Can eLearning Change Hearts and Minds?

Last week I wrote about how a well-designed classroom training experience can change long-held beliefs and practices. I began to wonder if an eLearning experience could change hearts and minds in a similar way. I was skeptical.

I discussed this idea with eLearning instructional designer extraordinaire Kirby Crider.

Kirby

What do you think? Can eLearning ever provide a powerful, life-changing experience that some people may find in the training room? We’d love to see the conversation continued in the comments section below.

Brian: I’ve seen some amazing eLearning design from folks like Michael Allen and the Articulate community. They’re fun. They’re engaging. But I’m skeptical that eLearning is a tool to change hearts and minds for something like diversity training or change management. You’ve spent more time designing eLearning than I have. What do you think?

Kirby: Plenty of classroom sessions don’t change hearts and minds, and the same goes for eLearning. I do think it’s possible to break out of the standard way of doing things in the self-directed eLearning world, just like how you’ve shown on this blog that it’s possible to break out of the reading-off-a-PowerPoint-slide way of doing things.

Brian: A lot of what I write about is based upon what I’ve seen working in practice. I just haven’t seen an eLearning module in practice that I’d consider powerful or life-changing.

Kirby: Describe for me what makes those in-person experiences so powerful for you. You recently wrote about a white privilege checklist activity that made a big impact on you. Why did it resonate so much?

Brian: The checklist itself was interesting, but it wasn’t enough on its own to change anything for me. The ensuing conversations with a diverse group of other participants crystalized this concept of privilege. It was eye opening for me to be able to see and feel the passionate, incredulous reaction of an African American colleague when I confessed to never having through about my privilege. How do you replicate that intensity online?

Kirby: Of course there will be certain things that can’t be replicated online, but have you ever watched a TED talk that profoundly changed the way you behave? I have. Imagine if you combined the storytelling, the surprise and the utter relevance of a killer TED talk with reflection questions that promote asynchronous discussion via an integrated message board with other users!

Brian: Interesting. Video can be more engaging than looking at clip art or even photos of real people on the computer screen. I definitely find webinars more engaging when the presenter uses a video feed. But it’s so easy to misinterpret tone in an online discussion. Any suggestions for how to mitigate misinterpretation of tone for anyone interested in designing a social component into their eLearning design?

Kirby: There’s a body of research that suggests conversational language and first person language (“you” or “I” instead of “one”) increases retention, and things need to be memorable in order to change hearts and minds. Art Kohn has a nice article about selecting language on the Learning Solutions magazine site. Honestly, we need to stop taking our scripts so seriously in the asynchronous world. When I design an eLearning module, I like to take chances with an activity like this: “Alright, by now you’re probably tired of listening to my voice and clicking on the next button. I’d like to challenge you. Take what you’ve just learned, and go find a colleague. See if you can explain it to them!”

Brian: Bringing the online world into the real world, I like it! Any final thoughts about how to reach a learner’s heart and mind?

Kirby: My father-in-law teaches an online class. In order to build a sense of common ground, he has his students ship dirt from their yards to each other and then asks each person to make a sound effect out of the dirt they receive. We have so many tools at our disposal – Twitter, wikis, discussion boards, plain old email, Padlet, even the US postal service – I’d like to challenge all eLearning designers to use them. You change hearts and minds when you can build community and create spaces for discussion and growth.

What do you think? Is eLearning a tool that can change the hearts and minds of learners? Add your thoughts to this conversation in the comments section.

2 thoughts on “Can eLearning Change Hearts and Minds?

  1. Interesting post Brian. Ironically, I just spent the day today talking with students about the importance of reaching hearts and minds through engaging learning design. This is truely at the core of all poor learning, face to face or otherwise. Kirby hits the nail straight on the head with storytelling and relating experiences back to the learner. Anytime where we can allow people to reflect and connect the dots, will make for a more enriching learning experience. One where people will want to learn more and seek out additional information. This starts with a design that is people focused. Elearning has gotten a bad rap because it (the tool) has been subject to poor design, uploading PPT and inserting click next buttons as a solution to compliance training or the like. People have gotten into the habit of designing for the tool rather than designing for the people who are on the receiving end. Allow for storytelling, allow for emotion and refection – video games do it all the time, they use psychology to suck us in, there is no reason why elearning design cannot do the same thing.

    • Thanks Shannon. Yes, storytelling and incorporating game elements into design I think are actually several advantages that elearning may have over even classroom-based instruction. One of my favorite people, Jane McGonigal, talks about the potential for game design that can be world changing (see her TED Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world).

      I also appreciated Kirby’s comments about bringing a social aspect into elearning design. I think the more connected people can become in a learning experience, the better potential that different ideas and perspectives (beyond just the ID or SME’s own thoughts) can give more “color” to the learning.

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