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.

Becoming an expert

Do you need to be a subject matter expert to be an instructional designer?

Is it realistic to know the topics you are creating e-learning for inside out?

How much of the topic should you know?

“A good trainer should be able to train anything even rocket science or brain surgery.”

I always recall something my first boss in training told me, “A good trainer should be able to train anything even rocket science or brain surgery.”

As a freelance instructional designer I would argue it is not always possible to know everything about every topic you are likely to work on.

Realistically you are probably going to work in a specific field, and there will always be subjects that you are more interested in than others. And, obviously, the chances of having to design a course on rocket science are pretty small!

Having said that, as a freelancer you may not always be able to choose the projects you get involved in so you might find yourself having to become an expert on a wide range of topics. For example I have designed e-learning on subjects as diverse as plastering and cancerous tumours! Someone I know has worked on projects as diverse as foot reading and playing the piano! None of these topics we necessarily knew much (or anything) about before starting.

Getting the information from the SME can be a complex and daunting process, especially if the subject is one you don’t know much about which could be the case. so how do you go about it?

How to become an instant expert

One model of learning is the four stages of competences

  • Unconscious incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence

You will need to go through these stages as you work on the project. The good news is that you only need do become consciously competent. The second good news is that instructional design process, especially writing the storyboard, can guide you through these stages.

Moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence.

Unconscious incompetence

There are four stages of competence. The first stage is unconscious incompetence. You don’t know the subject and you don’t know you don’t know the subject. This might typically be the case before the client gets in touch with you. It could be a subject that you may be aware of but to date you have never given it any thought.

Conscious incompetence

The next stage is conscious incompetence. This is when you become aware of the project and the subject matter. Suddenly you now know that you don’t know anything about the subject. This moment of realisation could be accompanied by a sense of panic! It can be a scary experience thinking you have to design some e-learning on a subject you currently know nothing or very little about.

But remember you are not necessarily being hired because of your knowledge of the subject but because of your skills as an instructional designer.

Conscious competence

The third stage of the process is to become consciously competent about the subject. Now you know what you need to know about the subject, and you know it!

Your skills as an instructional designer will help progress you to the consciously competent level.

The first step is a needs analysis. Who are the learners and what do they need to know or do? Get your SME to focus on their audience and the specific content they need to know to be able to do their job. Focussing on the audience and their needs can help you understand the subject to the level you need to. It may be that the audience already has a level of knowledge above yours so you may need to have someone available to talk you through the more advanced aspects of the subject. This could be the SME but it may be appropriate for it to be a third party. This could particularly the case later on when you need to repurpose the content for the module to ensure it continues to be accurate.

From your analysis you can produce actionable objectives – make sure you have agreed clear learning objectives. Again, this will help you understand the subject matter yourself.

As a result of the actions you can now, with your SME, decide the appropriate content. Break the content down into chunks. This makes it easier for you to understand and, of course, it’s easier for the learners at the end. There is only so much information they (and you) can process at once.

A major part of the process of writing the storyboard is adding the relevant content – but is it a question of just copying and pasting? It can be quite an intimidating experience taking the carefully honed words of the SME and having to rewrite them. In some cases you might have to. Again this is where you can use your skills as an instructional designer to come up with the appropriate wording, gaining agreement from the SME, where necessary asking them to write the content for you under your guidance.

The original text might be written in the wrong tone, for example content designed for a face to face audience may not be appropriate for a virtual audience lacking the visual cues of the presenter. Or it could be the tone varies between different types of content, for example an instruction manual and a presentation. There may also be some missing bits, especially if it was originally part of a presentation where the gaps were filled in from the SME as they presented; you will need to ask them to fill in the gaps for you. And, of course, the existing content will not include instructional text and you will definitely need to change the text if you are going to include activities, rewriting it as questions and feedback.

Unconscious competence

The storyboard process is one of moving from a state of unconscious incompetence through to conscious competence. The final stage is unconscious competence where you instinctively know the subject. This may be the state of your SME but not necessarily the state you as an instructional designer need to acquire.

There is also an argument that there should be a fifth stage beyond unconscious competence. It has been suggested that this could reflect a level of complacency once one has learned the subject so well that it becomes second nature to them; it is as this stage that the risk of errors could creep in or that skills and knowledge might not be kept up to date.

It is here that the Instructional Designer, as a fresh pair of eyes, can play a role in not just creating the training for the original audience but also in helping the expert in reflecting upon their own knowledge of the subject and occasionally advancing it. There have been several occasions when the SME has turned me and said, “I’ve never actually thought about that before!”

As for you, you’ll probably never need to move on to the stage of unconscious competence with this particular topic – by then you’ll probably be on to something new.

Isn’t that the point of being an instructional designer – always learning?