How To Overcome Sneaky Scope Creep in eLearning

It’s all about controlling your eLearning development project, rather than letting it control you!

‘Scope creep’ is a term used to describe the expansion of a project outside of the planned objectives. It’s an inherent risk in any eLearning development project. Scope creep can originate from several sources, and it’s often very sneaky – if you’re not watching closely it tends to happen quietly without you realising before it’s too late.

You must take measures to control scope creep and to ensure that you and your team don’t fall victim to its results, which will usually include delays on your deadline and budget blowouts.

On a more positive note, the effects of scope creep are not always negative, depending on your situation. Sometimes, through the design and development process (or through consultation with your stakeholders), you will change the project’s scope to include new features that you hadn’t originally considered. That’s fine, but usually you can’t change things like your budget or your timeline so you have to weigh up the pros and cons when you identify a scope creep.

Here are some strategies you can follow to keep scope creep from derailing your projects.

1. Project Objectives

Be sure you thoroughly understand the project objectives. Meet with the project’s stakeholders and/or your project management group and deliver an overview of the project as a whole for their review and comments. This will reveal any misunderstandings about what your project will deliver and provide an opportunity to refine the timeline or budget if required, prior to starting work on the development of your resource.

2. Priorities

Understand your priorities and the priorities of your stakeholders. This will help you make decisions about how far or by how much the original project scope can change.

3. Deliverables

Define your deliverables and have them approved by your stakeholders. Make sure you all agree on delivery dates for these, so that the design and development team understands how much time they have to spend on different elements of the production process.

4. Work Requirements

Break the deliverables into actual work requirements. The requirements should be as detailed as necessary and can be completed using a simple spreadsheet. The larger your project, the more detail you should include. Be sure to establish achievable goals.

5. Milestones

Break the project down into major and minor milestones and complete a project schedule to be approved by your stakeholders. Whatever your method for determining task duration, leave room for error. When working with unknown staff, be generous in your time allocation as new people may take a little while to reach a 100% productivity rate.

6. Timeline/Schedule

Make sure that everyone on your design and development team is aware of the project’s timeline/schedule, and the deliverables it needs to meet. Communicate regularly with your team about how things are progressing.

7. Stakeholders

Get all your stakeholders on board from at the start. Monitor the work being done by your project team, to ensure that they are staying ‘on track’ and not designing or developing material/s that are more complex or time consuming than they need to be.

8. Review

Before starting to develop the eLearning its important to get the content reviewed by all the stakeholders. Some changes halfway through building the course could have a major impact on time.

Choosing the right eLearning partner with extensive experience in managing projects is also important to ensure your project runs smoothly. For information about our content development please visit our page or contact us to discuss your requirements.

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Design for Non Designers

There are some basic principles, rules and methods, which allow you to produce some top looking designs in your eLearning.  This series of blog posts will explore these basics and allow you to get your designer hat on!

The C.R.A.P. principles of design (yes ok let’s all snigger at the rude word)

These 4 principles lie at the heart of visual design.  Everything else builds from, or on top of these when you are creating a design. Visit the links for posts on each one.

