Example of a realistic activity: Set up the laptop

I preach a lot about making activities realistic and showing the results of the learner’s choice. Here’s an activity that shows how you could apply those principles. Read more.

Example of a realistic activity: Set up the laptop

By Cathy Moore

I preach a lot about making activities realistic and showing the results of the learner’s choice. Here’s a good example of those principles from the folks at SmartBuilder.

In the activity, you’ll learn the ports of a laptop and apply your knowledge in a realistic situation. Go try it, and then come back here for some discussion.

A “traditional” course wouldn’t have let us explore the laptop. Instead, we’d have to sit through several slides of presentation that explained each port whether we already knew it or not.


After we’ve explored as much or as little as we want, we’re faced with a realistic situation — and a person who speaks directly to us. It’s not “Help Bob set up his laptop,” it’s the higher-pressure “Help me.” The time limit adds some more pressure and a bit of a game element.

A person asks us to help him set up his laptop quickly for an important presentation

Finally, when we make a choice, we see the realistic result of that choice, not a patronizing “correct!” or “incorrect.”

After choosing the wrong cable, the person we're helping expresses impatience.

You can see more examples on this page of the SmartBuilder site.

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13 comments on “Example of a realistic activity: Set up the laptop

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  1. Hi Cathy,

    no more than 10 days ago I used that exact laptop example to show a client that yes, technology allows us to simulate a hands-on technical lab environment. I am still in the process of educating them about possible solutions just like that.

    It works and it works well.

  2. Do you get resistance to this type of activity from your stakeholders?
    Never, They’re always impressed by the level of interactivity. Further, Skipping concepts that you’ve become comfortable with is a key concept in adult learning. Although faulty, adults are better able to gauge mastery of a principle than say, k-12 students. Also, adults are very time conscious and often need to streamline their learning path; giving them that option improves engagement.
    Thanks again, Cathy, for another “save us from boring e-learning” resource!

  3. Hi Cathy,

    I have registered on your website fairly recently and I have to say I am so amazed at the vast possibilities of using technology to intensify and enhance learning. Till date I used to consider myself ‘Technically Challenged’ (Maybe still do somewhat) but your tips and tricks are like Mana in the wilderness. Thanks a ton for making an Instructional Designer’s life easy so we may make the learner’s life easier.

  4. Cathy, you’re visiting Australia!? How about coming to India, too? The ID scene is simmering, and I can forsee tremendous benefits from your visit here.
    Best wishes

    1. Rajan, I’d be delighted to visit India. It’s more likely to happen in the beginning of next year. I’ll be based in Singapore or nearby for February through April, making India an easy flight away. If you have any organizations or venues to propose, please let me know.

      1. Hi Sumit! I am in Mumbai and often in Pune, too. Maybe we could coordinate and see how to put together a Cathy Moore workshop in India early next year..

      2. Hey Rajan,

        That sounds awesome. I am from Mumbai but now in Hyderabad. We surely can sync up and do this. I would give half unto my kingdom to see Cathy’s workshop live. I am at


  5. Great example and I love the time pressure associated with it. And you could couple it together with an optional print out of the ports and cables for those who would need to refer to something later.

    I’ve seen First Aid examples like this and they work really well.

    1. Nice example! Though I was thinking the exact same thing as I went through it – it would be nice if you could have access to a job aid to refer to during the activity which people can also print out to help them on the job. That way, people get practice doing the activity as well as practice in using the job aid.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I agree that it’s a great idea to show this type of activity to your clients to sell them on the benefits of the approach. Often they can’t imagine it because most elearning is so different. And I like the idea of a take-away job aid!

  7. Hi Cathy,

    I love this idea and I did show it as an example of exciting things that can be done for e-learning but my roadblock to this approach is that I have to design for accessibility. The issue is that I can’t have a timer (which I loved) nor can I test hot spots as it is not accessible for those who can’t see. I would love to see some ideas around designing exciting e-learning with the restraints of designing for accessibility.

    I love your site. Thanks for sharing 🙂