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"We couldn't find things" - Organizing learning experiences

I've recently been doing with a lot of interviews with project teams that  developed eLearning solutions during 2008. One of the themes of the learner interviews was "we couldn't find things."

This has led me to think more about how learning resources are organized and their information design. At the core of any eLearning development project is the learning design, which is a complex mixture of disciplines; information design is one of those disciplines. One of the aspects shared between the two is the focus on sequencing and organizing. Information design for a simple website is about what information is put into each section of the site and the naming of those sections.

What I think is happening in the case of "we couldn't find things" is that the learners are expecting the experience to be organized like a website and the teacher or learning designer has organized the information based on how it needs to be sequenced from a learning point of view.

A balance between these two needs can be formed. During one of the interviews, one of the students put his finger on it:

"They should have asked us."

What I'm seeing at the moment in some of the eLearning projects is the learners are not being involved in the development process.

Here is a couple of ideas about how to involve students in the development process, beyond just testing the resource at the end.

Card sorting with your learners

In terms of organizing learning experiences and developing a balance between sequencing for learning and sequencing for navigation, one of the most powerful tools and activities is card sorting. With card sorting, all aspects such as activities, reading, and video are put on separate cards. These cards are then given to future learners, and then the learners are asked to sort and group the cards in a way they think makes sense. The users are then asked to talk about why this sorting makes sense to them. It can be done in a group as well.

Card sorting is cheap, simple, and fast and can be a fun activity.

Show your wireframes to the learners

Wireframes are used a lot in web design and application development. They are simple outlines of how screens and pages will be organized. Often, wireframes are just black-and-white boxes, with labels about what the future content will be. The storyboards are often written by learning and instructional designers, but these are more textual and word based than wireframes. Wireframes are the perfect stage to show a learning experience to learners because it gives them a sense of how it works, but it doesn't take the same amount of time as a fully developed mockup.

There are many other ways for the learner to have input into eLearning resources development projects. These are just two ideas from user interface design. I would love to hear about other structured ways people engage learners in planning and developing resources.

Here are some links related to card sorting, wireframing, learning design, and information design that might be useful.