  • Contrast simply means ‘difference’. A boring design is where everything looks the same. If you want to draw people’s attention to something specific, make it look different.  Not just a little different, but a lot different. Our brains look for differences all the time “which of these things are not like the other…and why?” It engages our brain and gets it thinking. We notice things that look different.
  • Repetition simply means reusing graphics and elements, to give a sense of unity to the information you are communicating. Good repetition is when you use consistent colouring, typefaces, image styles and (to a degree) layouts.  If you use a template or style guide to design a course then you have repetition already built in. Repetition shows that the slides belong together.  An example of poor repetition is when every slide in your course uses different styles, fonts, or colours. Another example is when you mix photos, clipart and line drawings, all in the same course with no sense of unity between them.
  • Alignment. Nothing in your module design should look like it was placed randomly. A prime example is that if you left align your text on a page, make sure you left align ALL of your text items. Having text boxes thrown around with random alignments (left align here, fully justified there, centre aligned over at the side.) looks unprofessional, messy and forces the learner to process extraneous stuff that is not relevant to what they are learning. Beyond text alignment, all of the assets on your slide are connected by an invisible line. Even items that are far away from each other. Always try to align assets (graphics, text boxes, shapes) with other assets. A grid is your best friend when it comes to aligning items on your page. One of the best kept secrets in your authoring software, is the ‘align’ menu option. Practice using it all the time. Having everything aligned on your page, registers subconsciously in the learner as a much cleaner layout, and is easier for them to process as a whole.
  • Proximity is simply moving things closer or further away from each other to achieve a better ‘look’. Items that relate to each other should be grouped together, so they are viewed as a whole, not as individual components. The learner shouldn’t have to translate what subtitles or captions belong to what images, videos or media. By grouping the relevant caption with its item, the learner doesn’t have to think about what belongs with what, and their brain power is focused on what they are learning, not on what they are viewing. Cognitive overload is something we as learning designers, need to avoid at all cost.  Doing so increases engagement, and gets the learner focusing on what they need, not trying to understand what they are looking at.

Beyond these basics we also need to be aware of:

Finally, and one of the most important things we need when designing anything is this:

Inspiration.

Where do we get our ideas from for a design?  How do we get creative? Everyone is creative at their core.  Even those who don’t think they are.

The crux of creativity is having the courage to explore, experiment and learn!

By utilising the basic principles, on top of your creativity, you will create some amazing designs.

How To Immerse Learners With Realistic Scenarios

Studies have shown the amount of information and practical knowledge retained by adult learners who undertake training that includes life or role specific scenarios to re-enforce key points, show significantly better knowledge retention than learners who completed the same training using a purely linear, read some information and remember it style of course.

The simple fact is that we retain knowledge far better when it is presented to us in a context that fits the subject and in a form we can directly relate to physically or emotionally. We learn by doing.

A scenario provides us with a direct part to play and shows us how to decide on a course of action typically from a number of options.  By playing the scenario out to the end, we learn if our choice or choices provide a positive, negative or indifferent outcome. This correlation between our actions and real world consequence is what cements the knowledge.

Here’s a quick outline of the theory behind designing a great scenario.

What you will need:

  1. Content – refers to the actual learning outcomes and knowledge to be transferred. The content must be clearly defined and understood.
  2. Context – is the real world overlay, how the content will be presented to the audience, what characters will be used and what situations will those characters find themselves in. The more relevant the context to the learners life/work the more engaged they will be with the scenario.
  3. Coaching – is the feedback on choices made in the scenario and for every choice there should be some form of feedback. This feedback could come in many forms, as a score, as a subtle hint or observation or even as a sledgehammer knockdown.

What you will build:

  1. Challenges – A scenario is where the learner assumes the persona of a defined character. This character needs to be presented with challenges that relate to the learning concept being addressed.
  2. Choices – From these challenges the character then needs to be given a set of multiple choices with each of the choices providing a relevant method of dealing with the challenge that has been posed.
  3. Consequences – Behind each of the choices provided will be a consequence, a tangible outcome for having made that particular decision.

How to build it:

  1. Create a detailed plan of how the scenario is going to operate, what choices go with which learning outcomes and what all of the possible outcomes from each choice might be.
  2. Use Articulate Storyline 360 or Rise 360 to create your scenario based learning.

