building an e-learning course courses e-learning

Best Practices for e-learning and m-learning course building


The biggest challenge I believe facing the LMS/Learning Platform space from a course standpoint and content, is the quality.  It has to get better.  Yes, some is quite good, excellent in fact, but there is still way too much that is average, below average and even poor.

There are I believe a wide variety of factors that are a cause of this, and one I see right away is the failure of various authoring tool vendors to their new customers and/or customers who already have content and want to go e-learning, is the lack of education.  Sure, they educate them on the product, but overall do a very lackluster job on effective instructional design and best practice.

It has been a peeve of mine for a long time.  The conferences in our space (training and L&D) are all over the place.  It comes down the speaker as all know, and yes there is a certification opportunity at ATD with ID,  but many folks cannot afford it, and many are unaware.  I can’t tell you how good or not good it is, because well, I self-taught myself and never went their route.

Interview with Dr. Paul Schneider, ID guru

I reached out to Paul Schneider, Ph.D. with vast experience in Instructional Design. He is SVP of Business Development at dominKnow, the makers of the Claro authoring tool.

I have always found him to be a straight shooter, independent and extremely knowledgeable.  The interview is below.

Q:  I’m new at building e-learning courses.  What are a couple of best practices/tips, I should remember?

When determining what to put in your course, focus on the enabling objectives and don’t get lost in the high level “goals” or “objectives”.  Doing this will get you to the heart of what you want the learner to accomplish with your training.

Everything (test questions, practice, and content pages) you design should tie back to these enabling objectives. If you’ve never done this before, a good tip is write your test questions (even if you don’t want a test) first and then turn them around into your enabling objectives (a few word changes and you often have the key focus of what that person was to learn). For more on enabling objectives: http://thepeakperformancecenter.com/business/learning/business-training/learning-objectives/terminal-objectives/

Memorize this mantra, “A converted PowerPoint with audio reading the slides and forcing the learning to wait until the audio is done to advance is not effective e-learning.” Yeah its easy, and some tools encourage this approach, but it is also the fastest way to ensure your learners completely ignore your material. Yes I get calls asking why their HR department does this to them and how they completely ignore and let it run in the background or pay their kid to take it.

Budget significantly more time to build your course than you think.  There is a reason custom content “seems” so expensive and it is because these teams generally do a thorough job.  Also don’t aim for the stars on your first outing.  You will get better over time, just keep focusing on the next course or update being better than the last.

Q: We plan to hire a custom development shop to build our courses.  What are the top three tips you recommend we do, prior to signing a contract?

  1. Make sure you put a lot of thought into what you want the training to accomplish and cover before you seek assistance.  Understand your content and goals and how much training material you want to produce.  OR if you don’t want, pay someone to do the first steps for you.  It does not need to be the same person you hire to design and build your online course(s).
  2. If you have materials you know will be helpful in the course (media, PPTs, etc.) gather them all together and organize them in a way that someone new to your project can understand.  The more difficult you make it, the more cost or mistakes you’ll have from the team you hire.
  3. Look to existing e-learning content and examples. Start to identify the types of things you like and don’t like, but don’t get too caught up in the “whiz bang”.  Remember higher level of Interactivity and Media – higher the cost. Also while custom video is great – you get better learning (IMO) for your buck with engaging interactivity.

Q:  I want to publish to mobile.  What do you recommend as best practices?  

There is a lot of “hacks” and false promises about what best to do for mobile.  First off, make sure you create content that is truly responsive.

For an explanation of this here is a short responsive course (1 page!) that explains some differences: http://www.dominknow.com/samples/True_responsive/ (disclaimer dominKnow built this, but it was based on material you can find reinforced in many places). 

  • Think short. 

Short pieces can be delivered by themselves, they can be grouped together to form a searchable performance support knowledge base, they can be reused into that compliance piece that a new hire needs to take, and who knows – you might also be able to use it for customer education and marketing now that is a focused quick hit!

  • Scrolling is no longer bad.  We were told NO scrolling, but now with mobile everything is likely to have some scrolling. Also if content was related to a previous page, isn’t it easier to scroll up to it, then it is to page back and forth? Next, ask yourself, when was the last time a web page didn’t scroll or a web designer wanted something “above the fold” (old newspaper reference). I think those guys might be on to something.
  • While you might like narrated courses that read the page to you and don’t let you advance to the next screen until it is done reading, believe me you are in the minority. (The exception here is the “narration” is when building a course that is ADA 508 (which the UK follows).  Under ADA 508, you will include either a text transcript, text popups/clouds, anything that is narrated becomes text, in other words.)

When it comes to mobile, an animated screen, while possible often isn’t the best. I’m not saying don’t use audio when appropriate, but make it friendly for the device and often the screen real-estate doesn’t lend itself to this approach, so let’s all expand our horizons.

  • Drag and drop – hey it’s fun, it’s cool… at least until you have to drag something down a scrolling screen on a mobile device, scroll back up and repeat. Then it’s subtracting from my learning, not enhancing the experience. Switch it out for a drop down selection question or another design. You don’t have to eliminate this one, but use it sparingly and test it on your smartphone and remember just because it “works” doesn’t mean it is a good experience.
  • Embrace new design approaches.  The hardest thing for new mobile development users is switching up some design ideas and getting comfortable with the idea that I’m not working with a fixed canvas and exact positioning.  Don’t fret, it was really hard for web designers to change their approach too, but I’m sure you can find some gorgeous and helpful websites that are responsive, and you too can embrace that and new approaches to your content design.

Q:  We have a lot of courses that are not in any course standard and we are planning on buying an authoring tool.  What should we look for in picking an authoring tool?  Is it beneficial to have one that outputs to xAPI?

  • Ask yourself what are the key types of content and instruction I want to have developed in six months.  Then ask yourself if I had more time and more people, ideally what other aspects of training (performance support, customer and partner support, mobile devices, etc.)) would I want to have an impact on?
  • What is the business drivers behind training in your organization? How would a great training program accomplish these goals, what might it look like?  Yeah, but what does that have to do with authoring – well ultimately everything, knowing what are key drivers will help you pick the right solution. Most tools can do the basics, but depending on what you want to accomplish, certain tools are going to get you there faster.
  • Think how big your team is that will be developing content and where it will be in three years.  Certain tools strengths lie in enabling your team to function as a team and be more efficient.
  • Where will you be in three years for mobile. While most tools these days are mobile ready, the fundamental underlying approach to mobile are not all the same – see previous!
  • xAPI IS important. xAPI is what will enable you ask the big business questions and get the answers. If you are ready to start making that impact now, make sure your tool does more than just lip service to xAPI.  Good site to learn more: http://xapiquarterly.com/
  • Don’t just pick what your buddy over at company XYZ uses. Hey DO listen to what she/he has to say and understand WHY they like (or don’t like) that tool, but engage someone who has looked at a lot of tools, like Craig, to help you out. 

 Several months back, I did another interview with Paul on PENS (another course standard).

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