eLearning is an education system that primarily utilizes technology to transfer skills and knowledge. You might also notice eLearning being referred to as online learning, web-based learning, or distance learning. It enables learners to advance their knowledge anytime, anywhere, allowing for more flexibility and consistency. Elearning can include virtual education, social media, digital collaboration, computer-based curriculum, mobile performance support, and the list goes on.

Previously, we talked about Kahn Academy, a radical new alternative to the traditional classroom-based education system. Kahn offers a curriculum of free tutoring eLearning videos to help struggling students. This model is inspiring a new movement of classroom “flipping”, where the students take their lessons at home and work on homework in class. Utilizing this technology has benefited learners tremendously. Not surprisingly, research has shown that there are distinct advantages to this style of learning.

At its best, eLearning is a great way for learners to learn at their own pace, processing material without being held back or hurried by peers. At its worst, however, eLearning can be torturous, with seemingly endless PowerPoints slides, that can make eLearning seem downright ugly. Let’s look at some commonly used techniques in eLearning that demonstrate the good, the bad, and…well…

Good: Tells a story

Often, we remember a story after only hearing it one time. It’s not surprising. Our brains have been wired over the last 2,500 years to learn through stories. It’s a great way to experience a situation without having to actually live it firsthand, and learners tend to retain this information. How many of us still associate the story of Hansel and Gretel with “stranger danger?” Or the story of Steve Jobs with the success in obsessing over user experience? If you want your content to be memorable, stories, simulations, and authentic experiences can enliven your content.

Good: Be Creative and Take Risks

eLearning offers a world of opportunity to designers to make something new, engaging, interactive, and exciting! Instead, what we tend to see is a digital fact book of bullet points. Learners are expected to memorize what’s on screen, and turn the page with the “Next Button”. But why not embrace the possibilities? Play with the way screens and pieces of your course appear, or maybe find a new, out-of-the-box way to map out your course. Get creative with design, engage the user with visual metaphors, clever design choices, and take risks that will spark a learner’s interest when the workload feels tedious.

Bad: You Can’t Fail

Ironically, one of the benefits to eLearning is that it’s solitary. Even shy learners don’t need to worry about mistakes in public, and so they are free to fail… and to learn! Think back on the lessons you’ve truly learned in your life. Often, these “lessons learned” have resulted from personal failures or mistakes, perhaps a car accident, a financial loss, or a humiliating personal experience. We don’t forget what we learn through failure. Yet, instead of designing this ability to practice and fail in eLearning, sometimes we tend to avoid this by skipping evaluations or tough activities. The result can be “bad” elearning – bad because it isn’t allowing the learner to fail and as a result – learn.
Aconventional suggests that you first determine how people fail in the real-world environment you are training for (i.e. the reason people are doing the training) and then build those common failures into your design. Keep your training grounded in the real world with real problems.

Bad: Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

Imagine that your learner, previously excited about your new material, dazzled by a creative course opening or interesting activity suddenly hits something they don’t understand. If the pacing for your course doesn’t accommodate for understanding along the way, the learner will lose motivation and feel dragged along. This is where good pacing comes to the rescue. Kineo reminds us, “E-learning works best when it’s modular, with short, focused segments that have a clear purpose and could stand on their own as a piece of learning.” Give your learner digestible pieces, and follow a logical timetable to help keep users on top of the material. If you believe something may not be clear, you might want to revisit the content with your Subject Matter Expert and clarify or cut down the material to clarify focus.

Ugly: The Information Dump

The dreaded information dump is all too common and should be avoided at all costs. You may have collected a massive amount of information, and it’s probably all important in its own right, but there should never be a time when you try to cram every nugget of knowledge into your course. Your learners will be immediately turned off by the sheer magnitude of the content, and chances are you’ll burn them out with information overload. The best way to avoid this is by pinpointing exactly what your learning objectives and goals are for the learners and stick to it. If it doesn’t relate, it doesn’t belong. Visual learning research finds that students learn more of the content when there is less of it on the screen. Less is almost always more in eLearning, and you should only give them the information that is necessary, and directly applicable to their experience. SMEs can be a great help with this. But, you should always ask your SME the question: ‘Why do they need to know this?” If they (and you) can’t answer this question, scrutinize its importance in the course.

Ugly: The Template Style PowerPoint

We’ve all faced “death by PowerPoint”, where each screen is a dump of information on a template style PowerPoint layout. When learners see this, it’s an immediate turn-off. Just as a customer might immediately judge you by your professional attire, your users judge the quality of your course by the quality of the design. It’s worth the extra time to ensure your course says something about the quality of your product. Avoid mismatched text, colors, audio, and layouts. Make your text reader-friendly by breaking paragraphs into subtitles, bullets, or short sentence groups. And avoid the uglies by creating some variety in the screen design. Your book will be judged on its cover, so make sure you’re proud of your eLearning.

With a little bit of practice, you’ll soon be making the best eLearning, web-based, or online courses that will click with your learners in no time. Next time, we’ll put these tips to work when we go over the top how-to advice for creating your very first eLearning course.

If you’d like to learn about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

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