The Plan

The plan should include:

  • An outline of the key concepts the learner should take away
  • A break down of these concepts into individual actions where the learner will need to make a choice between a number of options
  • A break down of the consequences that might arise directly from each of the possible choices. (This will form the basis of the feedback to the learner)
  • As in real life, the consequences of our actions are sometimes immediately apparent and sometimes they are not realised until some point in the future. When designing the feedback for your scenario you should consider when and how this feedback is given. Should it be immediate? Like an angry customer leaving the shop following poor service. Or should it be delayed? Like receiving a performance evaluation at month’s end.
  • Determine whether the actions (learning outcomes) will work as:
    • a complete continuum where one action leads directly to the next and the choices made will affect subsequent actions and choices
    • a grouping of linked actions where some learning outcomes share or build consequences  but others will not
    • distinct actions and outcomes that encapsulate an entire concept in one set of choices
  • Now overlay a real world context onto the actions/choices map you have produced.

Using Articulate 360

Now that you have your plan you can go ahead and build your scenario.

If you want to immerse learners in a realistic scenario and be able to design the look and feel to whatever you want then we suggest Articulate Storyline. There are no limitations on the number of choices or how the results of each choice resonate with the learner.  The built in quiz features and templates allow you to build a branching scenarios easily.  Take a look at these workplace bullying examples we built.

If you are looking for a fast and responsive design then Articulate Rise now has a scenario block that allows you to easily create branched scenarios. Here are the examples of our workplace bulling scenarios in Rise.

For more tips on when to use Rise or Storyline from the Articulate community.

Finally, for more help on building scenarios then you may be interested in our Certified Articulate training delivered online and in capital cities.

Using the AIDA Model to get ‘buy in’

We meet a lot of eLearning developers when we’re on the road delivering Articulate training. One of the common concerns a lot of these developers have is how to make their content look good and make sense.

Most of us are not graphic designers. I myself started my career as a primary school teacher. However when creating online courses we need to know how to make things looks good. We know that we process visuals nearly 60,000 times faster than we process text. Therefore should we look to other disciplines and how they use certain models to hook and engage the audience?

AIDA model is a traditional communication model used in advertising. AIDA is an acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.  Advertisers use this model to get people to buy-in to a product or service  Most eLearning designers are not trying to get our audience to buy something but we are trying to get them to ‘buy-in’ to what we have to say. So shouldn’t it make sense that we look at incorporating or thinking about models such as AIDA to get our users attention. Let’s look at what AIDA is and how to use it with eLearning.

  • Attention – The attention portion of the message occurs at the beginning and is designed to give users a reason to take notice. Presenting a shocking fact or statistic that identifies a problem which can be solved by the product or service is one common method of gaining attention. Other methods can include asking a thought-provoking question or using the element of surprise. The purpose is to give the users a reason for wanting to learn more.
  • Interest – Once you’ve gained the their attention, the next step is to maintain interest and to keep the recipients engaged. Explain the problem you’ve identified in the attention step is adversely affecting how they work. A demonstration or illustration can help the users to further identify with the problem and want to actively seek possible solutions. By personalising the problem, you’re making it hit closer to home
  • Desire – In the desire stage, your objective is to show the users how to solve their problem.  For a compliance course demonstrate the procedure or process to follow to ensure the meet the organisations standards or if it is product or service explain the benefits and demonstrate how the benefits fulfill the need.
  • Action – Now that you’ve created the desire about the compliance issue/product/service, the final step is to persuade the users to take immediate action.

In his books, Michael Allen notes that our eLearning courses should have the 3Ms:

  • Memorable
  • Meaningful
  • Motivating

For me this ties in well with the AIDA model. It also relates to changing the way we think about presenting our content in our courses. It took me a long time to get rid of my PowerPoint baggage and my love affair with bullet points, layout, etc.  I pity people who had to take some of my early attempts! Now my focus is on visuals and creating an engaging user experiences rather than just regurgitating content on a screen

AIDA works for me. It forces me to think outside the box and pushes the realms of what I can do.  In the eLearning world we need to get our message across efficiently and effectively. Using techniques like AIDA can help get closer to the Holy Grail…..elearning courses that are engaging and worthwhile!

Instructional_Design

Integrating Motivation with Instructional Design

As an Instructional Designer, motivating learners is an important consideration because in reality learners are not always motivated to learn. They are busy, have other things to do, don’t see the course/session as being important or have had a bad learning experience in the past. We use Dr. John Keller’s motivational design model known as ARCS.

