Let’s take a step back from the point of building eLearning, and ask some questions.
- 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 actually going to be taking the course?
- Do they need to be assessed to prove their understanding has changed?
- How long does the course need to run for?
- How is the module going to be delivered?
- Come to think of it, is eLearning the right solution at all?
That is quite a few questions, but they are only scraping the surface of what we need to know to make a successful eLearning course, as Dr Michael W Allen says the eLearning needs to be “Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivating”
There are a number of project planning and instructional design models that can help us when we start building eLearning, but ultimately they share the same 4 key steps.
Step 1: Define
- What is the goal, or behaviour change being sought?
- Why are we doing this?
- What are we going to do to address it? What do our learners need to actually 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?
In the definition phase we really 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 to building eLearning, before moving to the development phase.
Step 2: Develop
Now that we have defined what it is we need to build, we can start building it. It’s critical to keep in mind the requirements identified in the definition phase, and ensure our build is meeting them.
- We draft our learning and program outcomes. These will allow us to test the impact of course once it has been delivered, and provide the all-important return on investment information that our stakeholders will be looking for.
- We break down our content into the ‘need to know’ vs the ‘nice to know’, and work with our subject matter expert(s), to ensure the right learning content is being communicated to our learners.
- The visual design concept is drafted, based on the clients branding guidelines or style guide, and offered for consideration and sign off.
- We determine how to present the content interaction, presentation, demonstration, simulation, illustration, audio, video, case studies, stories and scenarios.
- We determine what assessment is required, ensuring that any assessment we have, links back to our learning objectives and not just being thrown in as ‘filler’ (Another way to make your course memorable for all the wrong reasons!)
- We may storyboard the course to allow us to discuss what will occur on each slide with our stakeholders, and we may even prototype some interactions to show the product’s functionality to our stakeholder or client.
- There are multiple reviews with the client and stakeholders to ensure we are meeting the definition requirements, and to tweak, enhance, support or compliment the content. All the time.
- We test it in its delivery environment (intranet, website, LMS) to ensure it is recording the information we need it to.
- Finally, we get real life users in to test it and provide feedback on any areas that might be causing issues: spelling, functionality, instructions, navigation.
Phew! If we have defined the building eLearning project well though, then development will be effective with minimal wasted resources.
Step 3: Deliver
We integrate the eLearning product into the organisation’s eLearning environment e.g. upload 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 LMS’s that are struggling with providing a modern learner experience we suggest testing your content in the SCORM cloud, the industry standards for testing content. If it works there, you know any issues are with your LMS and not your content. Do a final check that it is reporting or launching as it is meant to and then release it for use.
Step 4: Evaluate
How do you determine if building eLearning 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 of the content? Did it open with a list of learning objectives and conclude with a test? Did it roll out smoothly? Were there few 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 test as to 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 ultimately 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, happy sheets, pre and post testing, retrospective surveys and even bottom line impact analysis i.e. if the point of the course was to sell more product, is the client in fact selling more product.
That is the most valuable evidence to provide to a client, and will ensure you find yourself in work for many years to come.