Learner Validation for E-learning Courses

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Darryl L. Sink and Associates, Inc. (DSA) helps organizations design and develop learning and performance solutions that get results. DSA works cooperatively with organizations to:

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DSA would like to thank Dr. Paul Swan for this tip.

As course developers, we have a responsibility to "test" our courses to find out if they indeed work. We call this process "Learner Validation" or "Learner Try-Out." It occurs before the course pilot and certainly before it is launched. It is one of the methods that we use to refine and improve our work. During learner validation we are seeking answers to the following questions:

A great technique to use in learner validation of e-learning courses is what I call the "Swami Technique." This technique combines three simple tools into a very powerful tool:

  1. Single subject testing
  2. Talk aloud
  3. Video recording

Here is how you can use it with your e-learning projects. Or, if you are working with a vendor, here is how you can test their work to determine if you are ready to accept it.

First, start by identifying three or four members of your target audience. These will be your single subjects. Do not use Subject Matter Experts! You need your single subjects to represent the typical students who will take your course.

Have your first subject take your course. Diffuse any tension by explaining that the purpose of their interaction with the course is to test the course, not them. The results of the experience will not be recorded or reported to their supervisor, but instead, will be used to improve the course. Explain to the student that you want them to talk aloud while they are taking the course. They are to explain their thought processes as they attempt to navigate the course.

For example, if they are searching for the "next" button or trying to escape a page, they should say so out loud as they move the cursor. They should explain their intent for every move they make through the course.

The key to capturing the data that you will need to improve your course is using a video camera to record the session. Focus the camera on the computer monitor only. It should also be placed near enough to the single subject to clearly record their verbal comments. Use a time stamp so that you can reference specific spots on the recording so you do not have to watch the entire recording again. As the session progresses, make notes of particular course problems and the time stamp reading where the problem occurs.

After the single subject has completed the course, administer the criterion test items that accurately measure the objectives associated with the course.

You will be surprised at how quickly this goes. You will also be surprised at how valuable the data you will receive during this process will be in improving your course. Many of the modifications that you will need to make to improve your course will be obvious. Many modifications will be simple to make, as well. Make your modifications and repeat this process as many times as you need with your next single subjects.

Be careful, however. Sometimes, when a student has a problem with your course, it may not necessarily be a problem that you need to address. If you do not agree that it is a problem you need to address, table it for the moment. Make the changes you think you should make. But, if another single subject has the same problem, you can be assured it is a problem with your course that requires you to make a modification.

You might initially say that "I don´t have time to do this." I respond by saying, "You don´t have time not to do this testing." By taking a few moments to do learner validation, you will prevent many other time and resource consuming problems that occur after launch and implementation. Making changes now is much easier than trying to deal with the problems that will occur later. By using the Swami Technique, you can quickly refine your course and deliver a high-quality product every time.

See you next time,