The ARCS model comprises four major factors that influence the motivation to learn – Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. It’s described as a problem-solving model and helps designers identify and solve specific motivational problems related to the appeal of instruction. The model was developed after a comprehensive review and synthesis of motivation concepts and research studies. It has also been validated in studies across different education levels.

The four categories of motivation variables consist of sub-categories along with process questions to consider when designing:

Attention = Capturing the interest of learners, stimulating their curiosity to learn.

  • Perceptual Arousal: What can I do to capture their interest?
  • Inquiry Arousal: How can I stimulate an attitude of inquiry?
  • Variability: How can I maintain their attention?

Relevance = Meeting the personal needs/goals of the learner to affect a positive attitude.

  • Goal Orientation: How can I best meet my learner’s needs? (Do I know their needs?)
  • Motive Matching: How and when can I provide my learners with appropriate choices, responsibilities and influences?
  • Familiarity: How can I tie the instruction to the learners’ experience?

Confidence = Helping the learners believe/feel that they will succeed and control their success.

  • Learning Requirements: How can I assist in building a positive expectation for success?
  • Success Opportunities: How will the learning experience support or enhance the learners’ beliefs in their competence?
  • Personal Control: How will learners clearly know their success is based upon their efforts and abilities?

Satisfaction = Reinforcing accomplishment with rewards (internal and external).

  • Natural Consequences: How can I provide meaningful opportunities for learners to use their newly acquired knowledge/skill?
  • Positive Consequences: What will provide reinforcement to the learners’ successes?
  • Equity: How can I assist the learners in anchoring a positive feeling about their accomplishments?

The following link is to a YouTube video where Dr. Keller discusses the ARCS Model, some background in its development and the addition of volition to the model. ARCS: A Conversation with John Keller

Apart from the motivational aspects of the model, what I really like about ARCS is that it puts the learner at the centre of the design process. After all, that’s how it should be.

For information on B Online Learning instructional design and eLearning content development services visit our page here or contact us mail@bonlinelearning.com.au

Using Gamification in Articulate Storyline

Sometimes eLearning is perceived as being tedious and sometimes detrimental to actual learning. But with some imagination, any course can include interactions and design that engages the learner at a higher level than just their ability to read information then click the next button. The tool to bring your vision to life easily is Articulate Storyline.

Let’s take a look at a course we built for Toyota where we revamped a simple quiz into a Race Track, click here to have a look at it live.

The Brief

Build eLearning that would:

  • re-enforce vehicle information and selling points for dealers
  • give them an enjoyable experience,
  • let them know that it would take much time, and
  • tap into a motor dealers innate competitive mindset.

The Solution

It was this last point that we focused on in the course design as this insight immediately suggested a course theme. If we combine a competitive mindset with a car company what do we get? A car race.

We built an interface where the learner moves their car around the track by correctly answering a sequence of questions about the model of vehicle in question.  To personalise the eLearning learners choose from 4 characters each with their own car. Each question is accessed by clicking on the numbered markers on the screen. These markers are protected so that you need to do each question in turn starting from 1. The protection for the markers is removed in turn, when the previous question is complete correctly by the learner. A timer was added for pace.

Feature #1 The Race Track

  1. Adjusting a True/False variable for each question, from false to true, only when the question was answered correctly.
  2. This same True/False variable set at each question was also used to “move” the car around the track as the questions were completed successfully.
  3. The car itself as seen in the image below, was set up with a series of states that depicted the car at various angles and at various points around the track. We have circled state q5 which shows the position of the car on the track when the learner reaches question 5.
  4. To move the car we have triggers that “Change the state” of the car to match the question on condition that the True/False variable for the previous question is True.

The same True/False variables were also used to update the achievements panel on the left of the main game interface. The achievements panel gives the learner stars as they complete each question successfully.

