E-Learning Zombie Apocalypse

A few years ago, hundreds of Austinites joined zombies around the globe (91 venues; 13 different countries) in setting a new world record of people simultaneously performing “Thriller.” I was among them. For weeks prior to the performance, small groups all over Austin (and the world) met in various locations to learn the steps and practice together.

Shuffle back hop hop forward
Down clap slide slide slide stomp look left
Walk walk roar-turn, roar-turn, roar-turn…

And on the day of the event, the buzz of excitement was palpable.

When it comes to training, however, it’s not so thrilling when our learners become zombies. Is soulless training sucking the life out of your learners? If, instead of engaged participants, you have hordes of the groaning undead clawing their way through your e-learning, then it’s time to take action. Ward off the lifeless trance inflicted by mind-numbing activities, walls of text, and perpetual “click-nexting.”

Fight the Zombie Apocalypse

Arm yourself with these five sets of questions guaranteed to reanimate your training. These questions work equally well for creating a new learning experience or revamping an older, longer course. Additionally, these questions work regardless of topic. For example, this week I encountered requests for either new or revamped training for the following topics: sexual assault prevention for college students, training for American Heart Association CPR instructors, as well as brand awareness, information security, and finance training for other types of business professionals. I applied these questions to each of them with bitingly successful outcomes.

  1. What piques this learner’s interest? What turns this learner off? How would I feel taking this training? What would make it appealing, interesting, and meaningful to me?
  2. What real changes must this program inspire? What must this program do to genuinely affect lasting change?
  3. Where can I trim? How much data (or, perhaps, more importantly how little) does the learner need to make this change?
  4. Are persuasive tactics equally as important as information for this behavior change? What principles of rhetoric and lessons from the marketing industry can we apply to affect change?
  5. How can we bring the message to life with storytelling, imagination, simulation, or modeling to allow learners to experience it?

E-Learning That Doesn’t Rot the Brain

These questions enabled me and my team to identify different recommended approaches for each of the unique projects that came our way this week. As each project had a different target audience and behavioral goals, different amounts and types of information, and different needs for persuasion, they in turn needed different creative treatments.

For one project, we asked, can we shorten it and tighten it up? What about using social networking to spread the word? What if we create a website to house an inviting exploratory piece, link to a two-minute motion graphic video on YouTube, and let users access other videos and interactive options on the site? See, for example, our project for the Texas DOT “Who’s Driving Tonight?”

For another project, we’re considering placing learners in the role of the protagonist, giving them a challenge, and letting them experience the problem-solving first hand. See the “Spent” project from the Urban Ministries of Durham for inspiration.

This Halloween, use these questions to ward off tendencies toward long, wordy, soul-sucking e-learning. Then, use your creative spirit to breathe fresh life into your projects.

Make your e-learning a thriller!

Final thought: In 2008, when Austin participated in the “Thrill the World” event, I had small children at home and was unable to manage time away from the house for “Thriller” lessons. So how did I learn the dance of the undead? Online instructional videos. Play/Pause/Practice/Repeat. Proving yet again that creative applications of e-learning can wake the dead.