Each year, a friend of mine is required to take a multi-segment four-hour cybersecurity training with a required final assessment. He calls this training “Robot Cocktail Party”. Upon taking the training the first year it was required, he realized that this off-the-shelf training required no interaction on his part and only tracked completion. He also noticed that he could run more than module at a time. As the avatars of five or six concurrently running modules each read the screen text aloud, he plugged his headphones into his computer and laughed as he observed the many robotic sounding voices speak at once, sounding similar to the ambient conversation one might observe at a robot cocktail party.
This year, as he started the robot cocktail party, something changed. After only a few moments, the cocktail party stopped. As he shifted his focus back to his screen, he saw something new. He was required to interact with a scenario. He read the screen a bit incredulous and worked through the scenario. This pattern continued throughout the rest of the day as he completed the training and eventually completed the final assessment.
Let’s break this story down a bit and see what we can learn.
Unexpected eLearning Interactions Attract Attention
Being surprised, either positively or negatively, draws our attention. There is well researched, and speaking anecdotally I can confirm that when the white wall in my periphery suddenly has movement, my attention is immediately drawn to the spider wall and I find myself wondering if Elon Musk is still selling flamethrowers.
See how that works?
My friend was surprised by the change in his normal training ritual and therefore paid attention. Did he like it? Not necessarily. Did he learn? Yes! I would advise the company to change things up even more next year to increase engagement.
Assessment Must Be Meaningful
I am an avid opponent of having an assessment just to have one. That said, I have assessments in most of my courses. Assessments are a great opportunity to review what was learned in a course and reinforce any important points. Assessments are also not meant tricky or overly difficult. However, if a participant can pass an assessment without even gazing at the content, there should be another approach. I have a few suggestions.
- Create a test-out option. Is it possible that your participants have retained the information from the year prior and there is little to no new information in the course? If the answer is yes, you should have a test out option and offer a job-aid for any new information.
- Make the assessment less obvious. Once again, don’t make it tricky, but the incorrect answers don’t need to be obvious. Yes, these are a bit more difficult to write because you need to come up with realistic yet incorrect answers. Along the same point, work to reduce the number of questions that have answers like all of the above or none of the above for the same reason.
Evaluate Return on Investment
The robot cocktail party has been a running joke for some time at my friend’s place of employment. My theory is that the team distributing this has not read Performance Based Smile Sheets by Will Thalheimer. In his book, Dr. Thalheimer looks at performance improvement of training using science-based methods for gaining feedback. If the right questions were being asked of participants after this training, it would be clear that it wasn’t resulting in lasting change. Or maybe they did and that is why they are taking this new approach.
I’ll admit that I am a little disappointed to see an end to the running joke of the robot cocktail party. However, as an instructional designer, I am happy to see a group actively working toward creating engaging eLearning interactions and leads to change.
What advice do you have for avoiding robot cocktail parties? What types of eLearning interactions have you introduced to catch your learners’ attention? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.