The interactive web-based training platform, eVideo, teaches basic vocational skills to people with reading and writing difficulties who work in the logistics, hospitality and building services sectors.
Training service provider IMC, headquartered in Saarbrücken, has worked with the eVideo project as a technology partner for four years. IMC has been optimising the learning content with a special focus on the challenges of inspiring people with these specific learning needs in a playful way, while determining what design features work best for this purpose.
As much as necessary, as little as possible
"We followed this principle in improving the training," says Melissa Hohmann from IMC, who was intensively involved in the development as project manager.
"At the beginning we had to break away from the requirements we were used to from classic WBT projects because the target group of eVideo has completely different needs.”
Hohmann says learners who are used to regular learning would find the abundance of audio and video elements in the eVideo WBTs almost overwhelming.
“For the learners eVideo is targeting, this abundance of realistic elements is essential, as they have little or no experience in service training and can best train in a setting that is as similar as possible to their actual working environment,” she says.
“A direct approach and clear instructions when going through the individual modules is therefore a must. This is done visually in the WBTs using help videos in which the task screens are displayed and explained.”
So what factors have contributed to motivating learners to train with eVideo?
Motivation factor 1: Authenticity
As soon as they start the online training program for the catering sector, trainees get the feeling of being in a real hotel. They’re greeted by a friendly colleague who explains in a few words how the training will take place. Their virtual colleague wears typical work clothes that correspond to their respective role as waiter, receptionist or cook.
Actors assume the role of colleagues. Their appearance credibly suggests that they are genuine employees in the role they are portraying. For example, head waiter Georg is able to give the guests the perfect wine recommendation; while caretaker Uwe is immediately relieved that he knows the house better than anyone else.
Figure 1: The WBT team for the logistics industry
Photographs taken in real organisations in the same industry, or logos created for fictitious operation are shown in the background of the videos. To make the training environment as realistic as possible, most stock images were deliberately omitted.
In the cocktail mixing module, colourful lighting in the background creates a relaxed lounge atmosphere that shows trainees it’s either the end of the day or the weekend, a time when guests are likely to be looking for a cocktail.
As the learner throws the ingredients into the shaker by drag and drop, not only does the colour of the cocktail change, the strawberry stems and leaves are also removed as, much like in a real life setting, they have no place in the guest's drink.
Figure 2: In the online training the participants learn how to mix a delicious cocktail
Motivation factor 2: Interactivity
Reading through page-long texts or answering theory-heavy multiple-choice questionnaires would probably be a deterrent rather than having a motivating effect on the eVideo target group. The more practice-oriented and interactive the exercises, the more the learners stay on the ball and look forward to the next exercise.
In order to maintain attention and motivation, it is important to provide constant variation between different task types such as gap text exercises, drag and drop or coordination tasks. This provides variety and invites the learners to become active participants.
Since each of the tasks is offered over three levels of difficulty, the learner can get an idea of their own learning progress. The tasks are clearly understandable throughout as they are both are read aloud AND displayed to the learner.
Exercises of the same type are symbolised by a uniform icon, which creates additional recognition value and shows the learner the next task ahead of time. Text elements can also be reflected by icons. For example, a small icon depicting a terrace appears next to the word "terrace" in the text.
To further increase interactivity during the training process, the learner is personally addressed both in the videos and in the text. Direct addresses are also gender specific, which required extra effort during the creation of the video. Some videos had to be shot twice and almost every shot had to be recorded in two variants, but those responsible for the project decided to make the extra effort to ensure greater authenticity.
Motivation factor 3: Audio-visual elements
During the entire training, audio-visual elements are used to suggest to the learner that they are "at work". For example, a special sound backdrop was developed for each setting, imitating the sound of a vacuum cleaner in the hotel dining room or the unmistakable "plop" when stacking consignments in the delivery van. The authentic sounds reinforce the learner's feeling of actually setting the table during the exercises, mixing a cocktail or having fully loaded the truck and achieved something. What could be more motivating than a successful working day?
Motivation factor 4: Transparency
To ensure a clear separation and make it easy to distinguish between the individual sectors, each sector is marked with its own colour. There is a clearly visible red thread that runs through the individual modules and shows the trainee exactly where each exercise fits in the scope of their daily work.
The aim was to make the practical relevance clearly visible at all times. Care was taken in the design of each exercise and in its visual implementation to ensure that there was a directly visible connection between what was learned and the actual daily work routine. There are no abstract, predominantly theory-related exercises in any of the WBTs.
A learning curve
Creating the concept for the training was a steep learning curve.
"In the course of this project we have learned a lot about the design itself and had to overcome some hurdles. In the initial phase of the project, the training sessions were still very overloaded with text and less interactive," recalls Melissa Hohmann.
“Now, all training sessions are characterised by a cleaner look and the text is limited to the essential. The latest version of eVideo can also be used on a smartphone in a slightly reduced version.
“It is important to create a good balance between text and image in order to guarantee good usability, especially on the mobile version. At times we had to revise or shorten the texts in order to make the content leaner and more appealing to learners.”
In all training sessions, black was deliberately avoided as the font colour and a dark grey was chosen instead. This is easier on the eye when reading and makes the content more legible.
Melissa Hohmann and her colleagues also encountered some technical pitfalls during implementation.
"The volume of audio and video files was not to be underestimated, some of which simply went beyond the scope. To maintain constant usability on tablets and other end devices, we had to fiddle around a bit before we were satisfied with the result," she reports.
Melissa Hohmann joined IMC in 2011, where she also completed her training as a digital & print media designer. Today she works as a junior project manager at IMC. As part of the further development of eVideo for work and life, she was initially involved in production before being assigned project management.
Sarah Materna studied conference interpreting at Saarland University and works as a freelance editor for IMC AG in Saarbrücken, among others.