Not all e-learning design has to be responsive

When your e-learning design is responsive it means the training can be completed on any screen size out there – PC’s, laptops, tablets and smart phones.

In the e-learning design community this has been a hot topic for a while. Almost all articles about responsiveness will tell you why it’s important and how to do it. It’s taken for granted; if your training isn’t responsive, you don’t ‘get’ it.

It’s easy to see why it is considered important. People own all sorts of devices and we want to give them the freedom to access the training on whichever device they have open at that moment. A bit of free time on the train? Take your mobile and do a training… You get the gist.

There are hundreds of articles out there that explain the technical details. Each new version of Articulate Storyline (DynaMind’s preferred tool to develop these stand-alone modules) has improved ‘responsiveness’.

Yet, not all of the e-learning modules developed by DynaMind are responsive. Some are, some aren’t – it depends on the instructional design approach (informed by the subject) and the needs of the target group. For example, last year in one of our larger development projects we agreed with the client that fully responsive e-learning design would be a bad idea.

Let me use this project to explain why. You can also have a look at the case study on our website for a brief overview and a couple of screenshots.

Title screenThe subject is monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of development programmes supported by the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Not sure if you’ve ever been involved in M&E, but in real life the tools are many and they are complex (not as in complicated, but rather as in – there is a lot of information to deal with).

M&E officers or staff with M&E responsibilities wouldn’t even dream of doing most of the tasks on a smart phone. They might use their mobile for collecting information or evidence, but not for completing the tools. I haven’t seen this happen on tablets either and personally it would drive me insane, but perhaps there are more patient people out there who manage this. The vast majority of people practicing M&E do this at their PC or laptop because they need a bigger screen to be able to make sense of the tools.

Let’s go back to the training now. It’s ‘training’, not a ‘presentation’ – we take this difference seriously. Surely a presentation about monitoring and evaluation could easily be made responsive. Throw in a few quizzes and it’s still working on tiny screens as well. But that doesn’t make it ‘training’.

Training means people get to apply the skills in a safe environment where they can make mistakes before doing very similar things in their work places. For M&E, it’s only efficient when people can ‘do’ in the training what they do in their office. That means heaps of decision making. I’ve never seen them do any quizzes in their jobs, just saying.

The monitoring and evaluation training we designed can only be done on laptops and PC screens because that’s how it’s done in real life too. If we had wanted to make this design responsive, we would have compromised on the most important principle of effective training: it has to be ‘doing’, not ‘talking about’. Remember, this isn’t about throwing content at people; this is about building skills.

The feedback is great. Learners take note of the access prerequisites and adapt accordingly. A PC or laptop is considered flexible enough. They are using the same devices for the training than the ones they use for their work – exactly how it should be for training like this.

So before we specify the level of responsiveness for any training, we consider what the learning activities will look like – always inspired by real life. We also have an in-depth look at the target group’s realities. If these require that we design less responsive training, that’s fine.

‘Responsiveness’ shouldn’t become a ‘one-fit-for-all’.

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