The Rapid Elearning Blog

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning success depends on what you do before and after

Many of us take a Field of Dreams approach to elearning.  If we build it, they will learn.  But the reality is that elearning is just an event in the timeline of learning and not the entire learning process.  And in some ways, the elearning course is an intrusion on the person’s natural learning process.  Because of this, we want to make sure that the investment we make in elearning produces the results we desire.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning courses intrude on the natural learning process

Sure enough, the elearning course is important because it can compress time and save resources.  But the reality is that most of a person’s learning happens in the time before and after the elearning course.  We looked at this briefly in a previous post, Ignore This Post If You Don’t Care About Effective Learning.

In today’s post I want to look at some things to consider before and after you build your elearning course.  We’ll look at three core parts of the process.

  • Motivated to Learn: How do you get people interested in what you have to offer?
  • The E-Learning Course: Design the right instruction, visuals, and interactivity.
  • Support Ongoing Learning: What happens the morning after?

1. Motivated to Learn

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - is there a reason why I should take this course

The elearning course is going to stick if the learners are motivated to learn.  If they’re not, then odds are that while they complete the course, they’ll walk away from it without having learned much.  There’s a lot that can be written about what motivates learners—definitely a lot more than I can cover in a simple blog post.  But for today, we’ll touch on a few ideas to help you get started.

  • Is this course relevant to the learners?  If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you’ll know that this is a common question.  Relevance is the key to effective and engaging elearning.  You can forego some of the bells and whistles (and even interactivity) if the content of the course is relevant to the learners. Think about the last time you needed to learn something and did a search online.  Some sites probably just had text and images, and some may have offered more interactive media.  In either case, the main point of engagement was relevance.  Was the site providing what you needed to learn?  You probably didn’t stick around long if the site didn’t offer what you needed.
  • Is this course practical? I’ve worked on courses where the client had grand notions of what should be taught, but was completely disconnected from the learner’s real world and how they used the information.  In fact, I once built a course (brilliantly designed by the way) that ended up requiring the learners to spend hours in pre-work.  They all complained about how long it took and how pointless the activities were (my fault). A brilliant course is only brilliant if it works.  Learn about your learners and build courses that make sense to them and their world. 
  • How long is this going to take? I get lots of links to YouTube videos and other sites.  The first thing I do is look at how long it is.  If it’s less than two minutes, I’ll probably click on the link.  Any longer than that and I’ve already decided it’s a waste of time.  Guess what?  Your learners probably do the same thing.  They’re mentally doing a cost-benefit analysis.  They want to know what type of commitment they have to make prior to taking the course.  And they also want to understand what value they get.  Can you provide that to them before they click next?

2. The E-Learning Course

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - am I designing the right look and feel for the elearning course

Elearning course design has three core parts.  You design the content, the look and feel, and the interactivity.

  • What content needs to be in the course?  There’s always more than enough content for most elearning courses.  The challenge is usually figuring out what to get rid of more so than what to put it.  I like Cathy Moore’s action mapping process.  She does a great job helping you figure out how to make relevant courses without too much extra information.  You can also manage the content better if you find ways to get the learners to pull what they need
  • What should the course look like?  The visual design of your course is multifaceted.  You want a course that looks good.  But you need more than a great looking course.  It also needs to visually communicate the context of your content.  Focus on solid instructional design, but don’t neglect the aesthetic of the course.  And remember, visual communication is an important part of instructional design when you work with a visual medium.
  • What is the learner supposed to do with the content?  You go through this process of building an elearning course and the ultimate question for the learner is, “So what?”  How can you design the course so the learner has to use the content?  You want them to interact with the course.  In an ideal world, they get information, reflect on it, and practice using it all inside the course.  This allows them to collect feedback and make the adjustments critical to the learning process.

3. Support Ongoing Learning

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - make sure to provide ongoing performance support if you want the course to succeed

One of the biggest downfalls to elearning is the lack of support after the fact.  I saw a study once that showed about 90% of the course budget was committed to the design and implementation of the course.  Little was left over for post elearning support.

