On E-Learning and Elevator Buttons

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Okay, so what do e-learning and elevator buttons have to do with each other?

Not much.

Kidding.  Probably a couple of things.  But I’m talking about feedback.

In Human Factors Engineering (one of my favorite classes in college), I learned about the complexities of elevator buttons.  It wasn’t a simple interaction where you pushed a button and something happened.  In fact, something much more magical happens: feedback.  Ever pushed the ‘Up’ button, and nothing happened?  Nothing lit up, no LED display indicated a car was coming your way, not even a measly ‘ding!’ to soothe your soul.  What did you do?  Probably pushed the button incessantly until the doors opened.  Because you didn’t get any feedback.  That simple red light in the center of the ‘Up’ button that glows after you push it gives you peace of mind, allows you to wait calmly for the next car, and prevents whatever disaster might ensue if the ‘Up’ button were to overheat.  That red light doesn’t do a thing to the elevator: the cars behave the same whether there’s a little red light or not.  You, the user, behave differently.

The fable of the little red elevator light serves us well when developing e-learning, or any type of learning.  There is no more important teaching tool than feedback.  Imagine a traditional classroom setting where you turned in your homework, quizzes, and test, and never saw your grade.  You raised your hand to answer, and the teacher just blinked and moved on.  I realize that I may be describing some real life experiences here, but let’s push past the pain and realize just how critical it is to give meaningful, timely feedback.

I’ll admit it, creating feedback slides is possibly my least favorite part of e-learning development.  Every slide becomes three or four.  And using the stock “Right! You selected the correct response!” slide is about as effective as blinking at your students.

So here are 3 rules for effective feedback:

  1.  Make it frequent.  For the most part, every decision a student makes should involve feedback.  If you are re-creating a scenario where there is no feedback in real life (trying to think of an example but failing…), I suppose you could wait until the end, but, really, at least some feedback along the way makes a big difference.
  2. Make it meaningful.  Not just ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  How could they do better next time?  What cues did they miss?  What pro tips did they forget?  Failing is a great way to learn, but failing over and over is a great way to incite rage.
  3. Make it unique.  Again, I cringe when I see the generic feedback boxes that your software spits out.  At the very least, make the slide match the rest of your course stylistically.  Even better, make the feedback visual or even entertaining.  Display an image, a chart, or dialog from a character that illustrates the message rather than simply spewing facts.

And as you’re following those rules, remember that they can apply to more than one type of feedback.  Sometimes simple and quick is all you need:

SimpleFeedbackIncorrectRealistic or even conversational feedback really helps the message hit home:

Conversational feedback ups the reality factor

Conversational feedback ups the reality factor

In fact, you don’t need a talking character to  bring the scenario to life.  A well-written script can be an educational choose-your-own-adventure story.  This has the added bonus of awarding stars depending on how well you answer (not just right or wrong, but somewhere in between):

Completely text-based scenarios can beat pictures talking to you

Completely text-based scenarios can beat pictures talking to you

Progress meters let the user know how far they’ve gotten:

A simple progress matching the course style.

A simple progress matching the course style.


Even a map can be used to track progress and give the student direction at the same time:

This map was inspired by a template by Jackie Van Nice

This map was inspired by a template by Jackie Van Nice










Feedback makes the world go ’round.  You don’t participate in a conversation by staring at your shoes.  You don’t manage a team by meeting with them once a year.  (You don’t, right?)  So don’t skimp on the feedback.  Learning is a conversation.  Make it meaningful.

Bonus:  Many of this week’s examples were from a demo a created for the Weekly Articulate Challenge.  We were to use a template by the talented Jackie Van Nice and make it our own.  Here’s what I made.

One thought on “On E-Learning and Elevator Buttons

  1. Great feedback advice, Liz! Nice examples, too. 🙂 Love what you did with my little game template (and thanks for the shout-out!) and I’m so happy you found a way to apply it to a real-world training example. Well done and thanks so much for sharing!

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