Are your eLearning courses GREAT or just "good enough"? With so many poorly designed and written courses out there, it can make a mediocre design look decent. However, setting yourself by being one truly high-quality course producer means you’ll be in more demand, command better pay, and be more effective.
To up your eLearning design game, we’ve compiled the six traits that great courses have. Read on to make your way to the head of the pack.
1- It's goal-oriented
Have you ever watched a movie only to get to the end and it has one of those “um, what just happened?” kind of endings where you’re pretty sure all you did was just waste two hours of your life? Yeah, designing an eLearning course without a goal in mind leaves learners with pretty much the same feeling because if you don’t have a goal in the beginning, it’s unlikely you’ll have accomplished anything by the end. And, for your purposes as an instructional designer, having a goal at the start helps to shape the way you provide instruction, so there’s not, as much guesswork or confusion.
To successfully pick the right goal, identify what the biggest priority is for the course. What are your learners here for? How can you get them the skill or knowledge they’re seeking? What are the objectives and am I making them clear to my audience? Knowing this will help you concentrate your efforts for a better result.
2- Engaging Design...Without Being Distracting
Even though online learning has become common, there are still companies that resist it due to bad, prior experiences. In many cases, companies make the mistake of simply transferring existing training, online. If you’ve done any work or research into how people learn, then you know this did not go over well.
Truly great eLearning courses consider how people learn and don’t just spew out information, hoping it will stick. Technology is not the defining element in this but, instead, a tool that helps bring natural learning ways into a digital arena.
Here are some other key guidelines:
- How to Engage Without Distracting. There are a variety of elements you can use to engage learners, including pictures, videos, interesting color schemes, and all those other pretty things we designers love so much. However, great eLearning designers know how to use these elements to enhance information, not overwhelm it.
- Use Visuals that Support Goals: When you’re not sure if some graphic helps, or hinders your goal, it’s usually best to leave it out. Ask yourself if what you’re trying to add will help your learners’ retention or meeting of their goals. If the answer is no, let it go.
- Function Over Style: Other distracting elements can be factual errors, bad style choices, misspellings, and other errors. So, even if you’ve decided a bada** Flash intro is totally what your course needs, you still need to get the basics down first.
- Know Your Learners: Before ever deciding on how many graphics you should lay out, take the time to know your audience. It’s extremely difficult to engage someone who you don’t know. It would be like trying to get someone’s attention in a crowded store, but calling out someone else’s name, it simply isn’t going to work.
3- Contains Relevant and Targeted Content
Your learners are like your customers, and if you don’t show them something they want, then they aren’t going to feel motivated to take your course. Like developing any product, great eLearning courses need to use tools to get to know their "customers" so they can better "sell" to them.
Targeted content is unique because it's designed to elicit a specific response from a specific group, based on data about that group. - Hannon Hill
Creating relevant and targeted eLearning content involves:
- Shaping your message in a way that's most likely to resonate with your target audience.
- Choosing the appropriate informational material, figuring out the most effective instructional strategy, and selecting the right media to transmit the message.
- Taking into consideration the context of the audience. Are they never at their desk? Don't create a desktop-based course!
- Reviewing the learning objectives throughout the design phase. This ensures your content is relevant, and there is no information that does not directly relate to the overarching goals of the course.
Both formal and informal surveying lets us know what our learners (and managers) are looking for and what’s important to them. These needs are what we must build our courses around. If it seems that there are two or more distinct groups within your audience, it can make sense to create several versions of your content. Each one can be focused on a slightly different need or concern to ensure you get relevant content for everyone.
4- Communicates Strategically
Just as with graphics, it doesn’t matter how fancy your navigation looks or how interesting your writing sounds if it isn’t easy for your learners to follow through a course. Content and navigation need to flow in a logical pattern so audiences can spend time retaining the message, not trying to decipher which button they’re supposed to hit.
Similarly, the writing in a course should never be overlooked. Your wording should be appropriate for the audience, and not too simplified or complicated for your purposes. Anything that goes over an audience's heads will cause frustration while dumbed-down info is going to feel like a waste of time for them.
5- Inspires people to ACT
Great eLearning courses don’t stop at being interesting, they take that engagement and use it to push audiences, customers, and company leaders into ACTION. Your words need to connect with the audience on an intellectual level and work in conjunction with other design elements to be inspiring, persuasive, and actionable. You want learners to be able to DO something not only during the course but also after they've completed it.
For this, you need to bring your course into real life where people can set goals, plan and think about the information. Incorporate calendars, performance markers, and another goal-setting element in your course to engage them.
Here are some ideas:
- Incorporate practical exercises that are similar to what learners will be expected to perform at the workplace. For instance, in a course for call center employees, create activities like answering phone calls and taking cues from scripts and templates. These practical exercises give the course the semblance of reality.
- Illustrate the immediate rewards to obtain the highest engagement. If learners see the real benefit or immediate reward upfront they’ll probably engage with the course and complete it.
- Answer these questions for your learners: What will they win? And, What will they be able to DO? If you can’t answer that for them, you are likely to have unengaged learners or drop-outs.
6- Has a Solid Instructional Design Strategy
Great eLearning projects are methodical and strategical; they have a solid Instructional Design Strategy in place. This means it embraces lots of theoretical knowledge and models which inform the program, based on evidence of what method of delivery is most effective. Doing things the right way leads to better learning outcomes, which honestly, is what we need to provide when we invest time and money in a training program.
The Instructional Design Strategy is the approach by which your eLearning course is going to be developed to engage learners. There are a variety of approaches eLearning designers can take including storytelling, discovery learning, situational learning, and several others.
When deciding on a strategy, think about:
- The type of content: How can I best teach a fact versus a concept? A procedure versus an interpersonal skill?
- Impact: What is the best way to make this training meaningful and relevant?
- Objectives: How can I ensure each trainee will master the objective?
- Activities: Have you selected the best activities to achieve the desired outcomes? Create and organize activities that are relevant, appealing, and give the course credibility. When learners believe in what they are doing as a valuable learning experience, they'll be more engaged and take on board the knowledge that you're offering more easily.
So much of what we learn about passing on information to others can be easy to overlook when designing. However, keeping these six main points in mind is a good start to achieving your own outcomes and goals for helping your students and creating a GREAT eLearning course.