If you want the course to be successful, you need to consider what happens once the course is completed.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Get the managers involved.  They should do more than just forward a link to complete a course prior to December 31.  Use the course as an opportunity for managers to coach their employees.  For example, if someone takes a course on leading effective meetings, that’s probably a good time for the manager to assign some meetings to that person to see how well they do.  She can then assess their understanding and provide ongoing feedback in a meaningful context.
  • Leverage your organization’s social media technology. We don’t just learn t
    hrough official channels.  We learn from peers, managers, and customers.  The problem is that many times this learning is lost to the organization.  However, if you can create a shared practice community (or find other ways for people to regularly connect and share what they know) there’s a good chance that the learning continues and remains for others to benefit.
  • Provide quick bursts of refresher training.  People will remember more if you space out some of the learning.  You can provide little follow-up sessions to the course where they get refresher content.  I once designed a course for project managers.  After the elearning course, we sent out a series of planned emails.  They included some quick scenarios which they had to solve and then discuss with their managers.  This helped them retain the information and it also gave them an opportunity to dialogue with their managers.
  • Don’t lock the course behind the LMS.  Elearning’s not cheap.  The courses created are great resources but often are locked into the learning management system.  Many times, you only get one shot at the course.  Once you pass, it’s no longer available.  If your system doesn’t provide access to the course after completing it, perhaps it makes sense to also make the course available somewhere else, like in a resource library.

Learning is a complex process.  An elearning course is an important part or the process, but it isn’t the entire process.  The secret to elearning success is to know how to tap into the learner’s need for the course content, to build the right type of course, and then to ensure that you have ongoing performance support.

What do you see as some of the challenges in these three steps?  Share your thoughts here.


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37 responses to “You Want E-Learning Success, But Are You Prepared to Go All the Way?”

Dear Sir:

I would like to say that I find your comments on elearning to be worrisome, because they assume that elearning is about content transmission methods anddo not consider what constitutes effective learning.

Many of your basic assumptions are questionable. For example, “e-learning courses are an intrusion to how we learn naturally”.

This is true but makes formal learning sound rather silly…Is not all formal learning an ‘intrusion’ of sorts: using textbooks, blackboards, homework, formal classes, exams, for example? Is that not exactly distinguishes FORMAL from INFORMAL learning? That is what makes classroom or teacher-based/courseware FORMAL whereas experience-based learning (burning our hand on the hot stove) is called INFORMAL.

Your commitment to elearning (and all learning) seems sincere and I appreciate your thought and investment. Might this not be better served by considering “how people learn”, rather than positing “factory models” of instructional design?

You have a great following. I simply mean to raise some food for thought.

Thank you,
Linda Harasim

March 1st, 2011

Tom,

As always, great insights on how to make elearning more effective in an overall learning plan. Your suggestion on making courses available outside the LMS so it becomes a continuing resource is an important part of what we are trying to accomplish with our entry into elearning. Looking forward to seeing you at Learning Solutions.

Although all these considerations are very important, I think supporting ongoing learning is something that often is lacking. This is especially true when the e-learning program is created externally and the designers disappear after implementation and the L&D dept. did not consider ongoing support in their learning strategy.

I am guilty of it myself. For me, I am currently focusing more on leveraging SoMe (similar to your suggestion). Some things I am using are Twitter for a back channel and ongoing knowledge sharing among course participants, Intranet discussion boards and what is really helpful has been your Screenr.com site. I am using it for distributing additional content that we did not include in the initial course. Much of which we identified via evaluation and also requests from participants via ongoing support requests.

Thanks for the great tips.

Jeff

Tom and Jeff, great points on post learning support. It’s so easy to fire off some eLearning or face to face classes and then hope it works. I’m with Jeff on using Social Media to make this post learning support happen. I’ve been trying to do more of that and my greatest difficulty is getting others to participate. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to using social media for learning.

Supporting ongoing learning isn’t new to elearning, but with the buzz and (hopefully use!) of corporate social media technology, there are more efficient and effective ways to keep the learning top of mind. The Millinnials will be expecting blogs, text messages, and quick webinars to reinforce what they have already learned, as well as, to share how they are applying that learning to work situations.

Thanks for connecting this ongoing challenge with learning to the elearning world; maybe we now have the tools and the audience to do it well!!

March 1st, 2011

Locking everything in the LMS is a problem, but we do it because of security concerns.

We don’t use Sharepoint, so an article on ‘How to secure video content outside an LMS’ would be appreciated & would give me a way to propose a better/alternate way to share our e-content with only selected users.

Thanks for your consideration.

