Developing Learning Activities And Simulations In E-Learning
What turns your best dress into a showstopper? Accessories. And
what turns your online course content into dazzlingly useful
learning content? Learning Activities. What is a Learning
Activity? In e-learning content development, we use all forms of
questions for test and quizzes:
1. Multiple correct, which presents a number of choices as
answers to a particular question. There may be more than one
answer to this question. The students chooses all answers that
2. Single correct, which presents multiple choices as answers to
a particular questions. One answer of the possible choices is
3. Item matching, in which there is one column of possible
answers that relate to another column of questions. Item
matching is commonly used for matching the correct term to the
4. Fill-in-the-blank, in which the students enters the correct
word or words that complete a sentence.
5. True/false, in which the student answers whether a statement
is true or false.
6. Short answer, in which the student enters a one to two
sentence answer to a question.
7. Essay, in which the student responds to a question with a
page (or more) long response.
All of these question types are useful for testing knowledge
gained from taking a course, as well as testing the level of
knowledge prior to a course. In addition, such questions are
useful in the course itself as learning checks. The learning
check enables the student to determine whether he understands
the material. Most companies consider these questions to be
adequate learning activities. However, learning activities can
be much more. Learning activities that are simulations can
involve the student and give him a safe environment in which to
practice skills gained through the course. .
Learning Activities are interactive activities that help to
explain concepts and involve the student with hands-on learning.
This may include all forms of drag and drop questions (one to
one correlation, many to one correlation) as well as interactive
ordering of graphics or text, and finally, simulations.
An IDC article and survey, Technology-Based Simulations: Cloning
the Work Environment for More Effective Learning, June 2004 by
Michael Brennan, states, "By 2008 the use of simulations will
quadruple.... Simulations provide a parallel universe in which
employees hone their skills... Innovative companies have
realized this, and others will follow."
Simulations are currently the most expensive learning activity.
Simulations must be individually designed and programmed. For
example, suppose you have a sales course in which you are
testing the sales student's retention of the message that the
company wishes to deliver to its customers. You could do a
question workshop: several questions that give situations
requiring an action in multiple correct or single correct
formats. Another, more entertaining, method would be to have the
sales person run through a scenario in which he indicates what
he would do to sell his product. The learning activity indicates
whether the customer would buy this product based on those
actions. This feedback could be indicated by a graph indicating
customer readiness to buy. It could also be complimented by
video, in which the customer appears aggravated when the sales
person gives his message incorrectly and pleased when the sales
person gives his message correctly.
Online courses are taken privately and at the student's
convenience. If the student requires several attempts with a
particular scenario, praise the student for continued effort and
Adding humor to simulations and learning activities is essential
yet can be controversial. As the simulation developer or content
developer, you do not want to add any humor that could be
perceived as offensive, sexist or worse, unfunny. To extend our
sales example, when the sales person is unsuccessful at selling
his product in the learning activity, you would not want your
customer video or simple animation of the customer to offend the
sales person. Yet you want him to laugh and try again. Perhaps
the customer morosely shaking his head and leaving the room,
with text indicating how the sales call went dreadfully south
would be acceptable and could be done in a humorous fashion. You
would not want this animation to be disturbing - the customer
should not shake his fist and yell for a restraining order
against the sales person, for example.
In the past, I participated in designing a simulation of patient
anesthesia. The computer program consisted of a patient on the
operating room table and two dials that the student could turn.
One dial administered oxygen, the other dial administered
anesthetic. The patient's parameters could change (height,
weight, age). As the student administered the anesthesia, a
graph showed the patient's stats. If you administered too much
anesthesia the patient would die! It was a great simulation, but
scary. The death knell of the patient was accompanied by funeral
music. . Ouch!
On the other hand, sometimes we encounter simulations and
learning activities that add nothing to the content or the
course. They are superfluous, added to maintain interest. You
must be very careful in these instances. If you want to add
something to maintain interest, it should still be useful and
explore some aspect of the topic. A Flash movie of interesting
fractals may be colorful and fun - useless in a course that is
not about fractals, art or Flash. For example, suppose you are
teaching contractual document details. You can still relate the
content of the course to a learning activity in which the
student must put the correct elements from a list into three
different types of contracts. As dry as you may think detailing
the elements of a contract might be, if you add audio that
indicates whether the addition was right or wrong, you can keep
your student's interest. "Wrong!" can be contrasted with "Oh,
not that element, it does not belong" said in a beautiful
feminine voice. The second response can add a smile and cause
the student to remember how the contractual elements are added
to a contract. A booming male voice that states, "You sir, are
correct!" can bring that same acknowledgement.
In conclusion, questions and quizzes while useful are not the
end of interactivity. We need to provide the means for
simulations inside online courses to provide the hands on
learning that students need. Through clever activities that
allow seeing the consequences of your actions on the simulation
model, we can provide activities that enable retention of
material and practice. If these activities lead the student to
greater understanding, we have provided not only an entertaining
activity but also great value for our online courses.