Crafting effective eLearning is essential for engaging and educating your audience. In this blog, we explore the key steps, strategies, and tools that go into creating dynamic eLearning experiences. Whether you’re a seasoned instructional designer or just starting out, we’ve got insights and tips to help you master the art of eLearning development.
Firstly, let’s take a step back and ask some questions to help us define what we are trying to achieve.
- What is the goal of the course?
- What is the learning outcome your client wants you to achieve, or the problem that needs to be solved?
- Who is going to be taking the course?
- Do they need to be assessed to demonstrate that their understanding has changed?
- How long does the course need to run for?
- How is the module going to be delivered?
- Is eLearning the most effective format?
These are just some questions to get us thinking but there are many other things we need to consider to develop a successful eLearning course — as Dr Michael W Allen says eLearning needs to be “meaningful, memorable, and motivating.”
There are several project planning and instructional design models that can help us when we start building eLearning, but ultimately they share the same four key steps.
Step 1: Define
In the definition phase, we want to identify the correct performance issue, the intended audience, the type of interface that will support the learning goal, what content is already available, and that our learners will be able to access and interact with the material, with a relative level of comfort. We also want to identify who will be responsible for the various deliverables. Finally, we need to review, evaluate, and confirm that everyone is on the same page and agree that eLearning is the best option, before moving to the development phase.
These are the questions we want to be asking to help define the best approach:
- What is the goal or behaviour change we want to see?
- Why are we doing this?
- What are we going to do to address it? What do our learners need to do?
- Who is this going to impact? Who needs to complete this course?
- Where are they going to complete the course? At home? At work? On the road?
- How are they going to access the course? Desktop? Mobile? Website? Intranet? LMS? If LMS, is it SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, xAPI?
- How computer literate are they?
- When are they going to access the course?
- Are we sure we have identified the right goal or is the real problem something else?
- Check understanding with the client, the SME, all stakeholders and the learners. Are we all on the same page? Do we all have the same understanding as to what is going to be built?
- Should this be eLearning? Would it be better as a facilitated workshop? Should it be facilitated via coaching and mentoring? Would a reference document do the trick instead? Does the initiative need to be a combination of all of the above?
Step 2: Develop
Now that we have defined what we need to build, we can start building it. But don’t forget to keep in mind the requirements we identified in the definition phase as this will ensure we build something that fits our needs.
- Draft the learning and program outcomes. These will allow us to test the impact of the course once it has been delivered and provide the all-important return on investment information for our stakeholders.
- Break down the content into ‘need to know’ vs ‘nice to know’ and work with our subject matter experts to ensure the right learning content is being communicated to our learners.
- Draft the visual design concept, based on the client’s branding guidelines or style guide and seek approval and sign off.
- Determine how to present the content including any interactivity, presentations, demonstrations, simulations, illustrations, audio, video, case studies, stories, and scenarios.
- Determine what assessment is required, ensuring that any assessment links back to the learning objectives and isn’t being thrown in unnecessarily (Another way to make your course memorable for all the wrong reasons!).
- You could storyboard the course to allow discussion on what will occur on each slide with stakeholders. You could also prototype some interactions to show the product’s functionality to stakeholders or clients.
- Undertake multiple reviews with stakeholders/clients to ensure we are meeting requirements. Make any necessary tweaks/enhancements to support or compliment the content.
- Test it in its delivery environment (intranet, website, LMS) to ensure it is recording the information we need it to.
- Finally, get real-life users to test and provide feedback on any areas that might be causing issues: spelling, functionality, instructions, and navigation.
Phew! Now that’s done, we should have a well-defined eLearning project making the development smooth and effective with minimal wasted resources.
Step 3: Deliver
Integrate the eLearning product into the organisation’s eLearning environment. For example upload it to the LMS or website. If the organisation has invested in a new learning platform, such as Birch then this part of the process is quite easy. For older LMSs we suggest testing your content in the SCORM cloud, the industry standard for testing content. If it works there, you know any issues are with your LMS and not your content. Do a final check by reporting or launching it and then release it for use.
Step 4: Evaluate
How do you determine if the eLearning build was successful?
Many eLearning projects, whether stated or not, have the same unfortunate criteria for success: Was it completed on time? Was it within the budget? Did it cover all the content? Did it open with a list of learning objectives and conclude with a test? Did it roll out smoothly? Were there minimal learner complaints?
You can measure these things, but they don’t really tell you if the program was a success. All they tell you is how the deployment of the module went.
The ultimate question to ask to determine whether an eLearning project is a success is:
Did it address the gap between what is happening now and what should be happening?
The answer to that question is what your client or stakeholder wants to know. That is the elusive return on investment. For the time and resources they spent, did the project have an impact? Did it change behaviour and move the learner towards the ‘what should be happening’ side of the scale?
As a developer you want the answer to that question to be ‘yes’. Therefore, it is extremely important to have some sort of evaluation tool available to gather that information. You can use a model such as Kirkpatrick’s training evaluation model, pre and post testing, retrospective surveys, and even bottom line impact analysis i.e. if the point of the course was to sell more products, is the client in fact selling more products?
That is the most valuable evidence for a client. The ultimate litmus test lies in evaluating whether the eLearning initiative effectively closed the gap between the existing state and the desired outcome. So, as an eLearning developer, keep your eye on the ultimate goal – driving meaningful change and achieving the desired outcomes.
To sum up
Effective eLearning involves four key steps: define, develop, deliver, and evaluate. It all starts with clear objectives, understanding the audience, and content development. Then, integration and evaluation become vital to determine the program’s success. Remember, the ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between the current state and the desired outcome.