Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Text-based page-turners revisited

Don’t confuse the medium with the message, or the expression with the experience.

Most first-generation e-learning out there is ineffective garbage. But the fault lies more with the design of the learning experience, than with the fact that the content is primarily accessed through text and images. I acknowledge the need to address learning needs and use effective means to do so. But I am just not so ready to throw text and images out the window as a foundation for the communication of knowledge. Build on that foundation by all means. But build on it with layers of useful learning experiences, not simply with more exotic media.

My previous PowerPoint comment was more about perceptions of the mode of instruction than about the tool itself. You can’t assume that anyone following a relatively linear mode of teaching is merely putting pictures and text on a screen. What matters is how mentally engaging the experience is, not whether its primary visual form is text and pictures. Further, you can’t assume that because “interaction” in the trivial sense that I hear most ISD people use it (animation, sounds, games, bright shiny objects) is absent from a particular experience, that the mind of the learner cannot be productively engaged with the subject matter. You can use text and images as a primary mode of communication, and reinforce it with real-world application exercises, practice, feedback and so on – and, more often than not, even in the most gratuitously lavish production, those vital activities tend to be briefed and de-briefed using (gasp) text!

Admittedly, it is harder to craft a good sentence than to code a jumping frog, but that’s no reason to dis the written word. Don’t knock the potential of text as a means of communication. It’s making a major come-back in people’s lives.

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