8 Good things I’ve learned from bad computer-based training


So … we were provided this computer-based training (CBT) product to help roll out what may appear on the surface to be a fairly minor change, but turns out to be quite a complicated change that has an impact of several aspects of the work our front-line and processing staff perform.

The intent was to send the product and its accompanying Job Aid out to all staff, and let them have at.  There would, of course, be a policy brief released and online tools to help with the adjustment.

At first blush, the CBT looked great: interactive, with exercises and self-assessment tools …  That was before anyone actually tried to work through it.  Early on in the process, when it had already been decided that the CBT would be insufficient for our needs (thank goodness) I and several of my colleagues had a chance to go through the CBT.

I had no problem, but I’m tech savvy, I know how these things are generally designed, and I also play with things.  I click in apparently inappropriate places.  I muck about until I figure out how something ticks, and then I git ‘er done 🙂

The first problem was the site onto which the CBT was loaded.  It wasn’t particularly user friendly and several people couldn’t figure out whether they needed to log in, set up a new account, or reset their passwords.  The system was a little glitchy too, and offered errors when the CBT was accessed, requiring a re-log.

After I helped everyone get logged in and set up, I waited for the reviews.  This is what we discovered:

  1. Though pretty, the CBT was very much of the “clicky-clicky, bling-bling” species that Cammy Bean reviles.  Read about it on her blog.  Go on, I’ll wait.
  2. There were no clear and easily accessible instructions to inform learners what they needed to do on any given page (e.g. you have a picture of a luggage rack on the screen … and … ?).
  3. Navigation was accomplished through varied small or awkwardly-positioned cues.
  4. Exercises and tests contained no clear instructions, nor any mention of the purpose of the activity or how it would apply to the learner’s work.
  5. When working through examples, the learner can not navigate back to the scenario page and so has to write everything down and work it out by hand, or muddle through on a memory and a guess.
  6. All the assessments were self-assessments.  How could anyone determine if learning had taken place?
  7. The CBT was filled with acronyms, but no definitions.
  8. There were errors in the examples.

Turn all these negatives on their heads, and you have 8 take-aways for elearning.  See how that works?

When the CBT was given to staff, many of them were so frustrated with the experience, they stuck to (and got more out of) reading the print material.

Ultimately, the CBT was about how to get through the CBT, and the real learning was lost.

Admittedly, we don’t have the time to correct the existing CBT, or to develop a new product.  As flawed as it is, it’s what we have to use.

Next time, though, I hope the development team keeps a few things in mind:

  1. The importance of bringing subject matter experts (SMEs) who have some course design experience and technical aptitude into the fold. There are a few of us out there.  Use your networks and resources wisely!  Even if I had the time, I couldn’t redesign the CBT: I don’t have a license for the tool used to create it, or anything similar.
  2. Design for how people think.  This means keeping the end-user in mind.  It has to be a product that both your mother and your ten-year-old nephew could navigate through equally easily.  This means beta-testing on a group of your target audience and taking their criticisms seriously.
  3. Assessment is not just for the learner, it’s for team leaders and the advisors who are going to have to answer all the questions your learners have after the CBT experience.  It’s also for trainers, course designers, and IT, so they can figure out how to make a better product next time.

In the end, the CBT has to facilitate learning, support retention, and help the learner apply the knowledge when he or she returns to work.

Oh, if I were king of my little learning world 🙂  And yes, I’m a woman and I want to be king.  Got a problem with that, do ya?  I didn’t think so 😉

How have the best-laid plans of upper management and IT gone awry for you?  Did you tuck any lessons away for future application?  Have you learned good things from a bad CBT?

The Learning Mutt is signing off for another week.

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2 thoughts on “8 Good things I’ve learned from bad computer-based training

  1. Melanie, I’m following your kind mention of a blog item of mine (What I Learned from Heinlein) – thank you! In searching around to become more acquainted, I came across this article and just howled with laughter. I can *so* relate to your experience!

    The first 10 years of my consulting career were spent training end users as their company switched from one computer system to another. I often butted heads with both IT and management who would say “oh, but it’s so simple . . . a child could figure it out!” To which I’d reply “fine, let me know when you have children working in your finance / legal / hr department but until then these smart, capable and BUSY people need some clear instructions so they can get on with their work.” Sheesh.

    The disconnect from “drawing board theory” to performance improvement has always amazed me. Sounds like you were fairly gob-smacked as well. (Had to use my favorite expression from my UK buddies. It just seems so bang on!)

    Very interesting site and I’ll enjoy reading your future posts. Cheers!

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    • Thank you Linda! I too, love the term gob-smacked 🙂
      Most of my learning about training, course design, and training coordination has been informal, and I find myself fascinated by personal knowledge management (PKM), informal/social learning, and the like, but my employer just isn’t ready.
      On one hand, they’ve started up not 1 but 2 wikis within the organization, blogging, SharePoint sites, etc., and they use social media to promote themselves and their services, but on the other, they’ve locked staff out of most social media sites and offer them no support in using any of the “authorized” work tools for professional development.
      L&D is a crazy world 🙂
      Thanks for commenting!

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