Feature #2  Achievements

These stars work in a very similar way to how our racing car moves around the track. Each star has 2 states one grey and one yellow, as the questions are completed successfully, the True/False variables are updated to true and when the learner arrives back on the race track there is a trigger to change the state of the stars from grey to yellow if the corresponding question variable is True.

Feature #3  Avatars

Another “fun” feature is the ability for the learner to select an avatar of themselves at the commencement of the course. Following the selection of the avatar, which also included a different colour car for each one, the learner sees that specific avatar throughout the course.

Clicking on each avatar sets a “Number” variable from 1 to 4. (Each number 1, 2, 3, 4, represents each character from left to right)

Here is an example of the trigger:

Once the variable is set to that specific number you use it on any other screen in the content. For instance, the screen image below shows one of the quiz screens and the character has been selected on the screen to show the states for that character in the states panel.

You can see that in this quiz screen the character has 4 states.  Now all we need is a set of triggers to change the characters state, when the timeline starts on the slide, on condition that the variable is 2, 3, or 4.

Feature #4  Visual Design

Putting aside, the client branding requirements for font, colours and logo etc, inspiration for a visual design usually follows on from the agreed theme for the course, in this case a race track.

Once the theme is agreed, then the designer can go in search of inspiration, by looking at stock images, print advertising, websites and Articulate eLearning Heroes. We found a graphic for the race track on Shutterstock that only took a small amount of tweaking to match the illustrated look and feel of the Articulate Storyline characters we were using in the course.

Learn how to use Gamification in Articulate Storyline

To learn how to build something like this consider our Certified Articulate Training workshop held in capital cities and client onsite.  It covers all the basic development building blocks:  Slides, States, Layers, and Triggers as well as more advanced functions such as the variables we used in this course to track the progress and to change the visual appearance of things such as the car and the character.  Check out our open enrolment training schedule here.

story tellling

Key Elements of Storytelling for eLearning

Everyone loves a good story. We are surrounded by stories in social media, movies, advertising and the news. People love to share anecdotes and jokes as a way to connect with each other. The best presenters use stories to capture the audience’s attention at the start.

What about eLearning designers? Do we need to be good at telling stories? Some people would say – ‘no we are creating courses not stories’. While that is true, there are many things eLearning designers can learn from the art of storytelling.

Storytelling is defined as “The telling of a happening or connected series of happenings, whether true or fictitious; account; narration.” (Denning, 2005)

In this post we look at elements of a good story and how we can apply these to eLearning design.

1.  Good stories are cohesive and well-structured.

There are conventions in the way stories are structured – the opening to hook the reader, the middle to develop the story and the end to reach a satisfying resolution.

An eLearning course also needs to be cohesive and well-structured. When planning a course, ask yourself:

  • ‘What elements will hold the course together?’.
  • ‘How will I hook the learners on the first few screens?’
  • ‘What is the most logical way to sequence the course content?’

Certainly visual design is important to create a cohesive look and feel. But what about the course structure? Do your screens jump from topic to topic with no common thread? Is there a story that you could use to hold the topics together?

For example if you are designing a course ‘Provide Coaching and Mentoring’, you could introduce two characters at the start – Jan, the mentor, and Sara the mentee. The characters can introduce each new topic and talk about their experience of the mentoring process…how they met, how they planned their first meeting, how they set goals with each other and so on.

I like Articulate Storyline because it encourages eLearning designers to think in terms of ‘telling a story’. It features ‘Story View’ where the designer sees an aerial view of the course (the story), including scenes (the chapters) and slides (the pages). This helps to make sense of how the course is going to fit together. Screens and scenes can be easily rearranged. Story View encourages creativity because there are so many different ways that you can structure the course; for example using branched scenarios.

2.  Good stories are memorable.

Usually it is the people in a story that we remember the most. You can certainly design an eLearning course without people in it, but it might not be very engaging.

