E-Learning courses are becoming increasingly popular among businesses looking to expand their training offering and reach employees through practical learning processes that focus on specific learning objectives. They provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional classroom training and allow employees to learn at their own pace while meeting the demands of the ever-growing population of geographically dispersed teams.
With this growth in demand for e-learning courses, a lot of businesses are beginning to develop their own content in-house, using readily available tools and systems. This can throw up new issues for learning and development teams, who often come from a background with little experience of developing this type of content.
So where do you start?
In order to successfully develop an e-learning solution, there are a variety of stages you should progress through and hurdles you need to consider. For ease of understanding, we’ll split these into two separate headings, design and delivery…
Designing an e-learning course
1. Why Do I Need an E-Learning Course?
When we are faced with a development issue, or identify skill gaps within a team, it can be tempting to dive straight into ‘solution mode’ and immediately start creating an online course that we think will fix the problem. However, this is exactly what you should not do. When you identify a problem, you should first start with the ‘why?’ This means performing a training needs analysis to establish your learning objectives. After all, without a goal to aim at, how do you know you’ve been successful?
A training needs analysis can be as involved as you want to make it. This could be a simple discussion with the people experiencing the problem, or a more in-depth review of the organisational objectives, KPI’s, past training and desired results etc. Either way, your aim should be to establish the real issue, so that you know your e-learning course is indeed the best solution and that it will impact on key learning measures. Here are some useful questions to ask…
- Is e-learning the best delivery method?
- What problem is the e-learning going to fix?
- What will people do differently as a result of the online course?
- What business goals will the e-learning solve?
2. Who Are My Target Audience?
This question is one of the most important aspects of developing an e-learning course. You should consider who you are targeting with your e-learning course. Are they beginners, intermediates, or experts? Understanding their level of knowledge prior to writing the content, will help you focus on the elements that are most important to your learners, which will help ensure you retain their engagement and keep them interested in what you have to get across.
3. What Type of Content Do I Need?
You may choose to build a self-paced learning environment, where learners complete tasks based on their individual needs. Or you may opt for a curriculum-based approach, where learners follow a predetermined path through content modules. Ultimately, whatever approach to the training program you decide on, you need content that will help users learn about the topic you are teaching. It should be interesting and engaging enough to keep them interested in learning more, but still be able to get over the key learning objectives.
Once you know your approach, it’s time to start gathering data about the issue you are trying to address. The more information you can gather at this point, the better. You may feel that you don’t want to keep it all in the course, but the process of gathering information helps you decide what is and isn’t important to your overall goals.
4. What Are My learning Objectives?
Anyone with any experience of the learning process will tell you that learning objectives are the central focus of any development activity. This goes back to the ‘why?’ of learning and what your course hopes to achieve. Before you begin curating your e-learning course, you should create 3-4 key learning outcomes that tell you what the learner will do differently at the end of the course. If you did your training needs analysis effectively, this should be relatively simple. You should be able to create 3 or 4 action statements that define what the learner will be able to do after the course. This gives you clear goals and something to aim at during the design process. It also gives you a way to measure the success of the learning while ensuring you are creating effective online learning experiences.
5. How Do I Perform Instructional Design?
The instructional design process usually involves creating a ‘script’ of the course and how you expect it to appear in the e-learning. This is useful for making alterations and amendments based on feedback, but without having to amend content after it has been built.
Instructional design is an art and consists of designing a product that engages learners and provides interactive courses. There are a number of ways designers can create engaging products including storyboarding, branching, quiz-based learning, situational learning or usually a combination of these and other methods. This process deserves an article of its own, but the general principle is that you clearly lay out the learning content and identify how this should best be delivered using the tools identified. Once this is in place and has been signed-off, you can move on to storyboard the content.
6. What is a Storyboard?
The storyboarding stage is when you begin to bring in visuals and design elements to the content developed at the instructional design stage. The aim is to gain a visual representation of the content from the instructional design stage, which can be reviewed prior to actually building the content in full, which will save you time and effort.
7. How Much Time Will My Learners Spend Learning?
You should consider the following questions. How much time does my learner want to spend on the course? Is it just a short introduction to the topic, or is it a comprehensive guide to the subject matter?
E-learning courses tend to be shorter by their very nature. So, they are generally designed to be completed within one hour or less. However, some courses may take longer depending on the content and complexity of the material being taught. Often, when a course requires a lot of content, it is broken up into manageable chunks, as learners rarely like to stare at a screen too long. This modular approach can mean that a full e-learning course takes weeks or even months to complete.
Microlearning is also a popular format for e-learning. However, this is often focused more on providing key insights on a topic, rather than full development.
