In last week’s post, I offered some tips for building rapid elearning courses when you’re short on time and resources. In today’s post, I’ll discuss some of the production techniques we used. I especially got a lot of emails about how we used Engage, so I’ll cover that as well as discuss how to do a quick pilot test and rework your objectives list.
Here’s a link to the original course, if you haven’t seen it yet. Check it out and then read the rest of the post.
Step Away from the Default Solution
Software companies build software with specific features. You’re not required to use the software as prescribed. The trick is to understand what you can do with the software and then find your own uses.
For example, we chose to build all of the technology pieces in Engage because it’s a form-based elearning tool. They’re easy to create and maintain. But we didn’t want the built-in title bar that’s part of the Engage player design. And we wanted to give the learners freedom in choosing the interaction they wanted to see and not have to go through them one slide at a time.
We were able to use PowerPoint’s hyperlinking for the free navigation. However, when you publish Engage using the default method, the interactions sits on the top layer and blocks the hyperlinks.
Our solution was to publish Engage outside of the course. Then insert the engage.swf as a Flash file on the slide. After doing that, we moved the .swf up and uncovered the PowerPoint hyperlinks.
- After you publish the course, you need to move the engage contents folder over to the same location as the inserted .swf. Here are some screencasts that explain how to add Engage as a Flash file and working with multiple Engage files.
- To keep the .swfs aligned, figure out how far up you need to move it. Then add a visual stopper on your master slide. This way to don’t need to worry about alignment issues across multiple slides. Here’s a quick tutorial that shows how to do so.
- David has a detailed thread in the community on how we created the hyperlinked menu bar on the bottom of the slide. You can check it out here.
Regardless of the software you use, the key point is to not limit yourself to the default use of the tool. By stepping away from the prescribed solution, you open the doors to more creativity and customization.
Pilot Test Your Course BEFORE Final Production
Between David and me, we’ve built hundreds of hours of elearning. With that type of experience, we have a sense for what works and what doesn’t. And for the most part, we’re right.
However, it’s easy to get comfortable to the point that you lose the user’s perspective. What seems obvious and intuitive to you may not be the case for those who go through the actual elearning. This is especially true for people who are less tech-savvy and not familiar with taking online courses.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to build a simple prototype that is the essence of your course. Then run it through a quick review by the types of people who will use the course. Just sit back and watch them navigate it. Observe how they interact with the screen and what they do. Also, time how long it takes them. You may think a screen is simple and only requires a minute or so; but when observing the learner, you find that it takes much longer for them to get past the information.
We didn’t have a lot of time, so our pilot test was conducted in my family room with my wife as the volunteer (in between commercials during Top Chef). She’s actually a good candidate because she had no vested interest in the course and doesn’t come with a lot of preconceived ideas about the way elearning courses should be designed.
As she made her way through the course, I watched what she read and where she was clicking. There were a few places where she didn’t do what she was supposed to do. Or she kind of froze looking over the screen, not sure what to do next.
What’s funny is that to me everything seemed clear. So my initial response to her was a bit condescending (as if the problem was hers and not the course design). The reality though was that our instructions weren’t always clear and that caused some confusion.
We went back to the course and made some modifications. We added better instructions. Made sure the visual elements and how they were used was consistent. And we compressed some of the screen content.
The key point here is that even if all you have is one person review the course, you’re better off than no one reviewing it. A few tips:
- Build a quick prototype and get it tested. Rapid elearning tools are great because you can build a course close to the final version quickly.
- Recruit people who are like the learners. Pull in people who have no vested interest in your course. They’ll give good feedback from a different perspective.
- Don’t recruit the subject matter experts (or IT people who think they know usability design). They tend to overplay minor issues and focus on the wrong things.
Lose the Bullet Point Objectives
One thing many elearning courses have in common is the bullet-point list of objectives. We wanted to step away from a list of objectives. Besides, most people just click the next button when they see a list of objectives.
Ultimately the goal is to connect the learner to the course. It’s to help them see how the course content is relevant to what they do. To accomplish this, you don’t need a bullet-point list of objectives.
Our objectives list could have looked like this:
Instead, we dropped the list and offered a simple statement that tied the objective of the course to the organization’s mission. It told them what the course covers and why. They’ll get the rest of the details as they go through the course.
Even if you’re forced to create a bullet-point list of objectives, there’s no reason why you can’t offer a more compelling screen up front that invites them to learn more. Start with a scenario that reveals a gap in understanding. Or show an example of what happens without the course information.
I like the way e-Mersion states the objectives in this CPR demo. It’s starts with a little drama and then reveals the objectives. It’s a simple way to offer a compelling reason why the course is important and what is being covered.
Like many courses, there’s a lot more to share from what we learned during this project. I haven’t even covered how to work with virtual teams or what we did to quickly implement changes. I’ll work some of that into future conference presentations.
When you’re under pressure to deliver a good course with limited time and resources, what tips do you have? Feel free to share your ideas by clicking on the comments link.
- I’m presenting on PowerPoint on August 18. You can get more details here.
- I’m doing a full day session in Baton Rouge on October 12. Early bird registration ends August 23rd. $99 for a full day workshop is a deal. You’ll walk away with a lot of practical tips and tricks. The discount code is RAPIDBLOG.
- I’m doing a half-day session in Vermont on September 17. Here’s a link with more details.
- A few weeks ago, I mentioned freelancers and have had a few people looking for Articulate freelancers. If you want to throw your hat into the ring, send me your contact info and a portfolio.