Thursday, March 28, 2013

Design As If Everything Is Optional


The zest, energy, emotion, and clear communication of need, value, and WIFFY (What’s In It For You) in many courses is often compromised before the project ever fully kicks into gear as a result of one simple Analysis question – Is the course required?   Knowing that the targeted audience has no options regarding enrollment or completion of the training can risk putting the Design team in a complacent position.  If you know you have a captive audience, the perceived need to work to keep them engaged can quickly fade.

I propose that the quality and effectiveness of future training would be improved if we designed with a mindset that considers the threatening possibility that the moment the audience becomes bored, confused, or doesn't see the direct value of the content to their lives/jobs, they may walk away (or exit). We should design as if all training is optional.


Out with the tired “tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em / tell ‘em / tell ‘em what you told ‘em” bookend structure that sandwiches dry facts/figures/processes and does little to establish motivation and relevance.  Goodbye to the lean-back, page-turning instructional models that spoon-feed bite sized nuggets of data, immediately followed by obligatory exercises that test for short-term recall (rather than deeper understanding).  Adios to letting the content drive the design because the audience’s physical attendance is a given (even if their hearts and minds are a million miles away).

In with capturing the learner’s attention so firmly within the first 60 seconds of the course that they lean in, wanting to know what awaits them on the next screen, ignoring the myriad of digital distractions that are a mere mouse-click or screen-touch away. Hello to positioning content in such a compelling fashion and with such personal relevance that the learner cannot help but understand and retain the information long after the post assessment has passed.  Welcome to a learning experience that causes the audience to desire ‘more’ and momentarily lose track of time because their curiosity has been piqued and they crave closure to the conflict within the situational story that’s been shared.

We need to design courses with the expectation that without a strong and motivational opening, a satisfying and memorable closing, and relevant and engaging information/activities every three minutes, our learners will simply direct their limited attention and time towards something (anything) else that seems more important or interesting.  We need to operate with the constructive pressure of being only a boring slide or overly complex sentence away from losing our ‘customer’.

How would your designs change if you knew that your course was totally optional, and the only people who would complete it are the ones that you managed to keep interested/curious/motivated enough to choose your instruction over all other options competing for their time and attention?   What would you do differently if success was measured by how many people completed your course because they WANTED to, not because they were OBLIGATED to?

Why not design courses like that anyway?  Is there a downside to purposefully creating compelling courseware?

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