A recent book by ASTD, defines effective interactive eLearning as having four qualities: context, challenge, activity and feedback. Not only do all four need to be present, but they also need to be integrated to support each other.
Let’s examine each component more closely.
Context: With DecisionSim, we have the opportunity to create realistic contexts by immersing learners in clinical stories via dialogue, images, video, and audio. But why is that important? Context creates meaningfulness for learners and helps build their enthusiasm and motivation. “When (context is) missing, it is much more difficult for learners to understand and remember the situations in which they should perform a task and why…” To create authentic contexts, our clients include images and sounds, such as x-rays, electronic health records, heart sounds, and video taped vignettes. They also capture realistic dialogue by interviewing subject matter experts who can provide everyday phrases from both clinicians and patients.
Challenges: With DecisionSim, we can provide our learners with challenges that require them to make critical clinical decisions for their patients. Such challenges motivate learners to analyze contextual data and events and review various options. They also provide opportunities for learners to make mistakes in a safe environment. The trick is to build challenges upon realistic contexts. In DecisionSim, this could involve challenging learners to make a diagnosis by selecting the most effective tests while managing time, cost and burden to the patient.
Activity: Providing learners with authentic activities in DecisionSim simulations is critical because “…if we are teaching our learners to do things, they need to be doing things while they are learning.” Reading and answering multiple-choice questions is not really doing. Instead, we need to provide apprenticeships with activities that provide authentic tasks that learners expect to perform in their every day lives. Online mentors can help guide learners as they complete these authentic tasks. In DecisionSim, this could involve asking learners to identify just the right questions to ask a patient, the optimal tests considering both the cost and physical burden to the patient, as well as the best treatments to prescribe.
Feedback: A key role for online mentors is to provide feedback. There are two primary types of feedback: judgment and consequences. Consequences show learners the effects of their decisions; whereas, judgment evaluates those decisions and pronounces them as optimal or sub-optimal. “Judgments have their place but in general they are more effective if delayed, so that learners have a chance to assess consequences and evaluate the effectiveness of their actions themselves. “ For DecisionSim, this means it is often more effective to send learners down an alternate path and let them see the consequences of their decision, rather than immediately informing them of a judgment about their decision. For example, if learners select tests that are costly and unlikely to inform a diagnosis, don’t tell them just yet. Instead, allow them to proceed. Help them discover on their own that they have made a mistake. Then you can provide feedback, and either send them back to try again, or allow them to start the simulation over again from the beginning.