Tag: e-learning

Software Training with Stories

“Stories don’t work for all kinds of training.”

One of the common objections I hear to using storytelling in training is that “stories don’t work for all kinds of training.” Those who are skeptical of storytelling often use software training as an example where stories don’t work. However, I think stories can have a place in some (maybe even most) software training.

Software Training with Stories

When to Avoid Stories and Focus on Features

Sometimes software training should be just about the features. In that case, you’re often doing more technical writing than instructional design. Just get in, show the features, and be done. Short tutorials and demos are great for that, and they don’t always need a story. If your goal is to create 5 minute tutorials to help people solve a problem at a moment of need, they’re already motivated and engaged. You don’t need stories in that case.

We often provide software training in advance of the need though. Instead of something learners seek out to solve their own problems, we’re training them about what they’ll do in the future. That training is often much longer; instead of 5 minutes, we might spend hours reviewing everything software can do. Have you ever gone through software training that was just a list of features with no context? How helpful was it? Did you wonder WHY you might use certain features or why a software update would help you?

Examples as Stories

With a few exceptions, nearly any training can benefit from examples. Those examples are often stories. When I taught Microsoft Office as a classroom trainer, I often told stories as examples. I had a collection of stories about colleagues or past students who had solved a specific problem like this one.

“One of my past students had a spreadsheet that needed to be updated every day. She added new data at the bottom, and then she sorted the spreadsheet. The way it was set up required significant manual cleanup. She spent at least an hour or two every day making manual adjustments to the spreadsheet. We found several ways to adjust the structure of the spreadsheet so nearly everything was automated. Instead of one or two hours, the new process only took her about 15 minutes a day. With a bit of initial work to set up the spreadsheet, we saved her at least 5 hours a week of wasted time. That’s why this information I’m about to explain about setting up your spreadsheet for sorting and filtering is so important.”

That’s a real story (it’s the only time in my training career where a student literally jumped up and down with excitement at the end of the course). When I was training Excel, I didn’t just tell students, “It’s important for you to set up your spreadsheets to make it easier for sorting and filtering.” I gave them the example so they understood why it was important and why it would matter to them. I made it concrete and relevant.

In elearning, this example could be presented similarly to how I used it in my classroom training. Instead of having a narrator tell it in the third person, I’d probably reword it to come from the point of view of the user. “I had a spreadsheet that needed to be updated every day…”

Stories to Increase Motivation

When we create software training, we want people to change their behavior. We want them to use the software and use it in specific ways. We want them to be motivated to use the software effectively.

This is especially important when software is updated and people need to change how they use it. It’s not always enough to just say, “here’s a new feature.” Sometimes we need to show people why that feature is going to make them better. Stories and scenarios put those features in context so users are more motivated to try them.

Hands-On Practice with Scenarios

As a software trainer, the books I taught from included examples that were often scenarios. Excel pivot tables are much easier to understand if you have a realistic project where you need answers from data. Those projects are scenarios, whether you’re teaching in a classroom or creating elearning.

The example above with the poorly formatted spreadsheet could easily be converted to a practice scenario. Instead of simply giving people a set of steps to follow, the scenario provides some context.

Why and When to Use Features

If your software training is meant to help people solve a problem while they’re in the middle of working, then microlearning focused on just the features can work. If your software training is intended to give people an overview of complex software, including why and when to use certain features, stories can be helpful.

For example, layer masks are a critical tool in Photoshop. It’s not always obvious to novices why they’re important though. This tutorial puts layer masks in context by creating a realistic scenario (merging together two wedding photos for a client). The author even starts by explaining how to merge the photos with an easy but incorrect and destructive technique. This shows the benefits of using the right technique and addresses a common mistake. There are plenty of tutorials out there explaining various features of Photoshop. Not so many explain how to select the correct tool for the job–that’s what’s valuable in this example.

