Interactive board games in Lectora

Recently I sat in on the Lectora Inspiration Wednesday, “The Magic Behind Powerful eLearning Design – Learning Theory”. I always appreciate the efforts of organisations such as Trivantis to reach out to the e-learning community and offer webinars such as this to increase my knowledge as an instructional designer and developer.

The topic was really about designing e-learning to ensure it met the learner’s needs but one of the other things I took away from the session was the example; a board game style interaction so I thought I would have a go at creating my own.

I wanted to make the game random so that it would give a more unpredictable element to the experience.

Clicking the die would generate a random number between one and six, and the counter would move the relevant number of spaces on the board. When it stopped a piece of information or a question would display. The learner would need to read the information or answer the question before they could move on to get to the end of the game.

Such interactions are appropriate for presenting bite-sized information in a more engaging way than bullet points. It does take longer to create, of course, so you would need to consider whether the cost, time and effort is justified (although read on to learn about a shortcut). Also the version I created included a random element – the throw of the dice to move the counter – which meant that the learner might not see all the content. As a result you might need to include a summary of the learning points at the end.

It’s the sort of thing that could be used to help reinforce learning particularly on a topic where the learners feel they may already know the subject and may have got into bad habits. It’s an interactive way to present the information they should already know but may have forgotten as fun facts. The multiple choice questions scattered throughout add an extra element.  If you would like to try the exercise, click on the screenshot below

screenshot of e-learning game developed in Lectora
Screenshot of the finished game. Click on it to launch the game in a separate window

There were a few things I needed to do to make this work.

First of all I needed to capture a random value to send the counter on its way around the board. Lectora is one of the better authoring tools when it comes to managing variables. Somehow to me, at least, it seems more intuitive than some of the other products available. It allows you to capture a random value to a variable when you are setting up an action. If you are interested there is a great video on the Trivantis website about working with random variable values.

Screenshot of Lectora Variable dialog box showing random value
At the bottom of the value box click on the expand button to display the dialogue box and then click on the Random Value button. Choose the smallest and largest numbers that can be entered and click OK.

The next thing that I needed to do was to get the counter to move the relevant number of spaces. This was slightly more problematic for a couple of reasons. First of all I needed to counter to move from the square it had landed in which would obviously vary depending upon the random value generated. Secondly I needed to get the counter round corners; as you can see from the screenshot the board game meandered a little bit.

I spent some time wondering whether I could capture the random value and use that to tell Lectora where the counter had got to and needed to move from. In the event it seemed easier to introduce a learner interaction to capture that information. The learner needed to close the box that displayed when they reached the next square; I added an action to that close button to tell Lectora where we were.

Lectora isn’t so great when it comes to animating objects but it does have the move to action which allows you to move objects from one position to another.  It is possible to have objects move in a straight line. In this module I wanted them to go around corners as well.  The solution here was to have a series of move to actions in action groups. The first action group would take the counter to the corner and then trigger a second action group that would move the counter on around the corner (in one or two cases there even needed to be a third action group when the counter had to go around another corner). A crucial thing was the timing of the actions. I needed to put a delay on the actions turning the corner to make sure it didn’t happen until the counter had completed its first move; otherwise it wouldn’t move all the way.

In this screenshot action group “A11 move04a” moves the counter a set distance and then fires a second action I called “turn corner” which then triggered action group “A11 move04b”

Another issue I needed to overcome was an appropriate naming convention for the action groups. I prefix them with the word “action” so that I can differentiate them from groups containing objects. The rest of the name is made up of a description of what the actions will do. In this case I also had to number the actions to keep track of them all. However, if the name becomes too long it is difficult to see it all in the dropdown list when you setting up action to run an action group, as you can see in the picture below. I had to come up with a shortened naming convention in this case.

The names of action groups were shortened so that I could see them all in the target dropdown list.

I hope that you found this an interesting read on some of the practicalities on using Lectora in creating an interactive board game with random variable values and multiple move to actions. One of the joys of Lectora is that it has many ways of doing the same thing so I would be interested in others may have resolved the same challenge. Please add your comments in the comments field at the bottom of the page.

And that shortcut I mentioned? If you feel this interaction might be useful for you but you don’t have time to create it yourself, for a short time I am making the Lectora files for you to use to base your own version on. Simply get in touch to find out more.

