Building Jaws in Space: New Ideas at eLearning DevCon 2011

Building Jaws in Space: New Ideas at eLearning DevCon 2011

Last week I traveled to Salt Lake City for eLearning DevCon, a small, focused convention targeted at elearning designers and developers. This conference gets into the nitty gritty, with sessions examining new technologies and successful case studies.

This week I’ll reflect on some of the highlights of the sessions I attended last week, including presentations from Jeremy Friedberg of SpongeLab Interactive, Nick Floro of Sealworks Interactive Studios, Kathleen Witjing of Medstar Health, Curtis Morley of Franklin Covey and Treion Muller and Matt Murdoch, also of Franklin Covey (and frequent guest posters on this blog!).

Jaws in Space

Curtis Morley’s keynote address connected our cultural attention deficit - driven by myriad technologies, distractions and an “addiction to urgency” - to the way we must construct elearning to maximize the learners’ capacity for attention. In one example of sustained focus, Morley lasered in on one key point: reduce the cognitive load.

Let me share his example.

When I say, “I’ve got a great movie for us to watch tonight! It’s about a spaceship that slowly gets taken over by aliens - and the people who battle them - all while hurtling through space!”, it takes you a minute to put together all the pieces and imagine what I’m actually talking about.

In the meantime, if I’ve kept on talking (which I’m wont to do), you’ve lost focus on the information that followed that complex idea.

What about when I say, “I’ve got a great movie for you! It’s like Jaws, only in space!”, you know exactly what I’m talking about (Alien) because I’ve repurposed concepts, images and ideas that you already understand in order to help you more quickly understand the information I’m sharing.

In short, don’t make learners conceptualize information from scratch. Create the context using building blocks of information or ideas that learners already know, understand and use.

We can do that for learners when we create courses by ensuring that we understand their context and culture. This applies to creating off-the-shelf content as well. For example, think about common situations we all encounter: frustration at sitting in traffic, bad customer service from big, faceless companies or the vague feeling of helpless rage when you can’t get technology to work.

Use these common experiences and cultural touchstones to help learners understand information, giving them a head start when you dive into the details of your course.

Games for Learning from SpongeLab

After spending an evening thinking about creating “Jaws in Space”-like elearning courses, I was ready for a unconventional approach to elearning. SpongeLab’s interactive educational games did not disappoint.

SpongeLab cofounder Dr. Jeremy Friedberg shared several games he has built centered around engaging students in science. The first, Genomics Digital Lab, introduces learners to biology and genetics. One of the activities he demo’ed centered on setting the conditions and variables that will keep a plant alive. Students (players in this case) can adjust the amount of oxygen, light, nutrients, etc. that the plant is exposed to in order to observe and interpret the results for the plant’s health.

Another SpongeLab game, History of Biology, sends learners on an adventure exploring real history to trace the connection between the evolution of different scientific theories.

These games work because they allow learners to interact with the information they are studying, and observe different variables in action. Learners build knowledge of complex processes, step-by-step. The higher order science-in-action game drives learners to form their own conclusions from independent research and discovery of contextual information. What a cool experience! I was fortunate to have an excellent high school biology teacher, but I certainly would have loved the opportunity to play an Indiana Jones-like game while deepening my understanding of the history of science.

OpenSesame "On The Road" Contest

OpenSesame iPad WinnerWhat everyone wants at a conference is real ideas, skills and materials to implement in their day-to-day lives. I commend the organizers of eLearning DevCon for providing sessions like these that cover new ideas in action - while also offering "Bring Your Own Laptop" sessions that enabled participants to put their new skills and ideas to work.

Of course, when OpenSesame attends a conference, our bags are packed full of OpenSesame hoodies, keychains and iPads. We had a great time playing our "Unlock eLearning (and iPads)" conference game, and we're excited to share one more opportunity to win an iPad this summer: tweet or email me a picture of you wearing your OpenSesame hoodie out and about this summer by July 15th. The creator of the best photo will win an iPad!  

Image Credit: StormyDog on Flickr