“Help! My client just dumped a 200-slide PowerPoint file on my desk and wants me to turn it into an elearning course. What do I do?”
Do you feel his pain? If you’ve been building elearning courses for any length of time, then you know exactly what he’s going through. In fact, this is one of the questions I’m asked the most. Everyone wants to know how to weed through all of the text and data that the client wants to throw into the course and still make it a good course.
In this post, I’ll go through a few considerations when you’re reviewing the course content and give you some ideas on how to weed out the unnecessary data.
Define the Objectives
Your client wants an elearning course for a reason and your job is to figure out what that is. I put courses in one of two buckets. The course objective is to change behaviors for performance improvement or the objective is to share information.
Performance-based courses have some sort of measurable goal that lets you know if behaviors have changed and what impact it had on performance. Information-based courses are a little trickier. Typically, the objective is to share the information without explicit behavioral change and the measure of success is a report of completion. This is typical of compulsory training.
By identifying the objectives of the course, you’re able to figure out what content you need to meet them.
If It Doesn’t Help Meet the Objective, Take it Out of the Course
Your subject matter experts will always give you more information than you need. But, you don’t need every piece of information they have to share. As an instructional designer, your job is to determine what to keep and what to leave out? These three questions help you make that determination.
1. What’s the learner supposed to do?
Design the course from the learners’ perspective. What are they supposed to do at the end of the course? Typically the learners are expected to accomplish a specific task or be able to solve certain problems.
Training focused on just sharing information gets tricky because the focus is less on doing so the measurable expectations are not as evident. In those cases you need to ask how the learner is expected to use the information in the course. This helps you shift the compliance content out of the information bucket and into the performance bucket to make it relevant to the learner’s performance expectations.
2. What course content will help the learner meet the course objectives?
Once you understand the objectives and performance expectations, sort the the course content and identify what information the learner needs to meet the course goals?
For example, I once did an elearning project for a financial institution where the learners were trained on completing a financial form. However the training not only covered the process of completing the form, it also covered the whole history of the financial industry through a series of Congressional reforms and various regulations.
While the background information was important, it wasn’t critical when it came to the performance expectations of completing the form accurately. And that’s the key point. You’re trying to find the content that is critical to meeting the objectives. The rest of it is just extra information. There’s a place for it, just not as the essential course content.
3. How will the learner use this in the real world?
Effective elearning connects the course’s information to the learner’s world. Knowing what that connection is will help you build the right course and sort through the pages of subject matter information.
Why does the learner need to know this information? Which situations does the learner experience in the real world that requires knowing the course content? How will the learner use the information?
Going back to the lending course, unless Alex Trebek shows up to get a loan, most likely the learner only needs to know how to collect the right information from the borrowers to accurately complete the form. And, that’s what the course content should focus on. All of the contextual information about the industry and the various regulations can be added as resource data to augment the course, but it’s not critical to completing the form. So in that case, you’d build an elearning course that mirrors the lending process so that the learner understands why the course is relevant to meeting performance expectations.
Put the Course Content into the Learner’s World
As you sort the content, you’ll end up with two piles. One pile has “need to know” information and the other pile has “nice to know.” The “need to know” is used to build learning activities to help change the learner’s behaviors. The “nice to know” is resource data to provide additional information if the learner wants or needs it.
Have the learner use the “need to know” information in a real world context. Instead of doing an information dump with multiple slides of bullet points and text, create a situation where the learner needs to use the new information. Generally, you’d do something like this to share the information with the learners:
- Set up the real-world scenario and then provide critical background information.
- The learner will go through a decision-making process. At that point you can provide additional information.
- After the learner makes a decision, you can provide even more information as feedback.
As you can see, this simple approach gives you three ways to pump information into the course that you might have previously just put on a few screens with bullet points.
Use the “nice to know” information as a way to augment the course content. Some learners like to know more before they make decisions. They’ll want some of the information you pulled out of the course.
There are a number of ways you can provide access to the additional content without dragging down the course or interfering with the learning process. Here are a few ideas.
- Link to a help line. This could be a link to an intranet site or if you want to get creative you can create a virtual helper like an HR assistant who can provide more information. It could be as simple as a clip art image of “Sally the HR Manager” that links to a screen with additional information.
- Compress the data into resource tabs. For example, using an Engage interaction you can build FAQs or a Glossary that can easily hold all of the contextual information that you weeded out of the main course content. They sit on the top of the player as drop down tabs and whenever you need more information, you can click on them without losing your place in the course.
- Create additional documentation that the user can access. You can put it online as a simple web page or publish a PDF that the learner can download and use as a resource later.
You’re always going to have more information than you need for the course. Clear learning objectives (tied to performance expectations) provide a framework for filtering out the critical information from all of the extra information. Keep focused on how the learners use the course content and build activities that let them get the information in a way that’s real to their world. In this way, you’ll streamline your course content and build courses that have a positive impact on your organization.
I look forward to your thoughts and feedback. Feel free to add them by clicking on the comments link.