Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Theory of Relativity in 5 steps for e-Learning

As if suggesting in my last post that quantum theory wasn't too much, this time we're pushing for the theory of relativity and the way it affects learning.  Relativity in layman's terms is the theory that as you go fast (no, not sports car fast, think millions of metres per second fast) things change.  The things that change are the basic 'rules' that we live our lives by - like 'time' being a constant.  Essentially at speeds approaching the speed of light (something like 150 million miles per hour) time ceases to be a constant and becomes relative.  That means that if you're traveling fast your time is actually going slower than someone else who may be observing you.  For example if two twins were separated at birth and one was put in a superfast spaceship to travel for say 40 years, in 40 years time the twin going fast would be younger - perhaps only 20 years old...  Relativity has been known to bend the brains of smarter men than me so for the sake of simplicity all you need to know is that 'time is relative'.

An easy way to look at relativity is through an analogy - think about when you've been engaged in an activity that was really fun - maybe when you were a kid playing a game.  You've literally lost track of time and found that it has gone quickly and you're in trouble for being late.  Again you have two observers, the angry parent and the childs.  From the child's perspective time has flown by but from the parent's it has been going the same as normal and the irresponsible child has just stayed out longer than they were supposed to.  Maybe it's easier to think of a time when you've been somewhere you didn't want to be... ever noticed how long it seems to take when you're waiting for something in a queue or you're at the dentist?

Of course the theory of relativity as Einstein spelled it out was all about going fast rather than our analogies, but it's the analogies that we're more interested in when talking e-learning; after all if your learners really go through the learning at speeds approaching that of light then you've either got faster internet than I've ever seen (hey, I live in New Zealand) or you've created nano-learning (mmm... another concept I may try and coin later!).  Relativity in learning technology theory is really about making the learnin.. well, relative!  It's the use of analogies and perspective to make your e-learning enjoyable so that the learner becomes engrossed in what they're doing to the extent that 'time flies'.  After all who wants the virtual experience of being at the dentist for their learning (okay, there's a caveat on that for e-learning material on dentistry, but you get my gist).

The model for relativity in e-learning is simple; you make the stuff relevant and enjoyable so that learners spend time and enjoy the experience; so here's my simple steps to doing that:

  1. As always know your audience so you can make something that's truly relative to them.  If this is for your work colleagues then you should have a pretty good perspective of where they're from and what 'stuff' they're likely to find interesting.  Don't be afraid to challenge and create different environments but always remember your audience.
  2. Allow learners to control their learning.  One of the big problems with being stuck in a queue is there's only one way to go and you can see it's going to be long and boring.  Think of a stack of OHPs or an enormous Powerpoint presentation or speaker's notes.  Relativity is about getting the learner so involved that they forget time, not so desperate to get through that they wished time went faster (that has the opposite effect).  That means a greater amount of pull learning where the learner decides what they need rather than force feeding them to watch all 30 minutes of video or read 100 pages that they already know.
  3. Use scenarios; make them relevant engaging, challenging and thought provoking.  I like to use metaphors and run with them - great for e-learning too where you can put someone through a different set of circumstances but keep the thread running.  Half the battle for great scenarios is making them suitably challenging.  If they're obviously just multi-choice with obvious answers then the scenario won't grab anyone and you've missed a great opportunity.
  4. Let your learners do 'stuff'.  For reference clicking on the right arrow or the 'next' button is probably not what most people consider to be interactive.  There are learners who will be happy to engross themselves in reading long texts, but they are in the minority and most of us have a relatively short attention span when it comes to reading text.
  5. A double step - mix it up (variety is the spice of e-learning) but keep it running.  What I mean here is give the learner plenty of angles and activities to do and challenge them, but try and keep within the same learning experience so that it feels like you're in the same experience.  It can be incredibly frustrating for learners to have a fragmented or choppy learning experience and you'll lose the chance to get them fully engrossed or immersed in the activity.
So if you really want your learners to get more from their e-learning, relativity is an important theory.  The more effort you put into the learning experience from the perspective of the learner the more they will get out of it and the less they will worry about the time they spend there.

And if all else fails you can try collecting your feedback at speeds nearing that of light... and for those of you wanting some E=mc I'll leave with you the fact that if your learning isn't relative then it won't matter and you will have wasted your energy...