The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for January, 2021


subject matter expert e-learning

Good news! It’s easier than ever to “build” e-learning. And because of this, subject matter experts build a lot of e-learning courses. This makes sense for a lot of reasons.

Subject matter experts have experience and depth of knowledge. They’re close to the subject and can keep things from becoming muddled by not involving a complicated production process or bringing on others who may confuse things. Training specialists (for all our good intentions) can complicate things and that’s not always good for the speed of business.

However, subject matter experts can often be too close to the content. It’s easy to forget that it took years to attain their expertise and that may not factor into what it takes for a new person to learn. Also, to a subject matter expert, everything is important. And not having an outside perspective means that the course may be too heavy on content that is irrelevant and not appropriate for the learning activities.

So where does a subject matter expert turn to build an effective course?

Content Doesn’t Equal Training

It’s common for subject matter experts (and organizations) to see everything as a content deficiency; and the solution is to build courses that require exposure to the content.

Putting content into a “course” doesn’t make it a course. Also, a lot of content in e-learning courses already exists in PDFs, websites, and other collateral.

How does copying and pasting it into a new medium make it better?

Not Everything Needs Training

“People are making this mistake.” Build a course.

“We have a new software program.” Build a course.

“Our customers aren’t happy.” Build a course.

“Here’s what they need to know about our organization.” Build a course.

Training works when focused on meaningful change that is measured through some sort of activity. Whatever deficiencies exist in not meeting the objectives may be caused by issues not related to training.

Some common issues that create gaps are poor management and communication in the organization. These things impact motivation. And they’re not easily solved by training. Other issues are environmental: perhaps the employees don’t have access to the right resources or technology.

Customers may be unhappy with things outside of the employee’s reach such as policies, sitting on hold forever, or the way ecommerce works. Those are also things not resolved with training.

Information vs Performance

Not all courses are the same. Some courses are informational where all that is required is exposure to the information (and perhaps a quick quiz).

Other courses are tied to performance expectations. These courses need better analysis and the right types of content and activities to ensure that skills are acquired and demonstrated by the learner. Looking at screens of bullet points will not help.

How to Build Successful E-Learning

Determine the learning objectives and how success is measured. The default for many organizations is to repackage content. But that’s not learning. Learning involves being able to use the content to make real-world decisions that meet the learning objectives.

Assuming the course is performance-based, focus on the required activities and not on the content. What do you want the person to do? Build the training around that. And the content supports getting there.

There’s a lot more to be said. But if you’re just getting started, focus on the action and what the person needs to DO. If there’s no action, that means it probably doesn’t need to be a course and perhaps a job aid is all that is required.

Bonus: here’s a good checklist when starting your course.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

 




I was chatting with someone recently who was complaining that the organization’s e-learning courses weren’t successful. After some conversation, it turns out that the courses were mostly information-based courses. The organization did a great job pulling content together, but outside of the content (and some nice looking slides) there wasn’t much to the courses.

We talked a bit more about what it takes for a training course to be successful.

Successful Training Defines Success

There are different reasons why organizations create e-learning courses. And with that, the measure of success various. Many courses have no performance expectations tied to their e-learning courses. They’re mostly information that needs to be shared for one reason or another. And often the learner has no control over whether or not to take the course because they’re mandatory (and usually not relevant or applicable to the learner).

That’s why I usually sort courses into one of two buckets: information or performance. A course without performance expectations has fuzzy metrics and no clear understanding of success.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - successful training means performance versus information

Another consideration is the before and after gap. The learner (or organization) is at point X and I need to get them to point Y. For this to happen, I need to understand the difference between X and Y and why the learner isn’t currently at Y.

Why is there a gap? Sometimes the gap is training-related, but often it isn’t. It doesn’t help to build training to close a gap that isn’t cause by a deficiency in training. The challenge is getting your client or subject matter expert to see that.

For this post, we’ll assume that the course you’re building has clearly defined performance goals.

