Time to stop waving the flag for interactivity?

In my previous job, back before the internet and intranets, I was recruited to lead the introduction of computer-based training (CBT). I established Learning Centres and either created, or presided over, the creation of several interactive product knowledge and health-and-safety courses. Then it all dried up – customers discovered we could use the same approach in interactive workbooks at a fraction of the cost and delivery time. So suddenly I found myself heading a (smaller) team of DTP authors, occasionally buying in CBT and, in the background, learning HTML.
Then my company was taken over by a larger one. This one, my current employer, wanted web design enthusiasts to perk up its new online university intranet site, and I found myself in probably the best job I’ve ever had. I went straight into CBT mode, railing against ‘electronic page turning’ and creating javascript-based interactive modules – ironically, converted from workbooks!  But still our internal customers balked at the amount of thought and planning that was required for interactivity, and said instead ‘Please put this memo/booklet/workbook/instruction manual (groan!) on the web. Just make it look nice and if you want to put a quiz at the end, that’s fine.’

Now, in the autumn of my years, I question my enthusiasm for interactivity. I note that

  • when I want to know something myself I Google or Wikipedia it and want to get it fast, not sit through questions and feedback
  • the new emphasis on informal learning seems more of a recognition of reality than a bandwagon, and just-in-time, performance support and job aids seem more in tune with that than tutorials and learning objectives
  • even those customers who believe engaging the user in demanding tasks don’t want to put the time into ensuring they’re business-real; they’d rather I did it, with my full lack of knowledge of their day to day business. That ain’t right.
  • much of what this company calls elearning has been hijacked by a Learning Management System of monstrous clunkiness and dinosaur-like stupidity. I now fight to keep my material out of it!

So what am I doing currently?

  • creating templates for ‘good page-turning’ i.e. with word limits per page, page limits per unit and Word templates for gathering content that are based on elements of instructional design. Designed for skimming and scanning, these will be my weapons to attack the online workbooks and compliance manuals
  • creating variations on these with light Javascript  interactivity to try to draw internal customers towards us when they want e-learning rather than external companies who promise Strictly Come Dancing then pump up the budget trying to dumb it down for our highly restricted intranet (no Flash, 50k per page etc)
  • working on recasting what we do as performance support and plotting for the day when we can introduce forums, wikis and the other paraphernelia of electronically-supported informal learning. This will take time, and may happen after most of our managers get email 🙂

Sometimes I think I’m betraying my training as an instructional designer/CBT author, but my conscience is (mostly) clean.

1 thought on “Time to stop waving the flag for interactivity?”

  1. Great post, Norman. Your experiences will ring bells with many designers (not least me!). This is what happens when good intentions meet the real world. I think you’re adopting the right stance, i.e. adapt to the real world, rather than complaining when it doesn’t adapt to you.

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