Author: Oleg Miroshensky
Finding the right cast for the Harry Potter movies was a big challenge. But not the biggest one.
How would the movie producers manage to surpass the success of the books? By realizing that they had to make changes to the plot and characters. And ultimately, the movies did enjoy the same success as the books did before them. But this would not be possible without adapting the Harry Potter content from a literary to a visual format.
Adapting existing live training to online learning format is equally important. We routinely build online learning based on live presentation materials or simply make live training content available online. And expect it to work. But it doesn’t.
Today we will look at adapting comprehension checks from the live to the online format. We will see how the comprehension checks are done during the live training. And why the comprehension component often goes missing in the online format. Finally, we will see how to design online learning with the comprehension element in it.
Every grocery store I go to has self-checkout lines.
But here is an interesting detail. Although the idea of these machines is to replace humans, there is always a store assistant nearby. The assistant’s job is to help customers, who get stuck using the self- checkout.
In live training, it is the instructor, who gauges audience comprehension. By making training content available online, we take the instructor out of the equation. And immediately lose the comprehension checks. Without the comprehension check, there will be part of the audience, who will not understand our content. Just like customers, stuck at the self-checkout, stuck learners are unable to continue learning until their questions are addressed. But there is no “store assistant” around to help.
Sequential vs. conceptual.
As it turns out, not all content is the same. There are two broad content categories: sequential and conceptual. And each requires its own approach to building comprehension checks.
Sequential content focuses on getting each step of the process right. Any learning that shows “How” to do something will fall into the sequential category. Whether you want to learn how to make a new summer cocktail or need to set up a home computer network – there is a sequence of steps to follow. The video format is great at presenting sequential content. And YouTube is a great source of such videos!
But how do we make sure that learners are not stuck when making that cocktail or setting up their computer network?
The trick is to break the demonstrated process into the smallest possible increments and show intermediate results after each step. These intermediate results serve as checkpoints to keep the viewer on course to reach the end goal. If there are any tricky parts during the process, you can also draw attention to them by showing where things can go wrong and how one would correct them.
The beauty of the sequential content is that there is no need to memorize each step. Instead, how-to materials become job aids. The job aids help people complete each step and get to the desired result. They also eliminate the need for creating an assessment. Wait, what? No assessment? How will we know if our learning content is effective? Well, try drinking that cocktail, made using your instructions and you will know.
Conceptual material is quite different from the sequential content.
Sequential content explains how to do something. Conceptual learning explains what something is or why something is important. “What are the roles on the project team?” or “Why should you use a VPN?” – are examples of conceptual learning. Explaining concepts requires connecting a new, unknown idea to something the audience is familiar with. In the example above, a VPN is often presented as a secure tunnel to demonstrate that the network traffic inside the tunnel is protected from hackers and other threats. Is VPN really a tunnel? Of course, not. But picturing a tunnel helps understand the concept behind a VPN.
Now let’s look at how we can check conceptual understanding.
How do we know that a concept is understood? Let’s look at multiplication as an example. If you know how to use the concept of long multiplication, you can apply it to multiplying any 2 numbers. In other words, the only way to know if you understand a concept is to see if you can apply it in a scenario. That means we’ve got to build lots of practice scenarios for the learners. The self-assessment piece becomes critical here. The assessment shows learners whether their decision-making process of applying a concept is correct.
And there you have it. The two ways to build comprehension for online training. Certainly, the comprehension checks will not drive the popularity of your online training to the heights of Harry Potter movies. But they will help to successfully adapt your live training content to the online format. And the learners will look at the training as a tool rather than a nuisance. If you want to see examples of how content was adapted from a PowerPoint slide deck to the online format, check out the case study here.
It is time to wrap up, so here is what we covered today.
During live training, it is the instructor, who performs comprehension checks. Comprehension checks are not part of the content and often go missing when building online learning. However, material comprehension is critical to learning success. So we have to build comprehension checks when designing online learning. Learning content can be classified as sequential or conceptual. The difference between the two becomes important because each type requires creating different types of comprehension checks.