In complex software, it’s often not enough to know how to use various features. Sometimes you have multiple options for an action, each with pros and cons. In Captivate, you can use a regular Advanced Action or a Shared Action. Depending on your needs, one or the other may be a better choice and make your development more efficient. Stories and scenarios help learners understand how to choose the right tools.

Model the Thought Process

Stories can also be helpful for modeling the thought process that accompanies using software. For example, I once created a software tutorial on how to troubleshoot a particularly problematic task in an LMS. We wanted the online instructors to do some basic error checking themselves before contacting technical support. While I could have simply provided a PDF document with the steps to troubleshoot (and I did provide that as a job aid), I also created an interactive simulation.

In the simulation, an instructor (represented with voice over plus character photos) narrated how she solved the problem. She walked through each step of her thought process. The actual story was pretty thin (an instructor has a problem in the LMS), but the character gave learners enough to relate to. This training gave learners more confidence that they could troubleshoot it because the process was modeled by a character similar to themselves.

How Do You Use Stories and Scenarios?

How do you use stories and scenarios in software training? Do you have a great example of your own? Share it in the comments.

If you’re developing software training and are feeling stuck, feel free to share that in the comments as well. We can brainstorm together ways to use stories to make your training more relevant and engaging.

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ID and E-Learning Links (12/13/15)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

ID and E-Learning Links (8/23/15)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Course Review Tracking Template

How do you track revision comments in your e-learning or online courses? Most of the time, I use a spreadsheet based on the revision tracking template below.

Review Tracking Template

My spreadsheet includes a formula to automatically add the page title once reviewers enter the module and page number. That makes it easier for reviewers. However, if I don’t have visible page numbers (either directly on the slide or in a table of contents), I remove the formula and ask reviewers to type the page title or description.

Depending on your reviewers, you may want to protect the sheet and lock down the page title column to keep them from overwriting the formula. If you use continuous numbering throughout the course, you can also probably use a simpler formula than this template.

The spreadsheet has three hidden columns. I keep these hidden when I initially send it to reviewers so they can focus on just their part. After I have gotten the feedback, I make the columns visible to add my comments and questions.

I use Google Docs when I can for reviews because multiple reviewers can all see each others comments. They can avoid duplicating feedback. Everything is all in one file and doesn’t need combining later. However, if Google Docs isn’t allowed in an organization or it’s important to get independent feedback from each reviewer, I use Excel instead.

Feel free to copy this spreadsheet and adapt it for your own use. You can also download it for Excel.

How do you track feedback on your courses? Do you use a spreadsheet like this, or do you use a custom-built tool like ReviewMyElearning or OQAR? If you have your own cool spreadsheet, I’d love to see it. I’m constantly tweaking this form to improve it, and I might learn something from your version.

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Storytelling LMS Presentation

Often when we talk about storytelling in learning, it’s related to e-learning. However, storytelling can be used in live presentations too. It’s much more interesting than a bunch of bullet points.

I recently gave a short presentation for a client in the early stages of selecting their first LMS. They currently do very little e-learning, although they hope to expand their offerings in the future for both internal and external learners. They manage their classroom training and webinars with spreadsheets and email, and they maintain a PDF course catalog that has to be sent to everyone every time they make a change. Their current processes aren’t very efficient, and they won’t scale well enough to meet their vision for the future.

The organization has experienced some resistance to implementing a new LMS, so one of my goals was to shift their attitudes. That’s one reason I used a storytelling approach for my presentation. The audience included a number of instructional designers, so the hero of the story is an ID—hopefully one the audience could identify with. Anna, the hero of the story, has problems similar to those faced by the IDs in this organization.

I adapted these slides to work as a standalone resource without a speaker; the original version had less text on the slides.

One quick note: I know it’s popular to bash LMSs, and I would never argue that LMSs can fix every learning problem. For example, you can’t manage informal learning, with or without an LMS. An LMS will, however, help this particular organization meet their immediate goals, and it will hopefully free up enough resources from administrative tasks to do more expansive work.

Have you ever given or attended a presentation that used this kind of storytelling approach? How effective was it? Share your experiences in the comments.