In today’s world, elearning is an important part of learning and training employees. Some organizations use it exclusively and some blend it with other learning activities.
There are a lot of things you can do to create successful elearning, but here are some guaranteed ways to make sure that you don’t succeed and waste a lot of time and money in the process.
Build Courses Irrelevant to the Learner’s Needs
One the biggest complaints I hear from people who have to take elearning courses at work is that the course is completely irrelevant to their needs. This usually happens for a few reasons:
- Shotgun approach to compliance training. We know the drill. The organization has a bunch of courses you need to take by the end of the year. It doesn’t matter if you’re already ethical or not a sexual harasser. You still need to take those courses regardless of your needs. And when you do have a need, the course isn’t tailored to it. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that is largely irrelevant and not suited to your real needs.
- Too much focus on information. If you want to learn to use your elearning software, I’ll show you some tutorials. Want to be a better instructional designer? Here are some good books. Want to learn more about elearning? Go to this conference. As an industry we’re good at pushing information out. But information is only part of the learning process.
- No required action. Information is good, but real learning happens when that information is applied in a context relevant to the learner’s needs. Build courses that let people practice what they’re learning. And then give them the appropriate feedback.
Build Courses That Waste Time
I always divide my courses into two buckets: information or performance. I start by asking the client what they expect the learner to do after completing the course. In many cases, they don’t really have an expected outcome. If that’s the case, then I try to talk them out of building a course that accomplishes nothing.
However, that’s not always going to work. The client’s often still want a course (for other reasons). And a lot of compliance training doesn’t seek to change performance as much as certify understanding, where the only goal is to get a check mark next to your name at the end of the year.
If that’s what the client wants, then I’ll build the best course at the lowest possible cost. They’ll tend to be simple, linear courses that the person can get in and out of quickly. No need to waste even more time. If the client has clear performance-based objectives then I’ll build the course appropriate to meeting the client’s needs. Those types of courses tend to take more time and require more effort.
Here’s where we end up wasting a lot of time:
- Build elaborate information-based courses. All the organization needs is a check mark at the end of the year, yet the elearning person builds a complex interactive scenario that provides no more value but takes more time to build and more time for the user to complete.
- Build simple information-based courses when you’re really trying to change performance. On top of that, most of the information is already available to the learner in other places.
On one hand the course is overbuilt for a simple objective. And on the other, when we really need to help someone learn, the course is too simple.
The key is to understand the expectations and objectives so that you can build the best course and not waste your limited resources.
Build a Course That Looks Like Crap
When I was a kid, we’d go to the horse stable and shovel a truck load of horse manure. My dad would mix it with the compost so that we could have a fertile garden. When it comes to visual design in elearning, there are two types of crap.
- Contrast: elements that aren’t the same stand out which enhances communication and makes it easier to see relationships between the various onscreen elements
- Repetition: repeating onscreen elements and design helps define relationships, maintain consistency and cohesion
- Alignment: when onscreen elements are aligned they’re connected together; how things are spaced allows for better comprehension and communication
- Proximity: how close objects are to one another conveys meaning and relationship; the more they are apart indicates they’re different
This is the good stuff and critical to communication. Think of it like the compost for fertile development of course design. Then there’s the other type of crap. I won’t go into a bunch of details but we know it when we see it.
We always say, “You can’t judge a book (or DVD) by its cover.” But you can entice people with a good cover. It engages their interest and can help set expectations. The same can be said for elearning design. Even if you’re building a basic course, you can still make it look good. Apply sound visual design techniques to build a look that matches your course context.
The reason we tend “not to judge the book by the cover” is because over time we’ve learned that most great looking covers make a promise that isn’t kept in the content. This happens with elearning, too. A good looking course will only get you so far. That’s why the first two points are important.
So if you want to fail, build irrelevant courses that waste time and look like crap. However, you can avoid failure by understanding the organization’s objectives, your learner’s needs, and building a great looking course that is appropriate to its learning objectives.
What are some of things we do to fail at course design and how would you correct it? Share your thoughts here.
Upcoming Events (2015)
- April 15 & 16 (Chicago, IL). Updated! Register for one or both days.
Day 1: How to Build Interactive E-Learning
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Complete this form if you’re interested in presenting or want to submit an idea for a presentation. Presenters attend the workshop for free.
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