Templates and standard components are a means to an end for learning designers. With the challenging budgets and timelines of much online learning, it's simply not possible to create whizzy custom layouts and functionality all the time. But a standard elearning template (or collection thereof) doesn't make good learning. They're simply presentation options. I argued a couple of posts ago that they don't, in isolation, represent interactivity in the way clients really want. As learning designers, we often let templates become the boss of us. No more! It's time to make those templates work a little harder in our courses and resources.
Don’t let templates be the boss of you
Forget templates exist for a moment. Your templates and components are just building blocks. As I said – a means to an end. Think instead of the bigger picture. What content treatment is best for each chunk of content? Is it a top 10 'listicle'? Is it a watch and rate exercise? Is it an interactive infographic? Is it a step-by-step guide? Is it a quiz or a diagnostic? None of these are a standard component or a screen type but all can be built from the building blocks that you probably have in your tool of choice. Thinking about a sequence of screens or a whole scrolling Adapt page in terms of a content treatment creates a much richer and joined-up experience.
Say hello to mini treatments!
Thinking in terms of content treatments gives you what I dub 'mini treatments' – small, well-defined activities and content types that can be slotted into your overall learning model and treatment.
5 reasons you’ll love mini treatments for learning design:
- They're totally reusable
When you've designed them once, they're there in your back pocket as a content treatment you can whip out again. A lot of these types of treatment work well at around the five minute mark for learners. Not only do you build a library of tried and tested formats, consider how quickly you can scope out courses by chunking them up like this. A multi-hour learning programme might use less than ten mini treatments for the whole thing, all of which you might have built and tested before – .perfect for microlearning.
- They're tool and device agnostic
A mini treatment doesn't rely on having particular templates available. As stated, you can implement them in different ways across tools and devices. A watch and rate – watch a video then rate behaviours – can be achieved with a video player followed by any type of question. If you're really limited by your tools, you could even use a click-to-reveal interaction and ask the learner to click the option they agree with to open feedback. Want to make it social? You can put the video on a Totara LMS page then let the learner submit their rating using a survey.
- They’re a way to see your existing tools in a new way
Quite often, a mental picture of an implementation feature can creep in before we’ve finished thinking about what we're trying to achieve and why. Quite often, that’s a flashy new screen type or some other custom functionality. Sometimes, these can be quite custom and costly. Get your whole team involved in finding creative and cunning configurations for your existing building blocks. It could be that complicated idea is actually already easy to implement with some lateral thinking. Mini treatments are all about thinking about novel combinations of templates rather than creating new ones for every course.
- Art directors and developers will love you a little bit more
If you're following predictable and well-defined treatments, you'll have a good idea of the page layouts you'll be using in your learning. Your team can get the visual designs and layouts ready with the confidence that they'll appear in a very similar fashion in the finished product. This is especially helpful for scrolling designs where the overall page composition is a vital part of the learner experience.
- They let you ditch the text-heavy 'tutorial' for something more exciting
Without care, 'Tutorials' can end up as a big chunk of content massaged into components or screen types. Many learners have sat through a lot of this type of learning – ereading over elearning. Think of more active and interesting ways to engage with the content. Tell stories. Construct infographics to show processes. Use video. Use diagnostics to improve skills through self-reflection.
You'll find a sequence of more interesting mini treatments can replace old-school, text-heavy pages. For example, a short Adapt course about project management styles could be composed of five pages, each with its own content treatment: explainer video, quick diagnostic, interactive process chart, top tips (listicle), Next steps/links. The other topics could follow similar or totally different combinations.
3 top tips for maximising mini treatments:
- Only have one mini treatment per topic or per page
Bite-sized learning and microlearning is in greater demand than ever. Keep your courses neat by focusing on one mini treatment per page, topic or resource. This makes your content more focused, granular and reusable.
- The core of a mini treatment can be as mini as a single page-type or component
Accordions work great for simple glossaries. Your humble clickable graphic can make great interactive infographics, such as a series of stats where clicking each gives the story behind the numbers. A video might deserve to stand on its own two feet rather that sit halfway down a page of text.
But could you really call an accordion-type interaction or clickable graphic a treatment in their own right? I doubt it, but with a specific purpose and a use that delivers good user experience, you can.
- Top and tail them
Make sure the content at the top of the page or sequence grabs attention. A pretty picture won't do it on its own. It needs to connect to the reason the learner is on that page or in that resource and make them want to engage further. You don't need a paragraph of intro text on each page – feel free to jump straight into the action. Just make sure the learner knows why they're there.
At the end, always give the learner closure and give them a call to action of where to go next. A standard footer design is great for this. You might not need a long summary, but at least bring that chunk of learning to a close like you would any good web article.
Used responsibly, all templates have a place
Some templates are prime candidates for misuse. Yes, I’m talking to you, tab screen. You’re often the elearning equivalent of that cupboard where you stuff all the things you want to keep but never use.
However, absolutely anything might be useful in the right context. As long as templates function well, only forbid yourself uninteresting treatments. Set some boundaries. Ban yourself from using things like wallpaper-y header graphics, squirreling long tracts of text in accordions, and placing hot spots in random positions over stock photos. Most of you probably have a list of these usual suspects already. Only use interaction where it helps the learner to grasp the content.
Wrapping it up
Thinking in terms of mini treatments makes your content richer, more reusable, more predictable to build and easier to explain to other people. They're a way of making screen templates and components more than just the sum of their parts. In fact, used as part of a well-honed treatment, your well-trodden templates might feel no more template-y than a standard form or UI controls on web pages. And that's a mini Christmas miracle...