Drag-and-Drop: Why it’s time to let go


It seems everyone loves the drag-and-drop in eLearning. Beau takes a look at its long, complex history and why it needs to end.

The origins of it are hard to track down, but estimates put the first drag-and-drop function in Europe around 500,000 years ago. Neanderthals would select a tool, then move that tool to a location where that tool would be dropped. However, some claim that the drag-and-drop function appeared even earlier. Historians believe that male Neanderthals would select their potential mate before dragging them into their cave and dropping them onto a comfortable slab of rock. If this is true, then the entire human race could owe its existence to the drag-and-drop function.

One of the earliest recorded caveman paintings; a sketch of a drag-and-drop function. There are numerous paintings like this one across Europe. Experts believe this was painted around half a million years ago.

One of the earliest recorded caveman paintings; a sketch of a drag-and-drop function. There are numerous paintings like this one across Europe. Experts believe this was painted around half a million years ago.

The drag-and-drop then became a common feature in the everyday lives of the evolving human race. Drag-and-drops were being used to plant food, fight wars and for other essential ancient activities. As the function was soon being completed by serfs and knights alike, great dynasties and leaders saw the true potential of drag-and-drops. Their vision resulted in some of the human race’s greatest ever accomplishments.

Over 4500 years ago, Pharaoh Khufu commissioned the Great Pyramid of Giza; widely regarded as one of the icons of human achievement. For 20 years, workers and slaves drag-and-dropped giant stones in the searing Egyptian heat. The result was a 146 metre tomb for Pharaoh Khufu. While Pharaoh Khufu didn’t drag-and-drop any of the stones himself, his mummified corpse was ironically drag-and-dropped into the pyramid upon its completion in 2560 BC. Khufu can be accredited with the greatest drag-and-drop activity of all time.

From a critical eLearning perspective, Khufu’s course was a bit lengthy and his feedback method for undesired performance was questionable, but what was able to be achieved can’t be downplayed. It acted as the springboard for human innovation. As technology evolved over millenniums, the human race drag-and-dropped stones to create a wall that spanned the entirety of China. We even managed to drag-and-drop people into space and onto the moon in 1969.

By the time the space age had evolved towards the end of the 20th century, the function was even been replicated into new technologies.

The first computer drag-and-drop function is attributed to Jef Raskin, the conceiver of the Macintosh project for Apple. By clicking an object, selecting a function key then clicking the object’s destination, Raskin had created a virtual version of the human race’s favourite function. As computer and online learning grew into the beast we now call eLearning, somewhere along the way the drag-and-drop function was implemented to provide a whole new way of interacting.

Move over multiple choice questions, a new interaction was in town. Naturally, people lost their collective minds when another interaction was possible. At first, the interaction was considered a ‘premium’ feature since it was difficult to build and execute. It was a glorious new age for eLearning, or so everyone thought.

eLearning providers were soon offering the drag-and-drop, along with other ‘premium’ features like narration, as an alternative solution to standard eLearning. At an additional cost, companies were able to buy drag-and-drops for their eLearning. This exclusivity of the drag-and-drop meant that more and more people wanted a slice. The function became easier for developers to recreate and soon enough, drag-and-drops were on just about every single course. Perhaps it was just instinctive to want the drag-and-drop function; after all, its lengthy origins in human history can not be doubted. Human evolution is a result of the drag-and-drop.

There is just one problem; drag-and-drops are basically useless. There, I said it. Drag-and-drop your drag-and-drops into the bin and set that bin on fire.

Raf covered in an earlier blog the complications that the drag-and-drop interaction has on eLearning.

Including drag-and-drops in activities, for the most part, distract the learner from what is really important: what they need to learn. Drag-and-dropping an answer into a box doesn’t assess any skill, other than dragging a box across a screen.

The only time drag-and-drops have a place in eLearning is if you’re actually simulating something that needs to be drag-and-dropped in real life. Whether this is sorting contaminated chicken into various bins in a restaurant or demonstrating slow and calm movements by dragging a key to a lock; the function can enhance learning if a real life action is being simulated.

But if the drag-and-drop function is used to “spice up” an activity, select the function, drag it to the bin and drop it.