Hey Tom,

One of the big call outs in this post is the cost-benefit for the learner. The WIFM. I’m the same way whether it be length of a YouTube video, pages in a PDF, or a post that goes below the fold (except yours). 🙂

I’ll echo Jeff that I’m also guilty of post-eLearning support. The pace of corporate workplace training moves so fast that keeping up the demand alone is challenging enough let alone support and maintenance of published content. I don’t have any empirical data, but my guess is eLearning has a shelf life these days of 9-12 months at best. In our world anyway.

We don’t have a SoMe strategy nor the ability to implement one yet today, but we are exploring mobile as a performance support option. As we all know, eLearning is just a fraction of the learning process. A decade ago eLearning was the one-all-be-all training and we’ve learned that’s not the case – and shouldn’t be. Plus, 30-minute seat times are a thing of the past.

eLearning is one of several delivery mechanisms for the overall learning process.

Thanks for reminding me to “go all the way!”

I agree with some of the previous posters that post-course followup is definitely a necessity. One of the tools we sometimes use is an FAQ section on our Intranet. We will post a new FAQ block related to said training and answer questions as they come in. Since we post the questions and answers on the Intranet, all employees have access to them. Odds are if one person has a particular question someone else does too. Thanks for your great posts Tom!

@Linda: there are probably a lot more issues in this world to be worried about than my views on elearning. 🙂 All formal learning is an intrusion. That’s what makes instructional design so critical.

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March 1st, 2011

Manager involvement is a real key piece in the post-training puzzle. In my organization, we’ve lamented lack of manager reinforcement a good bit. But we haven’t really given them the tools to do that. To better equip them, we’re considering a pre-training manager communication that: 1) Let’s them know a course is about to be released, 2) Provides info on what front line staff provided input, 3) Gives them a course preview, and 4) Outlines some key points that they should reinforce with their staff after training.

We used to build our programs into 101 and 201. 101 = employee training, 201 = manager training. At the 201 level the manager managed training of the employees. They assessed needs and assigned the courses/programs. They then had to tie the training back to active use. This allowed them to develop management skills and learn to provide feedback to their staff. Thus the 101 trained the employee. 201 trained the managers.

March 1st, 2011

Since I’m currently taking a class on Educational Psychology, many of the tips and pointers you suggest bring me back to different thoughts in our text: Cognitive Psychology and Instruction. Part of learning-most of learning-is internal. But if we don’t exchange ideas with others, our internal learning remains stagnant.

Getting periodic feedback is useful to guide us to adaptive learning.

Hi everyone,

I am a self-taught eLearning developer and I have really enjoyed experimenting and employing many of the methods and techniques suggested in this blog.

By far, my biggest problem is convincing the SMEs that the new techniques will engage the viewers better than straight up power point or basic click through courses.

In this level of design everybody and their sister thinks that they have a color scheme or design concept that they want the developer to magically make functional and wonderful.

My Dad had the same problem in book publishing and I guess you just try to not let it get you down…

Keep the inspiration coming…

From a great admirer,

Julie.

The “on the ground” (in the office) piece of learning is critical.
I’ve taught postmasters in classrooms about dealing with the media when someone “goes postal” (fascinating role playing), written DOJ legally required elearning about money laundering and credated wine sales elearning for some of the world’s biggest hotel chains. Yes, a good mix…
What works:
1. The commitment of managers (which means many elearning courses must include a “pre-learning” course for managers.)
2. Honest needs assessment and post-training commitment by the client (can be difficult)
Probably the least important aspect to the client at contract time is whether it has a shelf life. So sad.
So push the contract. Create courses that can be parceled so pieces have a shelf life…(even wine) and live commitment.
As independent contractors, we are happy to recreate the wheel (ask us). But for corporate trainers, bring in mangers, make it modular, keep it simple and follow up.

March 1st, 2011

What a great overview of the issues I struggle with every day in developing self-study materials for our staff to learn various software/technical skills — issues which most other people (including my boss) don’t really seem to understand. That’s one of the reasons I love reading your blog because, for the time it takes to read and watch your examples, I am immersed in support for those issues. Thank you!

March 1st, 2011

Hi Tom – I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate your insights. Some posts for this topic highlight the difficulties associated with gaining approval and acceptance for elearning initiatives. This may be managed if we consider the ‘decision making’ processes associated with any important elearning project.