I like the way Articulate’s Storyline provides characters that you can insert quickly and easily. Sure the learner might not remember the characters like they remember Harry Potter, but at least they are more likely to relate to the character and this can assist learning.

Here is an example from the Articulate 360 content library. The characters come in a range of poses and expressions so you can use the same character throughout the course.

If you are designing a course for the health sector, insert images of a nurse or doctor in different poses throughout the course. Give the security expert a name and put him or her in different work situations that the learners are likely to face. Talk to the Subject Matter Expert if you need details to make the situation more realistic.

3.  Good stories are often about overcoming problems.

We are social creatures who like to relate to other people. This is why scenarios are so fantastic for eLearning courses. For example a workplace scenario typically presents a challenge or problem that the character faces – and then the learner is asked ‘What would you do?’. This encourages the learner to think for themselves. All the best stories are about overcoming problems!

Imagine you are creating a course about Equal Employment Opportunity. You could think of a central character who faces a struggle. The obvious one is that she faces discrimination on the basis of her disability. Introduce the character to learners and insert an image of her. Return to her throughout the course. Describe her experience at job interviews. Ask the learners questions about how prospective employers communicated with her. And if you like, make it a happy ending where she finally lands her dream job. The learners are likely to remember the character in your course.

Final Word

Of course story telling is not going to be appropriate for all eLearning courses. It will depend on the purpose of the course, the target learners and other considerations.

I would like to finish with two quotes about the power of stories:

“Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.” John Kotter, Harvard Business School Professor

“Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.” Dr Pamela Rutledge

Interested in learning more about writing brilliant stories using Articulate Storyline, visit our Certified Articulate training webpage here 

How to Review eLearning Courses

When it comes to developing eLearning courses, there are many things that can go wrong. Okay, so that isn’t the most positive start to this blog post! But the fact is that a single eLearning developer will not pick up every error in the first version of an eLearning course.

Just as an author works with an editor, and a journalist needs a proofreader, it is only natural that eLearning developers need feedback from other people to identify errors and problems. Fresh eyes are needed because the developer is often too close to the material. But effective course reviews cannot be done in an ad hoc manner.

To collect quality feedback, you need a structured review process. This involves determining who will review a course (both internally and externally) and what the timeframes for review will be. In this post I will look at some important aspects of the quality control process.

Clarifying the Review Process

If you are developing a course for a new client, it is important to communicate with them about the review process. This should be done at the start of a project. If you wait until near the end of the development process, you could run into problems such as project timeline blowout and additional costs.

A typical problem is the late entrance of unexpected stakeholders who request additional content be added to the course. To avoid such problems, you must provide a clear understanding of how the review will work before the project commences.

Consider the following questions:

  • What steps will there be in the review process?
  • Who are the key stakeholders involved in the project?
  • How much time is needed for the review process?
  • Are the deadlines realistic for both parties?
  • What amendments are not included in the Scope at each review that would incur additional cost?

In some cases you might be developing a course with the help of several Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). For example if there are 5 SMEs, are you prepared to go through 5 different review documents? What happens if different team members have different views on necessary changes? A good solution is to ask the team to nominate a spokesperson for the group.

The SMEs could have a team meeting amongst themselves and then the team leader can produce a single review document on behalf of the team. This would save you time and also keep costs down (a good incentive for the client).

If you are using Articulate 360 then consider using Articulate Review web app. It allows you to gather consolidated feedback throughout your project, show stakeholders the latest version, and manage resolved comments after making changes.

Checking for Accuracy

The first version of your course is likely to have inaccuracies but there is no need to panic. If you have a thorough checklist of questions at hand, it will help you and others to identify errors. In fact, I have found that many SMEs actually like spotting errors (as long as there are not too many!).

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is the actual content in the course accurate (e.g. facts, figures, names)?
  • Is the content up to date?
  • Is there any content missing?
  • Have you checked for typos and spelling errors?
  • Does the audio script match exactly what the learners are hearing?
  • Are the instructions clear and correct?
  • Are the quiz or test answers correct?

