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relevant e-learning courses

Earlier today, I got an email about a baby moose that was born in someone’s front yard. As I looked over the email, I noticed that the ads on the side were pushing baby showers and buying cute baby outfits.

By design these ads create relevant links based on the text of the email. In this case the links were not relevant and completely out of the context of the email I was reading. I don’t need cute baby outfits. So I just ignored the ads. That’s what happens when you just create ads oblivious to the needs of a real person.

There’s a lesson in here for those of us who design e-learning. Want your learners to learn? Then create relevant content. If not they’ll ignore what they see in the course. It all goes back to a point I was making in the last post about understanding the learner’s needs. To have the most impact, the course needs to be relevant to the learner. 

Don’t get caught trying to sell baby gifts to someone reading about a moose.

Three Ways to Make Your E-Learning Content Relevant

1. Spend time with the learners in their environment.

A while back, I worked on a course for machine operators in a production environment. Much of the job was loading and unloading a high-speed machine. After spending a few days on the floor talking to the machine operators, I found that the machine intimidated many of the new users. It was extremely large, fast, and noisy. On top of that, the new users were continually reminded of how expensive it was and to not mess up anything. This affected their performance.

I learned a lot talking to and observing the machine operators. Because of the time spent with them, we built the core part of the training around preventive maintenance on the machine. Before they learned to operate the machine, they learned to take it apart, clean it, and put it back together. By the time they started working on the machine, they were no longer intimidated. As a result we ended up cutting a 90-day training process down to less than 2 weeks.

2. Be a bridge between the content owner and the learner.

Typically, courses are built around the needs of the organization or content owner. Many times this happens oblivious to the learner’s needs. Part of your role is to blend the organization’s needs with the learner’s needs.

It’s important to get the learners involved in the development and design of the user training. Learners are able to build a context for the information. New learners are especially valuable because they can share recent experiences and insights while they are still fresh.

3. Put the content in context.

In face-to-face sessions, you can get a lot of mileage when you step away from a lecture format and allow people to work through scenario-based challenges. It keeps the information meaningful and the learners are motivated to learn.

You can do something similar with e-learning. Page after page of content is equal to an online lecture. Change things up. Create branched scenarios and real-world interactions where the learner gets to practice using the information in a way that is relevant to the real-world environment.

You don’t want your learners to tune out and discount the important courses that you build. If you get them involved and keep the content relevant, you’ll have engaged learners.

What are some things you do to keep your elearning courses relevant?

By the way, here’s that moose. Although, I opted not to throw a baby shower or buy it a new outfit.

does a moose need e-learning


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14 responses to “Instead of Relevant Content, Maybe All Your Learner Needs Is a Baby Shower”

August 15th, 2007

Tom – you have it exactly right here. We all too often forget about the power of relevancy. A good reminder.

August 15th, 2007

If there’s one takeaway here for me, it’s “get the learners involved.” I’ve been burned in the past when I’ve worked only with management. The learners are your reality check. Get them involved early and often!

Excellent points about context, and using scenarios and interactions to liven up the material.

Too often, my clients seem to think they can simply copy-and-paste entire manuals into PowerPoint presentations and that doing so somehow magically transforms them into e-learning courses. Even the best Instructional Designers need to understand the differences in the media and how learners respond in an online environment.

Thanks for making this point so clearly and concisely!

August 15th, 2007

When taking my pedagogical classes I learned that the most important think to keep in mind when teaching something is that it needs to be USEFULL for the learner. As you say Tom, get learners involve in their learning process is the most significant part of this process.

You ask “What are some things you do to keep your elearning courses relevant?”. Well, one thing I keep in mind is to produce materials that are coherent with the social context. I cannot think of teaching nutritional facts in a place where people die of starvation, for example.

Great point. A lot of learning is about context. So often, I’ve worked on elearning courses where I had no access to the end user. Needless to say, those weren’t very effective courses.

My company was awarded a pilot project on e-learning for about 2000 healthcare staff in Malaysia.The first complaint was the relevance of the subject matter since we had only 11 courses on-line. We had expected this response since the healthcare needs are as varied as the ailments they deal with. The only solution is to develop a set of basic courses for everyone first and then compliment it with speciality course later on. This would mean that we will end up with 300-400 courses on-line.

The other problem I am facing is that the customer has asked us to measure the improvements for a nationwide project. Having read Tom’s e-book, I’m at assured that I’m not the only one facing this problem. Help!

At my last organization we had a similar issue with having to roll out hundreds of courses quickly. We used PowerPoint as our authoring environment and published them with Articulate Presenter. The key is to develop an assembly line process in terms of creating the content. You might not get the most dynamic courses, but you do get them online. In retrospect, I’d use a tool like a wiki to develop the content. It speeds up the review and edit process. This gives you more time to build better learning around it.

Glad to help. Something else you might consider is how to bring in some sort of community forum into the training. This might help with relevance and adds an extra dimension. For example, part of the course could be an online module that is more traditional in design; another part could be an async conversation around a specific issue.

September 24th, 2007

Hi Tom.

I find this tips very usefull, congratulations!!!!!!

Thanks a lot

Claudia V

Thank you for the kind comments, Claudia.

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