E-learning: Engaging users? Users Engaging?

claire rLast week I was up in London for an E-Learning Group event called Engaging Users: Users Engaging. I love being on trains you see, so any chance I get to be on a train for 5 and a half hours is a must….

It brought about some very interesting concepts and ideas ( I’ll write a little bit about the day itself in a bit).  For me the event bought home the fact that there are so many ideas about what e-learning is and what’s its supposed to do within the discipline itself, goodness only knows what ‘normal’ people think its all about!

So what is e-learning?

This question has a variety of different answers depending on who you ask.  Most revolve around the use of technology – e= electronic -, some say its about management of resources, or motivating students.  Others believe it is still heavily involved in the dreaded ‘EDUCATION’ system.  I however, have a different opinion.

I see e-learning as enhanced learning, and yes this is usually supported by/through the use of information and communication technology.  But I don’t necessarily see learning as didactic, that it must have a clear end goal which is measurable.  Flipping online quizzes to ‘see how much you’ve learnt’ make me a little crazy!  In my eyes learning is all about the experience of gaining something new, whether it be a feeling, an emotion or even a fact.

It is often perceived that e-learning is dull and boring.

To some extend that has been the case in the past (putting lecture notes on blackboard or moodle is not e-learning, its boring and unimaginative (shame on you people- you know who you are…).

The e-learning group for museums, libraries and archives and other e-learning designers are trying to tackle this assumption head on:

“There is no such thing as Dull Learning”. (Patrick Dunn 2009).

Therefore an event discussing the ability to engage users in learning is brilliant!

Basically, people need fun, interaction and a multi sensory environment in order to be actively engaged in a learning experience. Right?  Well that’s what I think.  I might not be right, but I am very stubborn and am likely to stomp my foot if you don’t like my version…

Ok, so… developing engaging e-learning is all about appropriate use of methods and media in order to inspire users, it is not about it is not about the transmission and receipt of facts.  So…if we’re aiming to produce engaging e-learning, we need design processes that are intended to…….produce engaging e-learning.   Frankie Roberto gave us 8 (and 3 ideas):

  1. Identify ‘design patterns’ for online social interactions and use appropriately (brilliantly simple example of traffic lights red =stop, green=go – don’t reinvent the wheel,  use something that users are already familiar with)
  2. Design something that meets a user ‘need’ (what are your users needs? How to approach it and what benefits are there)
  3. Design for ‘sharing’ appeal (design something that people will want to share! – this to me is quite a tricky one)
  4. Decided on quantity vs quality of contributions (do you want a small number of highly engaged users or lots of users not really engaging?)
  5. Pick platforms based upon the activities they encourage and social norms (many platforms have the same functionality- what activities do they encourage and how are they used (facebook-flickr etc).  Use what ever platform you are comfy with)
  6. Define your key verb ( be it share, edit, upload, update… Geevor’s is soon to be explore)
  7. Design for perceive visual ‘affordances’ (a picture paints a thousand words- seeing something is quicker to understand then reading. very handy on the web- buttons are a visual clue to show that they are meant to be clicked…)
  8. Align content licensing with user expectations (boring but important bit about copyright and what’s appropriate for your institution and your users)

Next up was a case study from the National Archives.  It’s always great to hear from the archives people, its often thought that its just museums getting involved in the whole idea of engaging users but that’s not the case at all!  Your Archives is the National Archives wiki, its pretty cool that you can search British History records and even update them yourself.

Then came Do you live here? From the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery who used postcards from their collections and created a website which linked the postcard to the real location and the community surrounding it.

Next was Caboodle from Culture 24. It hopes to give young children the role of a collector of their favourite things in a safe and moderated environment… I don’t quite understand it yet, but it has a cool name, which makes me want to know how to caboodle, and when it goes live I’m definitely going to have a play!

Then it was the turn of Creative Spaces. From the presentation I have learnt several things about creative spaces.  9 of the national museums collectively have a lot of stuff.  A lot of stuff that people are interested in.  A lot of stuff that people want to use in different ways.  Therefore creative spaces was created to engage new and old users with the ‘lots of stuff’ in the collections. Tick. And to ‘increase traffic to partner museums’. Odd. No tick for you. Anyway, it does ask a very very cool question to its users: “what are you inspired by today?” and for that all the debates about whether Creative Spaces is a good thing or a bad thing should be forgotten.

Finally was my favourite.  My Brighton and Hove. This is a community website which has a mammoth uptake and the majority of the content is public generated and everyone, and I mean everyone seems to be engaged in it.  Its been up and running for 9 years and it is growing organically! This is something that I can only dream of at the moment! Its awesome!  Jack Latimer from the company who helped set up the site had some very useful pointers when setting up community sites:

  1. Formal material (like catalogue entries and oral histories) generated far less response than informal peer to peer material
  2. Give the site a human face, not an institutional one
  3. Volunteer projects have a larger shelf life then ones with paid staff
  4. Moderating contributions is less problematic then you think
  5. A steady flow of uploaded content is better than all then nothing.
  6. There is no relation between the beauty of graphics and rate of contribution.

After all of that does geevor’s e-learning approach have what it takes to be an engaging experience for its users? I jolly well hope so.  Other museums and archives have done it! will I be able to achieve it!? only time will tell… fingers crossed. Rant off.

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