We all want e-Learning to be interesting and effective, but there are so many ways of doing this that it can be hard to decide how to proceed. In this article we look at how tomato sauce can help you to produce genuinely interesting courses time and time again.
Interest isn’t like tomato sauce
Tomato sauce is a useful condiment. You can use it to add flavour to a dish or, depending on how much you add, you can use it to make every dish taste exactly the same. Interest is often seen in the same way by those involved in the e-Learning industry; it is assumed that you can enhance a course by adding interesting elements to it.
This ‘enhancement’ usually takes one of the following forms:
- Adding extra sounds such as music or effects,
- Adding extra or highly detailed graphics or videos,
- Adding extra information in the form of text that gives extra hints, tips or technical depth.
Does the addition of this extra content help? Many assume that it does (due to misunderstanding VARK and other misconceptions) and that their trainees will learn more effectively as a result. It is assumed that a gentle classical music track in the background facilitates learning, or that an entertaining little video clip will motivate learners to engage with the module, or that some interesting but irrelevant text will stimulate the user. In reality, Clark and Mayer (2011) state that this sort of extra material can have quite a significant negative impact on learning:
- It distracts the learner from key points,
- It disrupts their process of turning information into a coherent mental model,
- It activates irrelevant prior knowledge.
The Coherence Principle
In their book e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (2011), authors Clark and Mayer comment that “interest cannot be added to an otherwise boring lesson like some kind of seasoning.” Essentially, if trainees and users find a course boring, then trying to make it more interesting by adding extra content would be like trying to improve a bland, flavourless curry by adding tomato sauce to it. It just doesn’t work; it’s still a rubbish curry.
Courses where interesting content has simply been 'added' are often unpalatable.
The Coherence Principle tells us that adding extraneous material can interfere with learning. Essentially less material means better learning. Of course, this doesn’t mean that including audio, video and textual elements in a course is ineffective, in fact the opposite is true as these elements can improve learning significantly. It simply means that these elements need to be relevant and foundational to the training, not extras added as seasoning.
Interesting courses are interesting because they are good. This is because understanding leads to enjoyment. If a course is simply not good enough, then the only thing that can be done to make it interesting is to raise the quality of the course itself.
If you create courses where the learner is an active participant in the learning process and audio, video and textual content are integral parts of the module, then your courses will be genuinely interesting and effective.
Clark, R. C., and R. E. Mayer. E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, 3rd edition (San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2011).