One of the things we enjoy most about our work is getting to design great learning experiences for people while also learning about important topics.
For example, did you know that British Columbia is home to an incredible variety of fossils? They are mostly found in places with layered sedimentary rocks, like Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, as well as in the Interior Plateau, Rocky Mountains, and Rocky Mountain Foothills.
Our client, the BC Fossil Management Office, provides information, guidance, and policies to support the protection and management of fossils and fossil sites across the province. As part of this work, they asked us to create an e-learning course specifically for Natural Resource Ministries in order to share information about the importance of fossils, as well as how they are protected and managed in BC.
Here were some of our top considerations as we designed and developed this course:
1 – Creating learning outcomes
When designing this learning experience, we kept learning outcomes in mind right from the start. This is because learning outcomes identify what the learner should be able to do, know, or value by the end of the course, and they help us align content and activities more precisely with the learning we intend them to achieve.
Examples of learning outcomes in the first course module include: “Define the term fossil.” and “Give examples of materials that are not defined as fossils.” These are clear and measurable goals that we intended the learner would be able to achieve by the end of the module. We then chose the content and activities for the module based on whether or not they supported these goals.
In other words, staying focussed on the goals of the course allowed us to make better decisions about what material to include and not include. We frequently looked back at our draft outcome statements, which we created in collaboration with the client, to ensure that we were including only the content and activities that would actually help learners accomplish the desired outcomes.
2 – Finding a place for optional material
Getting clear on our intended learning outcomes from the start meant that we were able to identify the content that was important to keep. But leaving material out of the main content of the modules didn’t always mean leaving it out of the course entirely.
We created a Digging Deeper section at the end of each module for optional learning – such as videos, website links, and book recommendations – that related to the main content but was not essential. Similarly, we included Resources and Glossary buttons in each module, which gave learners access to useful information as they navigated through the course.
Here is an example of a Digging Deeper page with the Glossary and Resource buttons at the top right:
These additional content spaces enabled us to keep the course clean, organized, and easy to navigate.
3 – Making room on the page
At times, we also got creative about how to make room for content on the page. One solution was to use a range of interactive elements throughout each module to share the information in layered and engaging ways. This helped to avoid overwhelming the learner with too much content all at once – a concept sometimes called “chunking” – while keeping the slides simple and engaging.
In the following example, we fit a significant amount of information about museums onto one slide by creating clickable buttons and images. The learner is invited to click each button to learn more about each category of information via popup textboxes. In addition, small photos leave more room on the slide, which the learner can click to enlarge and view their captions.
While we admittedly prefer to create ‘interactions’ for the learner that are directly related to achieving learning outcomes and invite brain-based interaction, we know that sometimes we just have to find more organized ways to present information in a click-and-reveal style. When this is the case, we ensure that the content is not presented all at once, avoiding a large wall of text, and the learner can engage in the content at their own pace. As a result, the look and feel of the course remains clean and inviting, and the learners are kept interested and involved.
4 – Emphasizing participatory learning
And finally, because our ultimate goal was to keep learners fully engaged with the required content, we made sure to create a course that included a variety of interactive activities along the way. This is because we know that people learn more when they’re actively participating in their learning.
One example of an interactive activity is a series of Fieldwork Activities we included in some modules in order to reinforce learning related to a desired outcome. The following is an example from Module Two in which the learner is asked to identify keywords that belong to the field of paleontology – to help step the learner towards the outcome of distinguishing the field of paleontology from the field of archaeology – by dragging and dropping them into the circle:
A second example of an interactive activity are the Learning Checks we included at the end of each module. These not only measured learning aligned with each outcome, but also strengthened this learning by providing feedback for each response. As we know in learning design, feedback for wrong answers can be just as helpful as correct ones in helping us learn. And the learner is welcome to repeat the Learning Check as many times as they’d like until they feel satisfied with their knowledge and responses.
We very much appreciated the opportunity to work with the BC Fossil Management Office to design and develop this set of e-learning modules. It was wonderful to learn about the importance of fossils, as well as how they are protected and managed in BC, and to create a course that helps others to do the same.