To develop a sophisticated, engaging and well-organised course which Learners will actually enjoy, you have got to structure it in a concise and efficient way. Every facet of the learning process needs to be streamlined, and it all centres around the smooth flow of the learning materials. You need to draw a line from point A, the very first snippets of course material, all the way through to point B, the course goal, whilst occupying the least amount of your Learners’ time. No unnecessary diversions, no bouncing between unrelated information or tasks. Your aim is to draw as straight a line as possible. Time is pivotal, so get to the point!
Efficient eLearning courses take up as little of their Learners’ time as possible whilst delivering a quality result.
The key objectives of every eLearning project integrate both the money factor and the time factor, with the clear understanding that neither can be compromised at any point. With a healthy sense of respect for budget and timing, eLearning design is a beautiful creative process which combines the art of design with the logic of learning and the methodology of user experience.
At the start of the design process, the eLearning projects are generally handed over to our creative team in Geneva via a plain-text PowerPoint presentation. The mission they embark on is to convert and digitalise the plain content to quality eLearning course material that is online and ready to go. Our Goal is always to save time without cutting corners, and to be explanatory without becoming monotone.
Every Learner's time is valuable, and our design process respects that.
The most challenging aspect of the process is selecting the right information to present to the Learners and ensuring that concepts are explained in as many words as required, and in as few words as possible. This is why the Learning & Development (L&D) department of the source company should plan and carefully manage the design of their eLearning courses, putting in place the formal practices and processes required, and setting the standard for the level of learning and any potential testing or assignments.
To bring some clarity to the complex process of efficient eLearning design, we’ve compiled the key factors into an easily digestible list. Our aim is to inform and facilitate your eLearning journey, but our advice always remains the same: if in doubt, contact a professional, competent agency such as TheLearning LAB. The only thing worse than having no eLearning system available to your Learners is having a poorly designed, frustrating eLearning system which Learners cannot efficiently work with.
When setting out on a new eLearning journey, the initial steps are always going to be the same, and the key factors to keep in mind are straightforward and memorable. So read on, and as you do so be sure to ask yourself how eLearning can benefit your organisation, company or education centre.
1 . It all starts with brainstorming.
Here at TheLearning LAB in Geneva and Lausanne, we will always start the process by identifying the ultimate goal of the eLearning course. With a clear understanding of the goal, you can hone in on the training topic, and the member of your team most suited for the topic can set out to become the Subject Matter Expert (SME) who ensures the quality of the material and the standard of the education provided by the course. This is very important, as without oversight of the educational value of the course you risk producing something that is user-friendly but ultimately insufficiently educational.
Brainstorming is key to this part of the process, as is client engagement, as the course curriculum is developed, fleshed out, and the objectives identified. Benchmarking, analysis and strategy are the pillars of development, and you will want to involve members of the design team who will be taking on the pure design aspects of the process, as well as any members of your technical team who will be doing the webpage management. Everyone needs to be on board, ready to go, and informed of the plan. With the backbone of the course formatted and agreed upon, you can turn your gaze to any possible improvements you can incorporate into the Learning Management System (LMS), and analyse the potential for the use of blended learning. Gamification, mixed media such as video and infographics, informal quizzes or formal testing, assignments and more are all options when it comes to making the most of your eLearning course.
Feedback opportunities should be put into place at the conclusion of each section of the course, to allow Learners to identify any issues and make recommendations, and there is always room for continued improvement.
2 . Do not miss your target!
You have absolutely got to understand how to design and shape the content specifically for your target community. Creativity, a thorough analysis of the audience’s needs, and innovation are your stepping stones to success. Your audience may be a very visual group of learners, and a series of animations may be the answer to having them engage with the content. An older age group may wish for less gimmicky eLearning materials, with printable mini-guides or a simplified layout reminiscent of analogue learning. On the contrary, your audience may be of the young, hooked on video content, and easily distracted variety. You’ll never get them to look at static images, so video content will be king and infographics and mini-games with progressive levels might hold their attention, too. Have an audience full of professionals who have very little time? You could even run the course as a series of bite-sized podcasts, perfect for on-the-go learning whilst commuting. The options are endless, from discussion forums to live-stream sessions with an instructor, there is something for every type of Learner and every type of course.
Be certain to have an open discussion with all who are involved in the process, and encourage them to express the expectations they have for Learner engagement. Do we want them to see it as a relatively relaxed one-bit-at-a-time course, or is it a requirement that they complete it in a short timeframe? Anything that has to do with timing and intention will inform the final design.
Every good content creator must ask themselves how to make the topics more engaging, and how to convert an analogue learner into a successful eLearner.
3 . Prototyping with personality.
The course is a personification of brand values, expectations and aims, which all need to be drawn into the creation of the prototype. The question here is: What do you want to tell your Learners about your organisation? What do you want them to take away from this? The prototype you prepare for the course should be shaped with this message in mind and should feature a consistent editorial tone. Defining the learning objectives and assessment parameters in more detail during the prototype phase is vital, as it divides your course into manageable blocks.