Stakeholders for most elearning projects, particularly with significant costs, will perhaps include: Someone who states a need, someone who will specify the requirements, someone who will design and propose a solution, someone who evalute the cost-benefit value and priority, someone who will agree with the requirements and authorise the work, someone who will organise and manage the elearning development, testing, acceptance and roll-out, someone who will use the material, someone who will assess the elearning outcomes and effectiveness. None of these folk will necessarily be the same person/people. These stakeholders can be internal to a company, external or a combination of the two. The above steps can be completed on the back of an envelope or within a formal business framework…it depends on the project. This becomes a recipe for delay, confusion and failed outcomes if it is not managed by the elearning developer.

No wonder some of your readers experience frustration. Along with being skilled elearning professionals, they also need to become savvy sales folk to get their projects underway. Just a thought.

Hi Tom,

Great Post Again!

I totally agree. However, my challenge (as a consulting) is that I have very little access to the learner. I am always dealing with the SME. Have you ever had this problem? I believe this is very prevalent in large companies where there are so many divisions of Learning Development. What I try to do is look at the courses that are currently on hand. I also try to listen to your average employee who has taken several e-learning courses –by getting to know individuals who sit around me. I usually get their take on a system or process. I ask questions like “what are you looking to learn about this new system?” or “what don’t you know about the system?” Then, I bring these points up in the SME meeting. You are definitely right about making the course relevant to the learner. This sometimes is a challenge when your SME is the pro and he/she thinks they know what the learners need to know. It sometimes doesn’t make any sense.

That’s my two cents worth! 🙂

March 3rd, 2011

Great comments!!
By the way, which font is that in the images above??

Ali

March 3rd, 2011

To those who mentioned that their LMS locks the course, I have used a possible workaround. I’ll often create one instance of the course that is “locked” in the LMS and participation is tracked – Once the user completes the file it can no longer be accessed. But then I create a second instance of the file and add “Review” onto the title, and keep this open and available for numerous attempts. It allows you to maintain your standard tracking, but still provide the file as a resource.

March 4th, 2011

Great post! I especially applaud #3 SUPPORT ONGOING LEARNING. To contribute, I have found that scenario based questions spaced out over time (week, month) have been effective in keeping my eLearning healthy. I have also used http://www.spaceded.com as a tool to supplement the ongoing learning and recommend Spaceded to others. Thanks for the inspiration! Fan since 2007, Dave.

Another great article, Tom. I agree with pretty much everything you suggest, except perhaps for the notion of not locking the course behind the LMS – or more to the point, making the course available somewhere else, like in a resource library.

I would instead recommend having the relevant information accessible in a structured form, eg in a wiki or on the intranet. Ideally the course will refer to that information and encourage the right behaviours in terms of ongoing reference and JIT learning.

To me, needing to go back to the course flags a deficiency in the organization’s knowledge management.

[…] You Want E-Learning Success, But Are You Prepared to Go All the Way? […]

@RyanL I see your point, but to me the course is a resource to augment the learning. If I go back to a text book used in class doesn’t mean the class was deficient. I think the same can be said for some elearning. The organization spent money to teach people, why not make the content available after the fact? Of course, it’s all dependent on the type of elearning.

Tom,

Excellent post! As someone who is into his second graduate level course pursuing an M.S. of Instructional Design and Technology I found several key elements in this post and comments. These various keys opened my eyes and mind to what my future studies and profession have in store. When you discussed “How long is this going to take?”, I found it is probably the most crucial element that we use wisely to get them started in the first place. I’ve taken speech courses along with other studies regarding “attention getting” but you’ve taken it to a new level here by discussing the length of the section as exampled by your Youtube inclinations.

You have explained what gets your attention or prompts you to move forward and it is vital to relate that back into instructional design and especially e-learning. I too avoid lengthy Youtube clips so your message is one that will stand out for me from some time to come. Something else I believe will continue to provide a challenge is the “instant” access phenomenon that the rise in technological innovation has created. The court systems have been overwhelmed with the “CSI effect” as jurors want that immediate proof right out of the Hollywood studios. Our emails are instantly acquired as are the vast majority of web pages so they will expect educational material to be the same. The political spectrum is another example as each election cycle and even in between we see voters becoming increasingly impatient as if they were expecting to cast a vote and “thou shalt receive”.

Tossing in your social media thoughts along with spacing the refresher lessons out are bang-on. Unfortunately for me an overwhelming feeling races over me in trying to wrap my head around exactly how very complex this system is and can yet be. There are so many aspects that can be utilized both alone and in conjunction with others to provide the best opportunity for a successful experience. I feel that any instructional design team that is capable of bringing all of these together should be considered top of their field.

