Imagine the worst elearning course you’ve ever taken. Mindlessly clicking ‘next’, eyes glazing over at neverending paragraphs… We’ve all been there. It’s no wonder digital learning can have a bad rep, but good elearning is easy when you know how – and to help, we’ll show the top 3 mistakes to avoid.
Good elearning design has the power to transform L&D within a business. Engaging courses will spark real behavior change, boost skills acquisition, and empower learners to own their development.
So why the bad rep? Obviously, no one sets out to create a bad elearning course. But behind every text-heavy, locked down, uninspiring course is a story – one of pressing deadlines, content overload from well-meaning SMEs, or an elearning author unsure about where to begin.
In this blog, we’ll highlight the most common mistakes people make when designing elearning – and show you how to turn them around.
First, what do we mean by elearning?
Elearning is an interactive digital course that helps train learners in a subject. It’s often created using an authoring tool like Elucidat. We’re not talking about PowerPoints or PDFs here – though face-to-face training slides and policy documents do often serve as source content. So it’s little wonder that, when faced with an intimidatingly long PDF about anti-money laundering or 100 slides on data protection, mistakes can start to creep in.
When time is tight, the temptation to simply recreate the source content ‘as is’ with an authoring tool is high. But every different medium requires a different approach to ensure it’s effective – plus it’s also a great opportunity to improve upon what you already have!
Whether you’re short on time, overwhelmed with source content, or just a bit unsure where to begin, we’ve got tips to help ease the journey.
Want to make sure you’re designing good elearning? Here are our 3 elearning content nightmares to avoid.
Mistake #1: Content overload!
It’s a classic learning design problem: you’ve got a lengthy document full of compliance regulations, and the SME is keen for it all to go into the elearning. So in it goes – and all too often a text-heavy, overwhelming course is the outcome. Long paragraphs of text are tiring to read, difficult to scan for key points, and often too presentational to count as real learning.
As important as all that content might feel, if the learner’s not taking any of it in, is it really a valuable learning experience?
How to avoid the mistake
First, consider if all of this content is really necessary? When reviewing source content, map out the must-haves – the stuff that will help learners in real life – versus the nice-to-haves. If the latter, can it be linked to as a resource for further reading instead?
If possible, work with your SME on this step so you can get their buy-in for a more condensed version of the content. The first two stages of our 5C framework – Capture and Conceptualize – will help you with this.
Once you’ve worked out what to include, the next step is to break up lengthier pieces of text into easy-to-digest chunks. There are several ways you can do this:
- Use visual styling to break text into manageable bites. In this process example, different colored backgrounds help to visually group content into clear sections.
- Use interactions – like the timeline below – to break content down into manageable stages of images and text, along with easy-to-scan headings.
- Use a menu to divide a longer course into shorter topics, as shown in the in-depth cybersecurity example below (one of our Learning Accelerator blueprints). This also gives learners the flexibility of taking the course at their own pace, with the ability to dip in and out of topics rather than work through a longer module in one go.
- Use headings and bold text to highlight key points, making it easier for the learner to pick up on them while reading.
Mistake #2: Irrelevant content
Sometimes courses need to be rolled out to large groups of learners at a time – which means catering for multiple roles and experience levels (or trying to!). Annual compliance training is a common example. But all too often the same course experience is rolled out to all, regardless of the fact that more experienced employees will have prior knowledge. Forcing these learners to work through content in the same way as newer staff is a recipe for frustration – and a waste of time for both the learner and the business.
And then there’s different roles. Do some points in your content only apply to senior roles or specific departments? Would role-specific scenarios be more useful than generic ones? While irrelevant content is frustrating, serving up truly relevant content can be a game changer for engagement and learner time.
How to avoid the mistake
Put the learner’s needs front and center by tailoring the experience:
- Adding a role selector will enable you to create a course that is personalized to the content needs of specific roles. In this policy course example the role the learner chooses in an upfront profiling question dictates which topics are shown. No time wasted on sifting through irrelevant content!
- Using an adaptive pre-test design lets you cater for different experience levels by only serving up content where there are gaps in knowledge (making this a great choice for things like annual compliance training).
This pre-test example starts by asking the learner to prove their existing knowledge in a series of test questions. If they pass with flying colors, then their learning ends there – they’ve proved they have the knowledge and won’t need to view any content.
If they get one or more questions wrong they’re taken to a menu, with the topics revealed on the menu tied to the questions that were failed. Learners view topics for the subjects they struggled with in the test before attempting it again.
Mistake #3: Avoiding application
Good elearning will always help learners to do something, not just know something. But weaving application into a module that started life as a dry, presentational document takes a bit of extra time and effort (and perhaps input from SMEs). It can be tempting to leave out application when deadlines are looming. But the extra effort is worth it, as application is what really transforms a module from content to learning content.
The most common way authors make this mistake is testing the learner’s ability to remember what they’ve read, rather than apply what they’ve learnt. For example, getting learners to define an acronym like ‘GDPR’. Does knowing what those letters spell out really help the learner to apply the rules? Or would it be more helpful to ask them what action to take if they were in a situation where GDPR applies?
How to avoid the mistake
When designing your course, always bring it back to the learner. What do they need to be able to do after this elearning, and why should they care about it?
Here are some simple ways to build application into your elearning:
- Show why the subject is relevant to their role by letting learners know ‘what’s in it for me’. This can easily be achieved with an engaging title page, like the one used in this compliance process example. It uses an emotive fact-based question at the start to hook learners in, demonstrating the importance of the subject and giving them a reason to care about learning more.
- Show how the subject can be applied in real life by weaving scenarios throughout your content – and especially in your test questions. This compliance test example uses scenario-based questions only. This ensures a robust assessment that is meaningful and useful for the learner, helping them to practice with situations they’re likely to encounter in real life, rather than just remembering what they read a few minutes earlier.
Take it further
Want some extra support with creating good elearning? Elucidat’s Professional Services team are on hand. From strategy workshops that help you define what ‘good’ looks like to project-specific advice, our team of consultants offer a range of services to empower your learning teams and set them up for success.
Our Learning Accelerator templates are another great way to set your elearning design approach off in the right direction. Our range of 20+ elearning blueprints act as a starting point that you can build courses from, with the flexibility to adapt to your brand and specific content.