Your Learners should not have to worry about the user experience, nor the navigation. It should be so intuitive, smooth and appropriate that they forget they’re using a new tool. The prototype is a storyboard and a roadmap, along with being the first real look at the experience Learners will have when taking your course. You need to create a sense of familiarity without being repetitive, and a sense of innovation without excess complexity.
4 . One… two… three… Mic check!
Testing your course is essential. Create a small focus group, develop a feedback questionnaire, and have them run through various parts of the course. No course creation is complete without having a group of Learners perform a review, and this key step allows you to identify issues which may have slipped under the radar thus far. As creators, when inundated in the world of our own production, we risk becoming blind to the fine-tuning of the user experience. A third-person perspective on the product is, without a doubt, the best gift you can offer yourself at this point.
Run your first focus group, incorporate the feedback, and if necessary, run another one (or more than one). You will never be able to eliminate all possible risk of criticism, as people’s perspectives are as divergent as can be, but when the feedback returned to you by a focus group is skewed heavily towards a sense of enjoyment of the course and consists mostly of positive assessments of the user experience, you can give yourself a pat on the back for your hard work!
5 . Economise, but never compromise on quality.
The lesson script needs to be accurate, and your facts need to be on point. There is very little that does more damage to the reputation of an eLearning course than misinformation and ambiguity, as it nullifies the value of the course as a learning tool. Validate all content with the Subject Matter Expert(s), and verify with the client where necessary. Do not economise on the proofreading and fact-checking aspect of your course production process. It’s an area of development where you do not wish to cut corners.
The same goes for the general standard of the eLearning course. Of course, financial considerations are a significant factor in any production, and eLearning is no different. Ensuring that the budget is parcelled out in a logical and effective manner means having the funds to finish the project as strong as it was started, and not realising that the finishing touches are underfunded and compromise the quality of everything you’ve worked for.
6 . Diversify the learning experience.
Your eLearning course needs to be diverse, offering a varied experience to the Learners as they make their way through the learning materials. Options include infographics, images, icons, videos, animations, podcasts… the list goes on. Employing all media types simultaneously without a suitable structure will crowd your learning platform, but when used appropriately they can coexist on the same platform.
At TheLearning LAB we produce our own materials and are able to provide our clients with a huge array of learning tools to match any chosen learning methods and cater to all types of Learners. There’s no doubt that when a Learner first reads an introductory text, then looks over an infographic placing everything into a clear format they can commit to memory more easily, and finally watches a video followed by a short quiz, they will have a more in-depth learning experience than a Learner who reads only a long text and has no other interactions with the materials.
7 . Testing, testing… Final checks!
You absolutely have to run final checks within the client’s own Learning System, and have an open line of communication with their in-house IT department to ensure the successful finalisation of the project. This is the last chance to straighten out any remaining creases, and getting it right is an obligation rather than an option. With the finish line in sight, it might be tempting to accelerate past the logical speed of progression, but quality risks being compromised if you cut any corners so close to the end. You will need an A to Z run-through by a third party, such as a focus group or an employee of the client organisation, to flag anything that may have slipped through the cracks, and then your eLearning course will officially be ready to launch.
8 . Advertise with enthusiasm.
Plan your launch date, prepare to create a certain hype around the eLearning course and be sure to inform people why they should engage with it, what the benefits are (e.g. obtaining a certificate of completion), and what exciting content they can expect to find within the course. You can make use of your company website, social media and newsletters to begin telling people about the upcoming launch, and even consider a launch event depending on how big a deal the eLearning course is to your organisation.
Incite the curiousity of potential Learners, release e.g. examples of quiz questions, or ‘Did you know?’ type content geared towards showing them there is value in gaining more knowledge in the area your course focusses on.
9 . Review, rinse, and repeat.
Review your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and asses the Return On Investment (ROI) throughout the period following the launch, and discuss with the client how they feel about the progress the course is making and the level of engagement you are managing to maintain. There is always room for improvement, and whether more advertisement, more of a specific, popular learning medium, or more of a certain type of content is what it takes to drive your popularity, it is important to keep in mind the initial goals and the company values. Never lose sight of what purpose the course is serving. Authenticity leads to popularity that breeds loyalty, whereas hype based on smoke and mirrors won’t. Never stop communicating with the client, and reassessing their needs to make sure the course continues to fulfil them. That is how successful, long-term partnerships are built!
The eLearning business used to spend the entirety of their budget on platform development or licences, and little time and effort on the intricacies of course design, the complexities of learning theory and the needs of the actual Learners. Trends come and go, but are skewing towards a greater appreciation for the art of eLearning design, and mentality are evolving around continued learning for virtually anyone in any field. The digital experience has changed, and brought along with it a revolution of eLearning opportunities and advancement.
Designing and driving an eLearning program is a challenging mission for any company, and without the support of a dedicated company it is quite capable of overwhelming the collaborators shortly after the project takes off. it has become imperative to design with care, and provide an excellent course that leads to a better learning experience for all Learners.