So, over the holiday break, in-between stuffing my face with food and watching holiday movies (yes, Die Hard counts), I took some time to catch up on my podcast backlog. Particularly, Limetown.
For the uninitiated, Limetown tells the story of investigative reporter, Lia Haddock, as she unravels the mystery of Limetown, a sequestered, self-sufficient society of scientists and engineers working on something. One day, everyone vanishes without so much as a trace. Mystery ensues.
Sans-spoilers, Lia follows leads and interviews people connected with Limetown—and one tells her the following:
Let’s start at the beginning of human history, how’s that? So, since the dawn of mankind, we’ve been constantly trying to answer the same question—How do I transmit an idea from my mind to yours with the least information lost during dissemination? Language. The written word. The telegraph. Telephone. Television. The Internet. These were our precursors. Precursors to what? Mind to mind communication…If you want no information lost, you must remove every barrier.
Since it’s unlikely we’ll invent telepathy anytime soon (at least, I hope not), we’ve got to work with what we have. But, it’s still important for us to remove as many barriers to communication as possible. Effective eLearning is reliant on communication. It’s on us to communicate effectively, and facilitate that communication.
Elearning Requires Good Communication
It’s worthwhile to understand that all education is, in one form or another, communication. Whether we’re communicating with our stakeholders, SMEs, other IDs, or the faculty and students, we sit at the hub of the online education process. Student communication is particularly important though possibly indirect—after all, it’s our design that they interact with as they progress through course material.
We need to communicate ideas clearly and simply. And in eLearning, you communicate with students in many ways:
- Writing instructions, condensing content, developing clear questions
- Conducting webinars, recording video and audio
- Designing clear visual aids
- Giving appropriate feedback
And while we all know that eLearning is fundamentally about communication, it’s easy to forget the next part if we don’t constantly keep it in mind. Communication is fundamentally about people. It sounds simple. But it’s critical to remember. You’re communicating with living, breathing people, each with their own needs, biases, strengths, struggles, and personality. You’re not communicating with a faceless mob. Each person or group is different—the average learner doesn’t exist. So use universal design principles wherever possible to reach the widest possible audience.
In the reflective spirit of the new year, I challenge you to re-align your communication focus, by simply asking yourself one question:
How can I communicate better (directly or indirectly) with the people or groups involved in my day-to-day processes, including my end-users?
Listening to Learners
If you’re familiar with the process of design thinking—specifically the first step in any problem-solving process—you know the opening task is to empathize with your user.
So, how can you communicate better with your user base? Listen to them, which in design terms, often means you need to get feedback.
Obviously, feedback can be tough to solicit—it takes time.
Time to design systems that can solicit good feedback. Time for people to give feedback. Time to process it, reflect on it, and decide what changes (if any) to implement.
Learning to be Better Communicators
Most have heard the Malcom Gladwell stat—you need to put in 10,000 hours of work at something to become an expert at it. Often missed is that practice needs to be 10,000 hours with active feedback to keep you progressing along the path.
So, how can you get feedback? Here are some suggestions below:
- Find a Mentor: Many of us get into eLearning because we love to learn. So, find someone who’s been there before and learn from them. Find someone to help you grow in your career and help you go to the next level. Show them your work. Bounce ideas off of them. Ask for feedback. Obviously, this can take a significant time investment from both parties, so start small. Just reach out to people you admire on LinkedIn or Twitter, and start a conversation. Who knows where it may lead.
- Participate in communities or eLearning Challenges: Articulate’s eLearning Heroes community has a fantastic weekly challenge to help you sharpen your skills and get feedback from other designers. As a bonus, you can start to build connections and even give feedback of your own. Hop in to the #TLDChat chat on Twitter or join ATD.
- Course Reviews: Presumably before you launch your course (and after it’s completed) you’ll get some sort of feedback on what improvements or changes need to be made. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get this feedback not only from your SMEs and other stakeholders, but from the learners themselves. Surveys at the end of a course can be a bit of a drag, but sometimes they’re a quick and dirty way to get some high-level feedback from students. If you’re looking for something to guide this process, the Quality Matters Rubric is a fantastic place to start.
And the list goes on. With so many different modes of communication, it can be easy to be overwhelmed trying to improve on all of them at once. Here are a few suggestions for brushing up—pick one to focus on for 2019:
- Take a Public Speaking Course: Presentations are a way of life. Learn to be more engaging while working with an online audience; it’ll help you make your eLearning content more memorable. A few members of our Model eLearning team are big proponents of Toastmasters International—maybe 2019 is the year they finally get me to bite.
- Brush up on your Writing: Learn how to modulate your tone and style so you can be specific to the audience you’re writing for. A great book to learn how to do this is The Writer’s Workshop by Gregory Roper. Even better if you go through it with a group.
- Tell Stories: Narrative can be a powerful pedagogical tool. Take a creative writing course, or just start a blog or journal where you start chronicling and saving stories about your life or day. Try to frame them in impactful ways, and learn how to share a good takeaway.
So, here’s a start to 2019—a few ideas for brushing up your communication skills. We hope you’ll show them off in the comments below!