Successful Training Needs the Right Content

Successful training focuses on the right content to meet specific goals. We usually have plenty of content. If you have a problem I have some information to help. That’s good. However, sometimes we have too much information and the gap in training usually isn’t lack of information, especially in this day and age of instant access to everything.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - successful training means getting rid of excess content

What are the objectives and what do they need to be able to do to meet them? And what information do they need to know to be able to do what they need to do? That’s the content you need. Of course, the challenge is getting your client to see that they don’t need all 300 PowerPoint slides in the course.

Successful Training Provides Practice & Feedback

Having the right content is part of it, but for people to learn they need to practice applying what they learn in the course to relevant situations. How will they use the learning at work and when?

I see a lot of courses that skip relevant practice activities and use simple multiple choice quizzes. In some cases, simple quiz questions work, especially when they’re built around a case study. However, they usually don’t do more than assess the person’s recall of the content. And for performance-related courses, this is not adequate.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - successful training means focusing on performance and action

When you do create the activities keep in mind that they can be inside or outside of the course. I’ve worked on projects where we streamlined the presentation of information in an e-learning module and then built practice activities with peer coaches on the floor. In either case, successful training focuses on relevant practice activities. Remember: Tell, Show, Do, Practice & Review!

Successful Training Demonstrates Understanding & Skills

The ultimate goal of the course shouldn’t be completion. Instead it’s learner’s ability to meet the organization’s performance goals. The course is just a means to get them to that point. Again, we’re trying to span that gap from X to Y.

The goal is to get them to demonstrate their understanding & skills related to the training. We do this by focusing on relevant content and getting them to practice applying what they learn to real world situations. Then we provide the feedback that helps them make the appropriate adjustments.

One serious challenge many of us have is that success is define by course completion and an end-of-year report from the learning management system. Of course we want people to complete the course. But a completed course means little if the organization isn’t meeting its goals. We need changed behavior or improved performance.

Often this is difficult for those of us who build e-learning courses because we don’t have access to the metrics or level of management to really know if what we build has been effective. In that case here are two pieces of advice:

  • Get a seat at the table. Don’t sit passively taking e-learning orders. Learn more about the organization’s objectives and be proactive in finding ways to use your skills to help them get there. You’ll be seen as an ally and have some influence on training expectations.
  • Measure what you can. If you don’t have access to performance metrics, you need to find other ways to measure how what you’re doing contributes to success. You may contribute by lower production costs or asynchronous access to the content (which lowers travel costs and create more flexible learning opportunities). Build relevant practice activities so you can at least state that during the practice activities the learner demonstrated understanding and skills required for success.

Successful Training Includes Successful Learners

You can build a great course, but you can’t control the person taking the course. Their motivation and commitment to the course plays a big role in your success. While you can’t control their motivation and attitude there are things you can do to frame a perspective of the course that is more beneficial. Here are a few:

Obviously there are a lot more things you can do. The key point is that while you can’t control the person’s disposition towards the course, you can influence it in how it’s built and presented to them. Ultimately, the goal is that they can apply what they’re learning to the real world and demonstrate their understanding and changed behavior.

The e-learning courses we build are only one part of what makes successful training. It also requires crafting objectives tied to real performance expectations and creating courses that are interesting, and engaging, as well as effective.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to create successful e-learning?

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

 




good bad e-learning

I see a lot of e-learning courses and to be honest many of them are not as good as they could be. They tend to be what we anticipate from corporate e-learning: screen after screen of content with lots of next buttons and then a final quiz. You have to work with what you have. Sometimes the training content isn’t good (like the leads from Mitch and Murray) and you can’t do much with it. But often, when it comes to the content, what could be interactive is static; and what could look engaging, looks discordant.

Why? Here are a couple of reasons why that’s the case with some recommendations to make improvements.

E-Learning Designers Lack Technical Skills

Good news: e-learning software makes it easy to build courses. Virtually anyone can build a course. However, the software doesn’t “build” the course. That requires some skill.