Checking for Consistency

Consistency is needed to make your course look professional and cohesive. It helps to give the learners a sense of stability when working through the content. Some questions to consider when checking for consistency include:

  • Is the look of the course consistent with other courses for the same client? (e.g. colours of the player)
  • Is there consistency with the use of fonts (font type and size) for headings, body text and so on?
  • Have you been consistent with terminology throughout the course? For example a course can be referred to as a ‘unit’, a ‘session’, a ‘module’ – choose one term and stick to it.

Using templates will assist with consistency. But more on that in another blog post.

Checking for Functionality

When a course has been published and loaded to a Learning Management System, it is ready to be checked for functionality. Keep in mind that features such as links to websites may work in the pre-publishing phase, but then not work on the LMS and vice versa.

Before the course goes live, make sure you have tested all the technical components of the course from the environment where the course will be deployed. Allow time for problem-solving because it can take longer than you think, especially if there is a problem you have not encountered before. I have found the eLearning Heroes community an excellent resource for finding solutions to technical problems.

Here are just a few things to watch out for:

  • Is the navigation working according to client’s requirements (e.g. Does the client want learners to pass the quiz before progressing to the final screen?)
  • Do the videos in the course play correctly?
  • Are there any problems with visibility (e.g. video too small, font size too small)?
  • Do animations appear at the right time to synch with the audio?
  • Do the links in the course work correctly?

Final Word

This is just a sample of things to check. It is best to develop your own review checklist, even if it’s as simple as a table in a Word document.  Download this simple template to use.  I recommend developing a new checklist for each client. By tailoring the checklist to the clients’ needs, you are more likely to meet their specific requirements.

Three eLearning Design Challenges and Solutions

There is no doubt that eLearning designers need strong problem-solving skills. In the early stages of any design project, we need to wear our analytical hats and work out how to transform training content into an engaging learning experience.

When faced with 100 slides of content from a client, it can be a daunting task to organise the material and then build an eLearning course. Then again, some of us just love a challenge!

Here are three design challenges that I have faced and the steps I took to meet the challenge.

Condense large amounts of learning content provided by the client.

Recently I had a client provide material that included 6 PowerPoint slides covering all the legislation that learners needed to know. If I just added a few images and kept the content on 6 different screens, imagine how the learner’s eyes would soon glaze over reading screen after screen of legislation. My challenge was to present the material in a succinct way and to keep the learner’s attention.

Using Articulate Storyline, I condensed all the content into one interactive screen with tabs to reveal a layer for each piece of legislation.  The result is an interaction that is far less daunting for the learner (one screen of legislation looks better than six!). In addition, learners are more likely to get involved by clicking on the various elements on the screen. If the client insists that the learner reads every item on the screen, you can set the interaction so that she or he has to view each item before progressing to the next screen.

Create consistency in the eLearning course without making it dull.

As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. But when it comes to eLearning course design, too much variety is confusing for the learner. Imagine an online course with 10 different fonts, 10 different characters, 10 types of animation and every colour of the rainbow. How would this affect the learning experience? Most likely it would confuse the learner as the course would appear disjointed and hard to follow.

The best practice is to design with consistency in mind. Here are some ways to create a cohesive course:

  • 1 or 2 fonts only – We like to use one font for the screen titles and another for the body text.
  • Templates – Player templates and slide masters create a cohesive look and feel (while saving you time).
  • Colour scheme – Stick to 2 or 3 key colours for elements on the screen.
  • Activity boxes – Keep the same colour and format for special activity boxes in the course.
  • Symbols – This is a good way to provide recognisable markers for learners (e.g. a question mark icon to indicate a discussion question).
  • Main character – Introduce your character at the start and bring them in throughout the course, but not every screen.
Encourage the learner to stop and take a closer look.

