A good eLearning course is like a lip-smacking, mouth-watering, finger-licking meat pie. Every cook has a different recipe, but the essential ingredients are the same—a juicy, meaty filling; spicy seasonings; and two flaky crusts.
There are no cookie-cutter ways to create memorable and effective eLearning courses; the needs vary across industries. But the essentials are the same.
Time to go over these eLearning must haves:
1) A Knockout Intro and a Kickass Title Screen
The title screen and the intro are your only chances to make a killer and lasting first impression. The aim should be to make learners sit up, take notice, and be motivated (read: compelled) to click through the rest of the course. The title slide and the intro are like the displays you put up on the storefront. The window-shopper is either enticed to step in or walks away uninterested.
Here’re are some ideas on how you can create a magnetic intro and title screen (and the next 2-3 slides) for your course:
- Ensure that you provide an idea of the topic that you will cover. Busy adult learners want to be assured once more that they are indeed about to take the time-management skills training that they had signed up for and not some other productivity course.
- Create catchy titles that contain the what’s-in-it-for-me information. Corporate learners want to have a sneak peek at the benefits of taking the course. So, instead of a title like “The Essentials of Time Management” that leaves readers scratching their heads, create a title like “Do More With Your Time With These Tips and Tricks.”
- Make sure that they evoke emotions in readers. A compelling image that tugs at the heartstrings of the learners or a video that carries customer testimonials draws attention, provides motivation and elicits positive action. For instance, you can start a course on wildlife conservation by showing a couple of baby chimps playing in the wild and make learners go aww.
- Take the Hollywood approach and start with a story. Stories are powerful baits, and more so, if your learners can visualize themselves in the events playing out in front of them. For instance, you can set the story in future and weave a story about how the learner is thriving and prospering after learning the art of managing his time.
2) Responsive Design
Move with the times.
As more Millennials and Gen Z join the workforce, and more workplaces implement the BYOD policy, make sure that your training programs are where learners are. Make it easy and enjoyable for your learners to access your courses on any device they may carry. Else they will pass up your course.
Responsive design is no longer an option; it is a necessity you cannot ignore. Here’re some reasons why:
- Convenience and Flexibility: The smartphone- and tablet-reared generation wants to be able to access learning at their own time, wherever they are, and on whichever device they own.
- Just-in-Time Learning: Modern employees want learning to be delivered to them on demand, at the moment of need.
- BYOD Policy at the Workplaces: This entails that your course must support a host of devices with diverse design, hardware, OS, and software specifications.
- Changing Computing Trends: The PC had given way to laptops. Laptops are now set to be eclipsed by smartphones, tablets, and phablets. Make sure that your course adapts to ever-changing computing trends.
3) Eye-Catching Design That Works
Effective design is the perfect blend of beauty and substance. This means that a flashy, gaudy, glitzy eLearning course cannot make up for the lack of substance.
High-quality eLearning design delivers the content in the most instructionally sound way. The content is presented unambiguously. There is logic in the arguments you put forward. The content presented, the activities you design, and the assignments you include at the end of a lesson should map to the overarching learning outcomes.
It helps if your course is packaged attractively. But be assured, you don’t have to be an artist to pack in a punch.
The watchwords are Clarity and Consistency. Have a clear idea of the content. Step into the shoes of your audience to understand what they expect from your course. Deliver a clean and harmonious package.
Ruth Clarke and Richard Mayer in their book, E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, list six fundamental principles of effective eLearning courses (these are all necessary to achieve the perfect blend of beauty and substance we mentioned before)
- The Personalization Principle: Write in a conversational tone and employ virtual coaches or mentors to create an intimate experience.
- The Coherence Principle: Do away with multimedia elements that do not add or adhere to the learning objectives; they are unnecessary and increase cognitive load.
- The Redundancy Principle: Explain the content or idea in images using text that is either written OR read out aloud, NOT both.
- The Multimedia Principle: Text accompanied with visuals explains an idea better than words do on their own.
- The Contiguity Principle: Place related words and visuals close to each other to create an association and improve comprehension.
- The Modality Principle: Presents words as audio narration instead of having them displayed as onscreen text.
This article explains the principles in greater detail.
4) Intuitive Navigation
Don’t confuse learners with technology. Period.
Your learners are here to master a new skill, learn a new way of working, or understand a novel and foreign concept. Let them focus their mental energies on learning instead of trying to figure out how to move to the next slide or pull up the Menu.
Your aim should be to create a user-friendly course that even a tech-unsavvy person can easily make his way through. When learners understand the navigation structure of the course and are convinced that they will be able to find their way around it, they feel assured and are more motivated to take the course. They should feel confident that once they are into the course, they won’t have to hunt around for information.
