal, i.e. achieving the course objectives. And they probably weren’t aware of it either.
What about you? Have you come across any such examples?