Adult learners are usually time-poor and so they might be tempted to rush through an eLearning course. The challenge for the designer is to create courses that encourage learners to slow down, interact with the material and to think more carefully. There are many ways to do this—case studies, scenarios, quizzes, activities. The key is to draw the learner into the course through interaction.

Let’s say the learning material includes a flow chart. You could just copy and paste the flow chart onto the screen. Using this approach, some learners would stop and read through the flow chart; but many would just skip the screen because there is nothing to draw them in. The challenge here is to create an interactive screen. Again using Articulate Storyline the learner can click on each of the flow chart elements to read about that stage of the process. This is a great way to encourage the learner to take a closer look and digest the information at a deeper level.

Final word

If you are ever stuck with a design problem and need help or inspiration, I encourage you to go the E-Learning Heroes website. The E-Learning Heroes community has over 700,000 eLearning professionals who exchange ideas, solve problems, share resources and inspire each other.

If you are not already part of the community, it is easy to join up and find the help and inspiration you need. For a more formal training approach you could also try B Online Learning’s eLearning Design Essentials Course or our Certified Articulate Training.

Tips for Writing Audio Scripts

One of the many skills that eLearning designers need is the ability to write clear and engaging audio scripts. Good narration should complement what the learner sees on the screen. At its best, the narration draws the attention of the learner to the key learning points, while at the same time making the learning experience far more enjoyable. In this post I will look at three considerations for writing good audio scripts.

1.  Getting the tone right

Most eLearning courses require a fairly conversational tone for the audio. Usually there is one narrator (e.g. an SME, professional voiceover person) who guides the learner screen-by-screen through the course. The learners become familiar with that one voice, in much the same way as they do listening to a trainer/teacher at the front of a classroom.

So how does this affect the way you write the script? As a general rule, I would avoid overly formal language.

Compare the tone of these two sentences:

Example 1: Before the commencement of the course, you must understand the correct way to complete it.

Example 2: Before we get started, let’s take a moment to understand how to complete this online course.

The second example has a friendlier tone and is more likely to engage the learners. It is similar to the tone that would be used in the face-to-face context.

2.  Complementing the visuals

It is best to avoid the narrator reading out exactly what is on the screen. If the narrator is simply reading out what the learner can read for themselves, it can make for a repetitive (and sometimes irritating!) learning experience.

When a new screen appears, the learners are instantly taking in the visual elements in front of them. Good narration supports what the learner sees. The narrator can serve many purposes such as provide background information, draw the learner’s attention to particular elements on the screen or provide more details about points as they appear.

In this example from a Fraud Awareness course, the narrator describes the fact that fraud against the Commonwealth is a crime (the script is on the left of the screen), and this leads into the specifics of the relevant legislation. In this way the narrator is providing the necessary background before the learner starts clicking the numbered tabs to read about the legislation.

3.  Writing succinctly

When you write succinctly, it means you are not ‘waffling on’. There is no time in an elearning course for longwinded writing. Remember that learners are usually time-poor and they appreciate a narrator getting right to the point.

Compare these two sentences:

Example 1: Informal meetings are different from formal meetings. The latter have more requirements than the former. One point is that informal meetings are not so structured. Nevertheless informal meetings should still be called for a specific purpose.

Example 2: Although there are fewer requirements for informal meetings and they can be less structured, they should still be called for a specific purpose.

The second example gets to the point more quickly. It does not have any unnecessary words.

Good narration is clear and does not require a second listening to understand the meaning.

We also need to think about how much information the learner can digest on one screen. If the narration on one screen is too long, you may lose the attention of the learner. Consider shortening the text in the audio script and putting that information on the screen or in an additional document that learners can download. Alternatively you could split the content into two screens.

Final word

As always, it is best to put yourself in the shoes of the learner. Read the script aloud to yourself and decide if it is working well with the elements on the screen.  Do this before sending the script off to be recorded. This will save you time and effort, while ultimately making the learning experience more enjoyable for the target audience.

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