There’s a lot that goes into crafting a good course and it requires multiple disciplines. Instructional design is different than programming which is different than visual design which is even more different than specific software expertise with e-learning tools such as Storyline 360. However, many organizations buy the easy-to-use software and then place the burden on a single person to have a broad range of skills that could, in their own right, be separate career paths. That’s a big burden.

We’re not all graphic designers and UX experts, which explains some of the discordant aspects of the course. But we can learn the basics of the skills we need and that helps clean things up and lets us know when we’re outside our skillset.

Solution:

  • Instructional design is not pushing content. It’s about teaching. Make the content relevant and frame it around real-world decision-making and you’ll create a better learning experience.
  • Develop a solid foundation of basic skills needed to craft a good course: things like instructional & visual design, etc. You won’t become a pro in all things, but you’ll learn enough to know the difference and what to look for in your course design; and know when to bring on experts to do the things you can’t.
  • Stay in your lane. For example, if you don’t have strong visual design skills, don’t try to be a visual designer. That’s when things start to look a bit clunky. In those cases, stick with a simple template or use form-based Rise 360 over Storyline 360 because you won’t have to make as many design decisions and the course will look good and work well.

Companies Don’t Invest in the Resources

Companies spend what they need to meet their business objectives. A lot of e-learning is compliance training where the only objective is to get the course in front of people and verified by the end of the year. In that world, it doesn’t make sense to spend more than you need in time and money to get courses developed and delivered. And that’s why so many e-learning courses aren’t interesting or engaging.

However, if you want to build good courses, you must commit to that and invest the right resources.

Solution:

  • Determine what type of course you’re building to better allocate resources. Generally, courses are one of two types: explainer courses or performance-based courses. Don’t overbuild a course that has no expectations but a certificate of completion. Save your resources for performance-based courses with clear, measurable objectives. They tend to require more production which takes more time and money.
  • Understand what resources you need. E-learning software is one thing. Building a good course with it is something different. Do you need a designer to help produce the core structure and some templates? Do you need a graphics person? Are you looking for some custom programming or a specific type of interactivity that requires advanced skills? Figure that out and plan on it.
  • Create a budget to pay for what you need. Many organizations just buy the software and leave it at that. But it takes more than software to build effective e-learning. And like any useful product, it requires the right investment. Propose a budget for your courses.

There are a lot of other ways to improve e-learning courses. But making an investment in skills and resources is a good place to start.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

 




e-learning portfolio tips

In recent posts, we discussed why you need a portfolio for personal development and to manage your professional career. The obvious next question is what tools and resources should I use to build a portfolio?

What Goes in the E-Learning Portfolio?

The portfolio represents your skills and expertise. You need to decide if you want the portfolio to be static where you only do occasional maintenance and updates. Or do you want a site that’s more dynamic and continually updating?

Things worth adding to your portfolio:

  • Small, bite-sized interaction and activities
  • How you assess your learners
  • Novel learning experiences
  • Snippets of interesting instructional design (not the whole course)
  • Diverse training content: scenarios, softskills, compliance, and technical training

Where is the E-Learning Portfolio Hosted?

This sort of depends on your technical skills and how much time you have. There are a lot of easy-to-use sites like Wix or Squarespace. Or you can build and manage your own site. There are also some portfolio sites designed to showcase projects.

Easy to Use & Professional Portfolio Sites

You can find dozens of portfolio sites on the Internet. Most of them are designed for people who have images or videos. They don’t seem to have any that cater to interactive content, especially e-learning courses. These sites are good for static portfolios that aren’t updated a lot. You’ll need images, screenshots, and maybe videos of your project.

Free Accounts

Popular Paid Accounts

Whether you use one of the portfolio sites or a no-programming site like Wix, you need to recognize that there are some limitations and you can’t host your courses on those sites. You’ll need something like Articulate Review (part of your subscription) or Amazon S3 to host the course and provide a URL link you can insert in the portfolio. Here’s a post on how to host a course on Amazon S3.

