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Beautiful, Textbook Instructional Design… I Yawned All the Way to the Post Test

Our system recently issued a policy that to drive any vehicles for school purposes, one would have to pass an online Defensive Driving course. I logged on recently to take care of this requirement but also to look at the design factors.

It was very well done instructional design, following the ADDIE formula to a “T”. There were objectives, and a table of contents, and practice, and a cute character to lead us through the content (crash test dummy), it had some Flash animations, and pop up windows with extra information. It was classic, the way it has been taught in all the schools. It had a good mix of media, and generated a pretty color certificate when I was done.

So do I have a beef?

Well, yes. It was so textbook, it was boring and predictable. Despite the Flash animations, clean graphics, the basic navigation was Next button. read. Next Button. Read. Click. Read. Click read. Next. Next. Next.

Content carefully chunked into antiseptic morsels. I got lightheaded.

This is all fine, but I contrast this to how I learn on the job as I need it. For example, recently I accidently discovered a server we have that is used to run some listservs has not been sending out mail since March! (some pretty quite lists, eh? I was hoping to create new ones). I’ve recently lost my part-time programmer how had been doing the admin, so it was time to roll up the unix sleeves, and poke around. I found the log files and saw that no mail was going out via sendmail (I knew that). I experimented sending email from the command line and noted the error messages. I did a Google and found the sendmail site, and drilled down to find some relevant issues related to our Linux server.

Realizing this was beyond my admin skills, I called up a former programmer on iChat, who is in California. He offered to look into it, logged on to the server, and spent some time installing PostFix to replace sendmail, and gave some suggestions to where I’d have to edit some config files.

It works now. There is no next-next-next path to my everyday informal, experimental, iterative learning and I rely in my circle of online experts to help out when they can, or to dig until I can find an answer or an alternative approach. I repeat this almost every day, and my own dynamic form of learning as doing makes learning by lockstep lesson, well, painful.

Well skip to the end of the story.

I glazed through half the content, and reading I had 3 attempts at the post -test, I jumped into it 3 chapters short of the end of the lesson. My school career was full of multiple choice exams I passed not because I knew the content, but because I knew how to dissect multiple choice exams. This one too was easy to pick out the correct answers for content I had not seen, and I scored a 15/15.

I struggle with the single modes of instruction put out there, knowing that there are students that need and thrive in the structure if a tightly designed ID approach, and others who find it is the equivalent of fingernails scraping down the chalkboard (he kids, what is a chalkboard?).

Our systems still aim for one size fits all approaches that miss the mark for learners on the edges. And the edges are not just fringes.

Anyhow, I am now certified for driving official vehicles the next 3 years.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Whew! Thanks so much for the real-world example of what truly sucks about eLearning (or whatever it’s called nowadays.) I had the pleasure of working with some really smart people on an innovative system to do “adaptive” eLearning (i.e. the system adapts to you, rather than the other way ’round.) We did some nifty things. Pity it never saw commercial viability.

    There is more to it than learning modality. It’s a matter of being engaging rather than BORING as your blog underscores. It’s a matter of providing multiple paths through the material. It’s a matter of allowing the learner to explore and then (and this is the key part) understand what they are doing so the system can develop a model of what the learner has processed. And then there’s retention. Ploughing through the material in a perfectly engaging, exploratory, multi-modal environment is worthless if the learner has forgotten it all by Tuesday.

    Anyway, keep up the thoughtful blogging!


  2. I’m a distance learning graduate student who hopes to make a contribution to continuing professional education (in a profession I’ve been involved in for over 20 years) by taking it beyond “” to be as exciting as the real world example here. At this stage I am new to creating web tools, and for the moment my own search is exciting, but the results that I can produce with the tools I understand are still yawn inducing.Thanks for the reminder that I will be able to collaborate with others to create those engaging learning environments

  3. I too rail about boring elearning, including projects that I’ve had to build because clients demanded it. Trouble is you can’t compare your learning situation with that of the students of Defensive Driving. Alan, you are a lifelong learner who is self-motivated and self-directed. The students on the other hand may be less enlightened and are being pushed into completing the online topic. So the challenge for elearning designers is to provide environments that motivate learners, provide a sense of freedom yet also guarantee to the learning sponsors that a particular set of ideas, facts or skills is transferred effectively.

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