Two  Alternatives To  The Traditional Online Module

A common design of an e-learning module consists of a presentation of content with distributed questions and practice opportunities. Depending on the quality of the design, the questions might be low-level or deep-level questions, and the design of the content presentation might support productive processing or just overload the processing capacity of the learners.

I have discovered recently and thanks to the terrific books of Ruth C. Clark two alternative approaches that can prove more effective in some scenarios: Reference-Based Learning and Vicarious Learning. I’m briefly outlining their features of each in this post.

Don’t teach your employees guidelines, teach them how to use the material

This is a short definition of Reference-Based Learning. Instead of a long e-learning module with a “death by bullet-point”-layout or a condensed one which doesn’t cover all the content, you might want to develop an online module where learners have to use the materials that contain the guidelines. The content might have the format of quizzes or of a scavenger hunt with badges, levels, and an engaging narrative.

It’s possible to make a low-cost scavenger hunt with a quiz and some images depicting the situation or go high-tech with interactive videos created with AfterEffects animations and interspersed with questions.


Don’t pose questions to your learners, display a conversation

Vicarious learning constructs”[i]nstructional environments that promote building of new mental models by observing the actions or hearing dialogs of others.” (Clark Building Expertise p. 467).  Although there is not enough research to state that vicarious environments are as effective as making overt responses, it’s a good idea to consider this alternative format for particular scenarios, because it could save a great deal of time and money. It is important to remark that the best results were achieved when a dialog design was combined with deep-reasoning questions.

A very appropriate tool for developing these dialogs is Plotagon, which allows anyone to create 3D-animations with different characters and scenarios.


As you can see, the (e-)learning field is continuously evolving with new research, new tools and new approaches. Only an e-learning professional can make sound decisions about the most appropriate approach that is not only learn-efficient but also cost-efficient.

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