When starting any new process, there are important questions to ask in order to be prepared to complete the task. When it comes to eLearning, there are a multitude of choices that need to be made before firing up the eLearning authoring tool. This checklist serves as a framework for essential questions to ask before starting out. Consider them as an essential design decision-making tool.
1) Who is the eLearning course aimed at?
The very first question you need to ask is who the eLearning course is intended for. Is it for employees in a specific department? Is it for recent college graduate recruits who are looking to improve their soft skills? Discover group characteristics and the purpose of the audience taking your eLearning. This will inform the entire design.
2) What is the prior knowledge of your potential audience?
It is really important for you to have a general estimate of where your audience is, in terms of their prior knowledge. An instructional sequence that is too difficult will fail to adequately engage learners. Similarly, one that is too easy will fail to grasp your learners’ attention. This is known more formally as the zone of proximal development.
Tips to help with catering to prior knowledge include using branching logic to scaffold instruction and using an adaptive learning platform.
3) What is the technological ability of learners as well as the system technological requirements?
All learners will have different levels of experience, and subsequently, comfort with eLearning. Consider the audience and their tech abilities. Make sure to tailor the eLearning design to those abilities. In relation to this, all of your macro design should include an orientation module with technological requirements and introductory activities. It is also imperative that you communicate with the IT department to see what those technological requirements are from the system in which the eLearning will occur.
4) What’s the value of this training for your learners?
We are used to asking the questions, what is the purpose of eLearning and what are the objectives? An equally important question is what is the value of the training for your learners? Are they taking the course as a requirement? Have they sought out the learning experience? Do they need a certification? Are there expectations from the supervisors as to what is the necessary outcome of the course? Find out what the value is and tailor the training towards this value.
5) Have you written realistic objectives for learners to meet?
There are lots of bells and whistles when you start designing eLearning experiences. It can be tempting to focus on the flashy-bling-bling. However, doing so risks losing the substance that is so essential to quality learning experiences. To keep a focus on substance and content, you should always develop a few measurable objectives for learners to meet. As you progress in designing the course or module, keep the objectives pinned somewhere close to your computer. This will remind you of the overarching goal of the eLearning experience.
6) How long should the training take? And where is it going to be viewed?
Are you designing a mini-module that can be easily completed on a mobile device or longer courses that have tangible outcomes and expectations? To answer these questions, you should talk to the executives, managers, and chief learning officers who have requested the training. If the training covers a new process, topic, or content area, then a longer training should take place. However, if it is a new skill or individual learning unit then the training, can take less time.
7) Have you thought through copyright concerns?
Copyright is one of those things that is so important to an ethical eLearning design. However, it is also confusing and often underestimated! When you find an image online, how do you know if you can use it? And if you need to attribute it? An excellent strategy is to use Creative Commons Search which searches materials that have been licensed to be shared. There are specific licenses for commercial reuse.
8) Have you defined which platform to use?
There are multiple learning management systems to choose from. Some of these are catered to corporate eLearning while others are meant for K-12. However, many of these platforms are flexible and useful for a variety of audiences. Your company may have an LMS that you have to use, but you could freelance or otherwise have authority in how content is presented to students.
9) Have you considered the marketing of your eLearning courses?
Sometimes you will have the experience to design a course that is a requirement for certain employees to take. Other times, you will need to attract people to take a voluntary course. No matter the case, it can be helpful to develop a marketing and promotional strategy because learners won’t just come in hordes to take your course. Some tips for marketing the course include publishing it to relevant company forums, connecting to social media networks, and leveraging leverage existing company resources like email marketing systems, collaborative platforms like Slack, or wikis and newsletter to inform people about your new course.
10) What types of assessments are acceptable?
One of the most challenging parts of eLearning design is to develop mentally challenging (but not too much) assessments that are related to the content. To go beyond this, a decision needs to be made as to whether human grading will be required for the assessment. This creates a larger time investment but can be important when the learner is expected to give a reflection or longer response.
Most assessments will be auto-graded such as multiple choice or true/false. Make sure that the evaluation questions align with the learning objectives you have specified.
11) What will the review process be like?
It takes a while to create sound eLearning design. The last thing you will feel like doing is going through pilot testing. However, a solution should never be published and pushed as training until it has been pilot tested. When we look at something for an extended period, we can get tunnel vision. Using a fresh set of eyes to focus on different aspects of the eLearning course can improve the experience for learners, which is ultimately the goal.
12) Are you designing with universal design principles in mind?
Regardless of how well you know your audience, you will not know if someone has a disability or other accessibility concern. For this reason, alone, principles of universal design should always be followed. Also, designing with these principles in mind helps all learners because the course becomes user-friendly.
These are only a sampling of the questions that should be asked when beginning to design eLearning content. Use the above questions, and you will be well on your way to thoughtful, intentional, and effective eLearning courses for learners. Go, explore, create, analyze, reflect, and iterate. This is essential eLearning design and should drive the work you do in this field.