Many of us creating eLearning courses are experts in our field, but that doesn’t make us expert educators. Even the seasoned teachers out there might not know how to tailor their skills to a digital environment. The whole process of creating an eLearning course can be really overwhelming!
We’ve written dozens of informative articles on how to create an eLearning course, so we’re going to switch it up: here are some fatal mistakes that are easy to avoid.
1) NEVER play background music during your instruction
Let’s start with a psychology lesson! Cognitive load is the amount of stuff in your brain—the mental processes (like perceiving, thinking, and organizing) that we use for thinking, learning, and completing tasks. Working memory, which stores information in the short-term, is critical but also severely limited, in both its capacity and holding time. (You know this already if you’ve tried to remember a phone number long enough to dial it. You can probably only remember three or four digits at a time, right?) When you add background music, no matter the volume, you’re literally adding noise that makes it harder for learners to absorb your message.
John Sweller, an expert on memory and learning, has a message for eLearning professionals: we have to design in line with how our mental processes actually operate, not some ideal of how learning is supposed to work. If we don’t, then people can’t learn effectively. In current organizational conditions, we all need to be able to learn quickly, so your course design needs to be as effective as possible.
Help people focus by not adding background tracks while you’re speaking!
2) NEVER pace your course too quickly or too slowly
Most of us have had the grade-school experience of being too far ahead or too far behind in a certain class. Either we end up bored to tears and unable to pay attention or confused and struggling. The art of moving the class along at the right speed is called “pacing.” When our grade-school teachers did it well, we probably didn’t even notice, so it can be hard to understand as an educator how to handle this important aspect of eLearning design.
If the pace is too fast, most learners will probably get left behind. If the pace is too slow, quicker learners can get bored and disengage. The best way to pace an eLearning course, since an instructor cannot respond directly to student needs, is to let the learner control the speed.
Here are some ideas on how to implement user-controlled pacing:
A. Setting up modules.
Splitting the information into chunkable “modules” will allow people to learn their ideal pace for the subject and set their own speed. For example, maybe the modules of a ten-module course have assignments that are due each Sunday. A learner who knows that they have been struggling can set aside four hours in a week to watch and rewatch videos and research concepts to complete the assignments, and a learner who has been progressing more quickly can devote two or three hours to the same material. A learner who has a tough time with one particular module can up their study hours halfway through the week and still turn in assignments on time.
On a related note, make sure to spell out clearly the requirements that each student has to meet so that they can allocate their time effectively. Give out a calendar of assignments as far in advance as possible, for example, and/or map out the length of time each unit is going to take.
B. Implement a way to give feedback.
Learners will encounter an unpleasant surprise if they think they understand the material and then fail the final exam. Therefore, it’s important to head off struggling students by giving them feedback on their work as soon as possible so that they can self-correct if they need to spend more time on the material.
Likewise, you should welcome feedback from your students on the finer details of the course, including the pacing, both throughout the course and at the end.
C. Instate trial and error testing.
You should be learning to be a better educator throughout each session of your eLearning course. Maybe your modules need to be smaller, or your papers assigned two weeks before the due date to give students enough time to work. If you need to alter something, do it!
D. Give students options.
Collect a variety of online resources for learners who may be falling behind so that they can hear/read the material phrased in a different way or see new graphics to explain the topic. Those who are having an easier time can just skip over this material.
E. Allow students to teach each other.
In a forum or a group chat, students who are struggling can ask quicker learners about the finer details of the material and receive help from each other, bolstering both groups’ understanding of the subject.
3) NEVER make bad color choices
Color can have a surprisingly important impact on how your students view your course and its material. Maybe you need to adhere to a certain color scheme for branding purposes. That’s okay, but you also need to consider how color affects the tone of your course as well as practicalities like readability.
Your course needs to include the right combinations of colors, because the brain is naturally attracted to visually interesting material, a habit that will make your information easier to remember. Too bright can seem childish, but too dull can be boring. Take a look at the color wheel when working on the visual aspects of your course and learn how to implement its information effectively.
Most importantly, choose a color scheme that makes your written material easy to read. Do not be overlook the contrast between the text, word-art and imagery and the color of the background. If legibility is compromised by the lack of match between the background and the presentation materials, the eLearning opportunity will fail. By ensuring your audience can read the text, over the background and understand the content through the visual source, you will provide a successful eLearning opportunity.
- The Complete Guide to Color Combinations in eLearning
- 6 Ways Color Psychology Can Be Used to Design Effective eLearning
4) NEVER try to cover too much information
It’s easy to create a cluttered course that has too much information for learners to easily absorb. It can be really tempting to include anything and everything that your student might find useful in the future. Different people involved in your course’s creation can have different perspectives on what’s truly necessary to include.
Too much information to cover in an eLearning time allotment can result in a cluttered and ill-functioning eLearning experience for the audience and will result in an unsuccessful learning opportunity, especially if the information content has no visible real-world applications or benefits.
A positive way to deal with the expectations of the client/leader is pairing your goals list down to fewer than five learning outcomes, and make sure they’re as specific as you can make them. It’s critical to be crystal-clear about what you expect learners to be able to do after your course session is over.
Try to keep lessons no longer than 20 minutes, with an absolute maximum of 40 minutes. To achieve this, take out the non-critical information. If you’re really attached to it, that excised information can be turned into a downloadable resource or used as the basis for a second course.
5) NEVER ignore learner behaviors and needs
When you’re focused on the subject matter going into our eLearning course, it can be easy to forget the importance of the consumers of your course.
In fact, studies on the effectiveness of subject matter and the grade of that subject matter, show how the message can be lost to the audience if the course-work is sent from an “expert” stand-point to an audience that is not versed in the “expert” terms and field content.
The resulting eLearning opportunity will fail because the message satisfies the content message that the corporate body is trying to send, however, the message is empty if the audience cannot understand the content.
To make your teaching truly effective, you need to ask yourself some questions:
- Who is your audience? Consider age, language comprehension and relevant educational understanding.
- How will your message bring your audience to the learning table? Consider your message carefully and identify your most important points and coverage requirements.
- Does your audience have learning challenges? Identify any possibilities prior to the completion of the eLearning content.
- What calls your students to learn?
- What do they like? Consider the depth of the subject matter and have your “expert” provide an explanation in “plain-speak” so the audience can understand the content and the message.
- Who do they respect?
- How will your audience use the information after the eLearning presentation? Consider tailoring the message to reflect the relevance to the needs of the job.
Take a careful look at the things you’re expecting the learners to be able to do, as well as their existing knowledge and their level of expertise in the subject.
Secondly, studying the psychology of learning can be indispensable in the quest to create an effective eLearning course.
For example, people won’t use the information you give them in the form of the modules they come in. In real life, on the job, students will use information in its synthesized form. Therefore, you need to organize your course’s content based on how learners will use it moving forward. The closer the training matches the job, the more relevant and easily-digestible the content will be.
What mistakes have you caught yourself making during eLearning course design? Share your experiences with your fellow readers in the comments below!