8. How Many Modules Should I Include?
There are no hard and fast rules on how many modules you need to cover for an online learning course. It depends on what content you want to get across and the expected time to deliver it in. However, if you plan to offer a series of courses or modules a common rule of thumb is to include three to five modules per core topic. Remember, learners rarely want to sit and work through e-learning for large amounts of time, so breaking learning down into short bursts will help them remain engaged. The end of each module acts as a ‘break’ in this way.
A simple method of assessing how many modules should be contained in a course is to write down and consider everything that should be included as you did in the previous steps. From this, it is often clear that certain elements can be ‘grouped’ into core headings. From there, you can estimate how many different modules you are likely to end up with. If you end up with more than five modules, perhaps you need to introduce further ‘sessions’ that contain several modules each. Your understanding of the topic will help you determine this.
9. How Long Should Each E-Learning Module Last?
A good rule of thumb for e-learning modules is up to fifteen minutes per module. However, this varies depending on the type of content being delivered. There are times when a short burst three-minute video will be sufficient to get the key learning point across. Other times may require some more in-depth thinking with interactions, activities and quizzes, and so a longer timeframe may be required.
One thing to keep uppermost in your mind is how long you would be prepared to sit and view the e-learning on a screen. If it feels like this is a long time, it probably is! You can test this out by asking a friend or colleague to review the content for you. Where do they lose engagement? At what point did the learning become a challenge?
10. What Tools Shall I Build My E-Learning With?
These days there are an inordinate number of authoring tools you can use to build e-learning content. Some of the key players in the authoring software market are companies such as iSpring, Captivate and Articulate who have a suite of development tools such as Rise and Storyline. There are also lots of tools you can use to create videos or even development tools built into a Learning Management System, which usually give you the opportunity to upload videos and add free text that you can then publish.
Each of the tools discussed have their benefits and drawbacks and it’s relatively easy to research which tool will suit your requirements best to help ensure you’re building engaging content. What is important is that you pick the best authoring tool for the aims of your learning.
Delivering an e-learning course
1. What Format Should My Courses Be Available In?
Do you want your learners to be able to download the course materials onto their devices, or should they only be able to view the course materials within a web browser? Do the learners even have their own devices? If they have personal devices, are they happy to use them for what might be considered work-related learning?
With the introduction of 5G and a relatively good Wi-Fi set up in most places, it is usually safe to assume most people can access digital learning by connecting to the internet. It’s also likely that people can access some sort of device for learning in the workplace, even if their job role doesn’t require one. However, each situation will be different, and it is up to you to decide what is best in the circumstances.
Remember, there is no point having the best e-learning course in the world if people can’t access it!
2. Where Can I Host My E-Learning Course?
To deliver online learning, you usually need a system that can ‘host’ the content. The main reason for this is that learning needs to be recorded and without a hosted system, this recording often cannot happen. There are some manual ways around this whereby you could place the e-learning course on your intranet system and then ask participants to print out or email a certificate once completed. However, this requires a lot of administration and human error can come into play. Therefore, some kind of hosting platform is usually the best way forward.
There are many different types of hosting platforms, which are usually referred to as Learning Management Systems (LMS). These manage the delivery and recording of online learning. There are other systems such as Learning Record Stores (LRS), but to simplify our answer here, we’ll focus on the LMS.
As you can imagine, there are a huge amount of LMS options on the market, including free services such as Google Classroom, Blackboard or Moodle etc. While the free services are certainly advantageous, they do have their pitfalls and associated costs that can be overlooked and sometimes a ‘paid for’ service might actually end up being the better (and even the cheaper!) option.
There are too many paid for Learning Management Systems to provide specific advice, but ultimately, the choice comes down to costs, system options, learner experience, course development tools, gamification, recording, data outputs and many other aspects including integration with any current systems you may already have such as HR tools.
3. How Do I Review the Success of My Course
A good LMS will have in-built reporting features, so you can track learner uptake, progress and success in completing the content and/or passing an assessment. However, you should also consider things external to simple reporting, such as return on investment, performance improvement and the meeting of workplace targets. Whatever approach you decide on and metrics you choose to measure by, the importance of evaluation and review cannot be understated.
As you can see, there are a lot of considerations when developing an e-learning course. Hopefully, the guidance here will give you a good steer on how to get the ball rolling on developing content of your own.
One thing we haven’t mentioned though, is whether you should bother at all. You see, it is possible to develop your own e-learning course, but sometimes you have to weigh up the time, cost and pitfalls of doing it yourself, compared to bringing in experts that can support you through the process, or even develop the content for you. After all, this whole process can have a considerable impact on the resources within your learning and development department and bringing in the experts can save a lot of pain. You can also be sure that an external provider with years of experience, will already know the hurdles you might face. Of course, the decision is yours, but it’s something to bear in mind before you begin.
Thinking of developing an e-learning course? Talk to Trainer Bubble today. Our expert team will give you the support and guidance you need to achieve results for your organisation’s learning needs. Contact us for a ‘no obligation’ chat.