Developing Effective eLearning Courses
These days, many trainers are creating their own custom eLearning courses with the help of development tools designed to make the process accessible to the nondeveloper. With software programs like Articulate’s Storyline, a little time and a few tutorials are all you need to get started. So, the “how” is covered. But the “what” and “why” of creating effective eLearning can’t be found in a user’s manual.
Before you install the program and open that first blank template, there are some crucial decisions you need to make about the nature and intent of the courses you are about to create.
How long should an eLearning course be?
There’s no single answer to this question; usually this is governed by the amount of information you want to present. But take care not to overwhelm learners with lengthy or multifaceted material. Consider segmenting the material into manageable chunks, so that each takes no more than 10 minutes to complete.
Even with shorter topics, this is a good practice. It is easier to remember information that is organized and focused than it is to process one big sea of data. And remember, a learner’s attention span is only about 20 minutes.
How interactive should I make it?
Interactions are a great way of keeping your learners focused and reinforcing what they learn. Anytime the learner is required to choose an option, answer a question or perform a physical movement, such as touching the screen, you have their attention. There are many creative ways to build interaction into a course, such as drag-and-drop and mix-and-match exercises, but make sure they have learning value rather than just providing entertainment for the learner. One of the best approaches is a carefully crafted decision-making scenario that gives the learner a chance to think about what he or she has learned and apply that knowledge in a practical situation.
How much imagery do I need?
Human beings respond well to visual stimuli, so it makes sense to use images throughout your course. However, it is not always easy to find the right image with the appropriate copyright permissions. There are many websites that provide professionally designed stock images, some of which are free and others that charge for image downloads. Either way, you must make sure that any third-party images you use do not break copyright laws.
But it can be more effective to create your own images, such as photos, illustrations, diagrams or other graphics. They may not look as sophisticated, but you can tailor them to suit your purpose. A simple line diagram or photograph that relates to your learning objective is far more valuable than a piece of stock art that looks great but has no meaning.
What about audio and video?
Both can enhance your course, but there are some points to consider before adding either one.
Many eLearning courses include narration as well as visual presentation, which can help the learner retain information by feeding it through two different senses simultaneously. But be careful not to confuse or distract the viewer with additional imagery. The rule of thumb here is to either narrate the text appearing on the screen or illustrate the narration.
Video is great way to engage learners, but there are always going to be considerations about what file format and compression you use. This will be dictated somewhat by the development software and hardware you have available, but the output it should be compatible with your intended audience. This will require research and possibly technical help. Video elements are the most likely to fail due to technical specifications. And just because a video runs well on your computer doesn’t mean it will on others. That said, if you can master the technicalities, video can really lift your courseware.
Should I include a knowledge assessment?
Yes. This is really valuable, but you don’t want just a cold test at the end of the content. Remember the interactions we talked about? Think of them as individual learning objective assessments. They don’t necessarily need to contribute to a final grade, but they should provide feedback to the learner on how well they are doing throughout the course. Try to make these assessments meaningful and seated in the real world as much as possible. Short story questions are one way to achieve this. Now you can have a final graded assessment that presents all of the same learning objectives again, and hopefully, you’ve prepared your learner to answer everything correctly.