Systems training – the user’s perspective

word cloud representing systems training

This is one of two postings on systems training. The second one will look at some of my experiences of working with systems owners to develop training. In this case let’s begin by looking at systems training from the point of view of a new user.

Jayne holding CV
Meet Jayne – she is just about to join the company

Meet Jayne. She hasn’t joined the company yet but she will in just a couple of weeks. She has worked in the same industry before but she is joining a much bigger organisation this time with more complex processes. When she arrives what will she need to know to do her job well and when will she need to know it?

On day one she might have attended an induction programme that would have given her an overview of, amongst other things, the systems she will soon be using regularly. At this stage I would suggest all she needs to know is that the system exists, what it does and the part it will play in her day-to-day work. She doesn’t need to know the minutiae of the system.

It’s a couple of days before she gets access to the system. She doesn’t need to do anything with it right now as she is already getting busy with other stuff. And this is just one of several systems she is having to get to grips with. All she does is log in and take a quick look around. Perhaps she had to complete some online training in order to gain access to the system.

Now it’s week four. She’s had her induction training which referenced the system. She completed the mandatory e-learning to gain access to the system. Only now does she start using it in earnest. What support is there now?

By now, in many organisations, she will have two options. The first one is to ask the guy in the corner. He knows the systems and has experience of using it in the real world. That can be good but it can also have its problems. He might know the system well but he may have picked up bad habits along the way that he is now about to pass on to Jayne.

The second option is to log back in to the company’s LMS (another system!) and find out the e-learning she completed all those weeks ago in order to be granted access. That included a lot of demonstrations of the system including one of the process she wants to complete now. It’ll tell her the correct way of carrying out the actions. Trouble is she has to log in to another system and work her way through the original e-learning module to find out the information she needs.

So how can the experience be made better for her?

To suggest a possible solution I am going to reminisce a bit about my early days as a trainer.

My earliest experience as a trainer was in a market research company where I was responsible for the IT and systems training. One of the programmes I inherited was a two-day course on how to complete a series of forms in a Lotus Notes database at the key stages of a market research project. These included the initial client enquiry, a specification for the work to be done, costings, through to requests for invoices to be sent out.

The course consisted of an overview of the system on the morning of day one, after which the delegates were taken methodically through each form and shown how to complete every field. At the relevant points they were also shown how to create new versions of the forms. This would take them up to lunch-time on day two. After lunch they were given a practical exercise where they had to complete all the forms themselves. By the end of the two days they had had a thorough grounding in all the stages of the process.

Whilst the training met the business’s needs at the time, when I joined the department it was recognised that it was due a revamp for a number of reasons.

First of all the business was becoming reluctant to lose members of staff for two whole working days (and the staff were calling out for shorter more focussed training). Secondly whilst the training was detailed it was aimed at one specific job role – quantitative researchers. The responsibilities of other roles with regard to the system was touched on but only briefly. Finally the training took place early in the researcher’s career long before they were likely to start completing the forms on the system.

There were three steps to making the training shorter, more relevant and timely. The first two of these involved making greater use of existing resources.

Firstly I tapped into a network of existing users around the business who would be able to coach new joiners in completing the forms. The business already had a network of “super users” who already had a coaching role – a more formalised version of the guy in the corner.

Secondly I beefed up the online help available. The system had been created in Lotus Notes and a separate database consisting of a series of help pages had been created alongside it. However it had been created a long time ago and was not very user-friendly. It consisted of a series of text heavy pages describing in detail lengthy processes. I broke the help pages into smaller bite sized pieces of information adding, where appropriate, screenshots to illustrate the process. I also created links from within the sections of the forms to the relevant help page, making it easier to get the just in time help the learner needed.

My third and final step was to revisit the original training course cutting it down from two days to just two hours. All that remained was the overview section alongside a new section on how to get help, which was delivered in the first week or so of the new joiner’s arrival.

My experience is one example of how Jayne’s training needs could be met. The training in whatever form needs to be relevant to their needs at that moment. Keep it relevant and timely. Ask two questions:

What do people really need to know?
When do they need to know it?

I hope you found this interesting. As mentioned I am currently reflecting on my experiences of dealing with systems owners and will share with you shortly. In the meantime I would be very interested in other people’s experiences in this field. Please add your comments below.

This posting first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on December 2nd 2015