Why learning design has to engage with your content

Posted by Kate on 5 February 2016

Cadre was contracted to design an eLearning course for retail workers in pharmacies who needed to know about a national scheme for people living with diabetes. They needed to know where they fitted into the scheme, the products covered by it and in particular the protocols around record keeping in the system.

While some of this group of learners may have experience of diabetes – either personally or through family or friends – that was not why there were doing the course.

Our design included an opening question to the learners about the jelly beans that are displayed at the cash register in so many pharmacies. Why is that? This was the lead into a brief discussion of diabetes. Jelly beans were also to feature in the visual design. Our thinking was, this is something that most people will be familiar with, it will trigger an initial engagement and is not going to discriminate between 15 year old casual shop assistants and 50 year old permanents.

We submitted the learning design and visual design concepts to the client. They were enthusiastic about everything except the jelly beans. One member of the stakeholder group – made up of state and territory agencies – was concerned that this contradicted the ‘healthy message’ they were promoting to their clients ie people living with diabetes. They suggested we change the jelly beans to apples of orange juice.

Content suddenly took over from learner centred design. Content, regardless of who the learner is and why they were undertaking this course, was informing this thinking. In this context, that healthy message was irrelevant. We couldn’t just change the jelly bean to an apple or an orange juice, our learners were not green grocers.

So we set up a meeting and explained why the jelly beans were integral to the learning design: most people have seen jelly beans, most pharmacies stock them and they are displayed at the cash register. Question: Why is a pharmacy, which is an integral part of our health system, selling sweets which are not generally considered a healthy product? Answer: Because pharmacies cater to people with diabetes and most diabetics will carry a pack of jelly beans, or something that includes sugars, in the event they experience a hypo seizure. In this short interaction, the learner is engaged, the context is set, some key facts they need to know about diabetes have been relayed and the stage is set for more in-depth content about how the scheme works, their role in it and how to use the system.

In any self-paced learning, including digital learning, learner centred design is paramount, in particular if there are key messages to get across or key performance outcomes required. You only have your audience’s attention for a short while. You need to counter exasperation, click click click fatigue and the myriad of distractions that will draw them away from the screen. The important marriage is between the learner and the content. It has to be the right content. The right amount of content, presented in a recognisable context so the question, ‘what’s in this for me’ is barely uttered before the learner is on the path to gaining the understanding and skills they need. 

Kate Robinson

Kate Robinson is the Head of Learning at Cadre. A background in teaching and publishing projected her into a career of over 20 years in Learning Design. She has optimistically navigated an environment which has stretched, absorbed and grown with the evolution of the information and digital age. Kate has always been interested in how people learn and in making that experience, particularly when its work related training, relevant and real. She believes the best projects succeed because of a genuinely collaborative process where all parties have learned something from the experience.