Custom Portfolio Sites

The other option is to create a site that you manage and update. Some people go with a traditional website. This gives you the most freedom, but also requires a bit more work. Some people go with a WordPress blog (not the free one).

The cost for these sites is nominal. Personally, I think considering the freedom and custom options, it’s a better choice to own your site and control how to add media and content.

Purchase Your Own Domain

If you want to maintain your personal brand, it’s a good idea to purchase your own domain. It looks more professional and you get an email account to go with it. Having a custom email always looks better than using one of those ones from a public email service.

e-learning portfolio domain

Here are a few portfolios to review and see how they approached the custom domain. You’ll notice that some went with their names and some created a business name. Either way works, it just depends on your needs.

So those are your main considerations:

  • Content
  • Update frequency
  • Hosting
  • Domain name

Do you have a work portfolio you’d like to share? If so, put a link in the comments section. Let us know what you do to show off your skills.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

 




dangerous e-learning

When people talk about effective e-learning it’s usually around meeting performance objectives. Many take the position that any e-learning course that isn’t performance-based is wrong; and inevitably, you run into a lot of lamenting about the dangers of click-and-read e-learning.

First off, is a click-and-read course really “dangerous?”

I think swimming in shark-infested waters is dangerous. Clicking a series of next buttons is not the same level of danger (unless that next button was connected to the 108-minute countdown timer in Lost).

Granted there are some bad e-learning courses, but that’s not because they’re click-and-read. It’s mostly because they’re not designed well. An e-learning course is a tool in the learning process.  Sometimes it’s the only tool and sometimes it’s one of many. And how it’s used is of most importance.

E-Learning Only

When the e-learning course is the only tool used in the learning process, then it makes sense to ensure that the course contains a more dynamic learning experience and avoids the typical linear, click-and-read structure that only presents content and no activities to support learning.

This is where most of the complaints about bad e-learning originate. The e-learning courses have actionable objectives and thus should contain activities designed to practice and prove competency. However, they don’t. And if the content-heavy e-learning course is the only tool used in the training to meet the performance objective it’s a waste of time and won’t do what it’s supposed to do.

E-Learning Plus

The other day I was talking to a group of students about some classes they were taking for an e-learning certificate.  I asked what they did in the class. Guess what? They had to read a bunch of instructional design books. I yawned and said, “That’s so boring you won’t learn anything.” Books are literal page-turners. They’re old-school click-and-read learning.

Joking aside, a book is almost all content with no performance-based activity. However, that doesn’t make the book useless because it’s usually not the only part of the training program. In addition to reading, the students did reflective writing assignments, had group discussions, and then practiced applying what they learned in various projects.

In that sense it is ridiculous to suggest that because the book offered no interactivity, it was useless or boring. And the same can be said about click-and-read e-learning courses. The course is a resource that aids in learning. If it’s only content yet tied to actionable objectives, it needs to be coupled with other activities outside the course.

In previous projects I’ve used the e-learning course as a pre-meeting activity prior to face-to-face instruction. It allowed us to deliver the content consistently and gave the person freedom to go through it at their own speed and leisure. And then they came to our sessions at a point where we could do a quick review and jump into practice activities.

On another project, a lot of the core information was previously delivered in a loud production environment by various people who may not have been as motivated to stay on script. We separated the onboarding content from the hands-on activities. The onboarding content was delivered via e-learning. They learned about the production environment, the organization’s safety focus, and the machines they would be using. And then we sent them to the floor to work in a hands-on environment.

In both instances, the courses were mostly linear content with a few simple quiz questions. By themselves they were deficient. However, when the content was coupled with real-world activities it was part of a successful and effective training program.

And that’s how e-learning courses should be judged. If a training program has performance expectations with actionable objectives and it uses e-learning, then the course by itself needs to be more than content with appropriate assessment activities or the course needs to be coupled with real-world practice activities.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.