Here are some tips to help you create an intuitive navigation structure:
- Steer clear of stylized graphic designs that complicate the navigation structure. Stylized or complex graphic designs are confusing. You can’t make out if it is a button or a fancy pattern in the background.
- Steer clear of novel navigational structures unless they are intuitive. A novel navigational structure usually does not enhance the instructional value of an eLearning course. But if you have toiled to create one, make sure that the design is extremely intuitive. After all, you wouldn’t want it to take anything away from the instructional soundness of the course either.
- Provide clear, unambiguous, and detailed instructions. Provide instructions on how to navigate the course right at the beginning. Make sure that the Help button is placed on all screens.
- Assign a single functionality to a single type of button. For instance, the green-colored Next button should ALWAYS take the learner to the next screen. The learner is bound to be confused if he discovers that the green-colored Next button sometimes takes him to the next screen and sometimes to the first screen of the next module. If you want to let learners jump a few screens and land in the next module, create a "Next" button in a different color for the navigation. Or better …
- Spell out where clicking on a button will lead to. The learner should know where he is headed to after he clicks on a button. For instance, instead of only labeling a button as “Next,” you can write “Go to the Next Page” or “Go to the Next Case.”
- 6 Tips To Improve eLearning Course Navigation
- Exploring Navigation Styles and How to Improve Your e-Learning Usability
5) Multiple Learning Channels
Unlike printed textbooks that can incorporate only text and static diagrams, eLearning courses support multimedia elements that engage multiple senses.
Exploit the ability of eLearning courses to weave in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic media to create interactive courses that provide immersive learning experiences. And now that devices like the iPad have flooded the markets, you can also consider creating courses that let learners enjoy a tactile experience.
Here are some tips on how to create a multi-sensory learning experience:
- Create different types of learning activities. Think games, simulations, and scenarios. Advances in audio and video technologies have made it possible to incorporate these media into an eLearning course cost effectively and create livelier games and simulations. The plethora of multimedia authoring tools makes it possible to create scenarios and hands-on simulations in a jiffy. Here are some more ideas for creating different types of learning activities.
- Create “What Would You Do?” scenarios to make learners think. You don’t need to be an artist or a programmer to be able to pull this off. Just present a picture or a paragraph of text that depicts a situation and a problem. Then ask the learner what he would do to resolve the problem. He can then compare his answer with the suggested answer that shows up on the screen after he submits his solution. This tactic creates engaging learning and also satisfies the adult learner who wants to think things out for himself instead of being told what to do.
- Create environments that encourage exploration and self-learning. If you have a graphic designer who is willing to help you out, consider creating an eLearning course that incorporates relevant exploratory learning environments with lots of compelling visuals. The learner would hover various elements to reveal nuggets of information. This keeps the learner engaged. Besides, adult corporate learners are quite taken in by the idea of being able to control the pace of the learning.
- Host discussion forums. Discussion forums encourage engagement by letting learners participate in forums, share knowledge, and learn from each other.
6) Practice + Feedback
This age-old proverb has relevance for an eLearning course as well. The more you let learners practice the skills they have learned, the more effective will be the learning. Repeated practice cements the learning in their minds and sharpens the skills they have acquired. Certain practice activities also teach learners how to apply the concepts and skills they have learned to solve real-life problems in a safe and consequence-free environment (Noe & Colquitt, 2002).
Most importantly, practice activities drive engagement.
Of course, these practice activities should also provide immediate feedback to help learners gauge the efficacy of their learning. Feedback helps learners by correcting their mistakes, guiding them on the right track, and motivating them to carry on.
Most importantly, feedback allows learners to pause and reflect on the learning.
Keep the following pointers in mind when designing practice activities:
- Create unscored practice activities to test every new concept or skill learned. This is an easy way to incorporate a quick practice activity that the learner can perform in a relaxed manner.
- Make sure that the practice activities map to the learning outcomes of the course. Keep in mind the action verbs you had used to formulate the terminal and enabling objectives; these should help you design the activities.
- Create scenarios that simulate the reality of the learner’s workplace.
- Add practice activities that let learners reflect on the learning, analyze and synthesize it, and apply it to solve real-life problems. For instance, create a scenario and break it into multiple episodes. At the end of each episode, present a multiple-choice question to the learners that asks them to solve a problem. Don’t provide the answer or the feedback right away. Instead, let them think through the problem and come up with a solution.
- Avoid activities that only test how well learners have been able to memorize the material. Rote learning is passé. The emphasis should be on creating practice that encourages participants to think.
- Provide clear explanations on performance expectations and criteria.
- Include clear and unambiguous instructions to help learners perform the task.
The above six essential elements should be the guide or the checklist that you refer to every time you design a course. Hopefully it helps you take the next step to completing your next best eLearning course :)