Again, great article and great following you have. Thanks for providing this and I’ll check back in as my degree progresses to see what else you have to propel my own education forward.

The article has excellent points listed. For successful e-learning
the learner must be at ease and engaged by the learning materials. I have found at times the interest in not be kept by utlizing e-learning. One must be motivated and time must be allocated. When I first started the E-learning program I had technical problems where I did not know how to utilize programs or understand material that was provided by the instructor. Learners need that support and confidence to prevent dropouts.

@DMorris: good points

Tom,

While I agree with the main three points of your blog relevant to e-learning, I had to stop and wonder why you did not address the component of assessing learning. Do you think that if learners know they’re going to be assessed on the knowledge, skills, and/or abilities being presented, it would motivate them more? Less? Also, can you share your thoughts about the appropriateness of e-learning given certain tasks. That is, can anything be taught via e-learning? Or are there just some knowledge, skills, and abilities that are better taught with a live instructor (in-person or virtually)?

Overall, your post reminded me that if you build it, they may indeed not come. I’ve experienced this first-hand before … Much time and effort put into something that learners were simply not interested in utilizing. It’s a sobering reminder to take these factors into account when trying to develop learning for your learners.

THX
John

All of the presented points are valid considerations for development of effective elearning as they tie back to solid adult learning theories and instructional design principles. In response to the question on challenges I offer two comments as follows:

The discussion of items with supporting online learning –
The suggested “Leverage your organization’s social media technology” – the creation of a shared practice community is most relevant in current discussions since the opportunity for this avenue for continued learning is optimized by current technologies. A challenge that comes to the surface in the discussion of creating a blog space for learners to regularly connect and share what they have learned and its application is about the quantity of dedicated resources such an endeavor would require when functioning with already reduced staff numbers.

“Provide quick bursts of refresher training” a solid idea, in the context of providing professional education, this presents a challenge of following up with students after course completion when students quickly move on to their professional business activities. However the suggestion is valid as we explore providing mini refresher courses on individual concepts and skills as a means to fill that gap.

@JohnC: good question. It’s hard to cover everything in a simple blog post, but assessment is critical–not so much in scoring, but as a means to gauge the learner’s progress and provide the feedback they need and help them make adjustments. I like to get the managers involved and let them assess the progress. Personally, I’m less concerned about having a “score.”

On the other question, I see elearning courses like a text book. Sometimes they work by themselves and sometimes as a way to augment or expand other ways of learning.

Excellent article that gets at the nature of learning and how elearning fits into the picture!

I have for some time now been studying the whole phenomena of how people learn, change, grow and improve. What I have to offer from this is based on the work of Albert Bandura, Kurt Lewin and others. At one point I was so drowning in information that I stepped back and attempted to crystallize it all in a mnemonic or model. I came up with what I refer to as the 4M model of learning:

Motivators: We all need to know at the outset the answer to the question “why are they taking this training?” In some cases the motivation is external, such as “my boss told me to take it”.in other cases it’s internal, based on their values and beliefs. In the case of beliefs, there is considerable evidence available that self-efficacy beliefs play an extremely important role in terms of motivation to take the risks inherent in learning. Also necessary is the consideration as to whether the motivation is towards a goal (gain) or away from a problem (pain).

Models: We all learn vicariously, so the availability of good role models is essential to any learning effort, especially soft skills. Are role models accessible and not too far above the learner in terms of skill level (you won’t learn much from watching Tiger Woods if you are a complete novice!)?

Mentors: How willing and able is the learner’s boss to coach and mentor the learner, especially when they hit the speed bumps on their learning journey?

Mastery: How many in-the-field opportunities exist for mastering the new skills/competencies? Are feedback mechanisms available to correct performance? Even Tiger Woods has a coach who watches him play in tournaments!

Any type of classroom or online learning needs to fit into this model to be successful!

[…] courses are an intrusion to the natural learning process.  With good planning, it’s a welcome intrusion because we can compress time and create […]

[…] The E-Learning Course : Design the right instruction, visuals, and interactivity. Support Ongoing Learning : What happens the morning after? Motivated to Learn : How do you get people interested in what you have to offer? 1. Motivated to Learn You Want E-Learning Success, But Are You Prepared to Go All the Way? » The Rapid eLearning Blog […]