Are Your e-Learning Courses Set in Abstract?

In the abstract conception of universal wrong, all concrete responsibility vanishes. (Theodor Adorno)

Birch Trees in the fog

Subject-matter experts transfer knowledge in a flurry of words that sometimes obscure specific, tangible training objectives.

Knowledge in the abstract is great; but e-learning focuses on making the abstract specific, concrete and relevant to the learner and to the organization. The most effective way to do that is by telling a story.

To show you what I mean, let’s look at a simplistic example:  an SME’s description of a step in an invoicing process:

Before you enter an invoice into SAP, make sure that entries on the GR, IR, and PO match exactly.

In an e-learning environment, the novice learner’s eyes glide right over that statement. Too many acronyms, too little emphasis, and an easily forgotten abstract statement.

If this is an important point,why not present it in a job-related story ?

It’s three in the afternoon at Stentorian and Sons. You’ve got plenty of time to process this stack of paperwork, take care of a few emails, and get out in time to beat the traffic. Unbelievable–a day with no crises. A very good day.

“Hey, Bob! You need to check on this invoice. Biggie and Smalls Media, over on Ninth Street. Move the paperwork into SAP and get them paid. Today.  If we miss the early payment deadline, the penalty dollars are coming out of your next check. “

“Sure thing, Mr. Stentorian.”

Great. Tracking down paperwork for suppliers isn’t your favorite part of the job, but here it is. And there goes the very good day. You find the invoice in the stack of papers you were already processing: from Biggie and Smalls, total amount, quantity–all there.  The purchase order from Sue in Purchasing is easy to find, in the system under Biggie and Smalls, matching amount, quantity–all there.

What other steps do you need to take to make sure the invoice can be paid immediately? (Select all that apply.)

  • Choice One:  Nothing other than enter the invoice number, billing date, and purchased quantity into SAP.
    Oops! The invoice will not be paid until the goods receipt is verified and entered into SAP. Mr. Stentorian will NOT be happy.
  • Choice Two:  Track down the colleague who received the invoiced material and get the goods receipt for comparison to the invoice. and enter the data into SAP.
    The invoice will be paid within 24 hours.
  • Choice Three:  Forward a copy of the invoice number to Accounts Payable.
    Accounts Payable will toss the invoice copy and wonder why in the world you sent it to them. The invoice will not be paid and your next paycheck will be just a little short.
    If you’re not ready to develop a story, at least replace the SME’s textbook statement with what I call a “bullet-list story.”

Payments require a three-way match in SAP to be complete. The documents required for the three-way match are provided by:

  • The buyer raising the purchase order (PO)
  • The supplier sending the invoice (IR)
  • The employee receiving the goods receipt (GR)

A three-way match occurs when:

  • You match the quantity, price, and details. on the IR with the quantity, price, and details on the PO
  • You match the quantity, price, and details on the PO with the quantity price, and details on the GR

Even bullet-list stories work better than statements of abstract fact; they present the facts as steps in a plot that moves the invoice into SAP.

What’s important in a job-relevant story? Providing three things:

  • Context (setting the scene for the process)
  • Details (providing backstory for the process)
  • Sequential steps (procedures, or the plot of the process)

A Job-Focused Story Makes Your Content Relevant and Meaningful

The more abstract or general your presentation is, the more unclear and boring it will be in a Click to continue environment. The more specific, job-relevant, and engaging your presentation is, the more clear and vivid it will be, even in the same environment. A  story (even one consisting of bullet points) is a reliable way to transform a paragraph of SME abstractions into learning that is directly applicable to job functions.

How can you use stories to transform SME-speak? Let me know in the comments.

This is part of an ongoing series about adding a little spice and a lot of job relevance to WBT courses produced from PowerPoint slide decks via rapid e-learning procedures. Share your ideas for coping with the alphabet soup of SMEs and REMs (rapid e-learning machines).