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Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - training mistakes

One of the activities we do at my workshops is prototype an interactive e-learning module. I provide some generic content and their task is to do two things:

They spend about twenty minutes discussing ideas and then they share their ideas. It never ceases to amaze me how creative they are and what they’re able to produce within the limited time.

I find that there’s no shortage of clever ideas and creative people. However, that doesn’t always translate to the production of good e-learning courses. If we don’t lack creativity, why are there so many bad courses?

Limited Performance Expectations

Many courses only exist because of some legal or regulatory reason. They are not designed to change behaviors or performance. And the only expectation is that the organization’s staff completes the “training” by the end of the year.

In that environment, organizations are reluctant to commit resources to “training” that doesn’t do much to improve performance. And that makes sense.

When I first meet with a client, I try to distinguish the information type courses from those that require changes in performance. I want them to recognize what type of course they want and then commit the resources to meet their goals.

Unfortunately, we still have to build those compliance courses that have little impact to the organization. Here are some tips to help overcome the challenges when building compliance courses. Ultimately, I try to make them light and easy to take. Get the people in and out as fast as you can. And if possible, make the course interesting. A good story helps.

Limited Graphic Design Resources

Look at many of the award-winning courses. They’re not instructionally any more sophisticated than what the workshop participants design in our sessions. Usually the big difference is the way the course looks. The award winners or those types of courses have the resources to build nice looking courses.

However, many of the people I meet are stuck building courses with no graphic designers and limited to the free assets they can find online.

If I were to assemble an e-learning team, I’d value a graphic designer as much as I would an instructional designer. Also if 80% of what is built is compliance training, one of the best investments is to have a graphics person on staff who can make the courses look nice and visually cohesive.

No Budget for Course Design

I once worked at an organization where we were training tens of thousands of employees around the country. I was new to the organization and tried to get $80 to buy some images from a stock image site. Instead of giving me the money to buy the images, we had a team meeting with an executive manager who explained how we could save money using the images on some crappy CD she had at her desk. The organization spent about $2000 in meetings to save $80. This type of thing is typical for many training teams.

The lack of financial commitment to create effective e-learning is probably the single biggest issue I see in our industry. Organizations buy authoring software. But that’s just meets part of the need. They don’t always invest in training their staff and they rarely provide a budget to create e-learning courses.

Some of you get a budget when you build courses. But when I ask at my workshops, usually no hands go up. So if you don’t get a budget, start to ask for one. Perhaps the first time you only get $500. But the next time you get a little bit more. The key is to build the expectation that when a course is required that also means we need a little bit of money to make it happen.

If you have no performance expectations, no graphic design resources, and no budget you’re going to get the types of courses that are too common in our industry. What are some of your struggles with building better courses?


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11 responses to “Here’s How Many Organizations Ruin Their Online Training Courses”

SME’s that think the shot-gun approach to content is the best way and more time is spent fighting (discussing) what is not necessary. Then there is the issue of lack of urgency by same folks until it is part of their annual performance matrix.

As usual Tom your comments are spot on!

I run courses in Learning Design and Storyline and rarely find people with budget or support on the graphic design side.

They are usually really confident they can just use their in-house library of images until you start to discuss what they will actually need to design rich and interesting elearning. It’s always a lightbulb moment when I suggest they ask for a budget per module or at the very least beg for a couple of subscriptions to a few good download sites.

I think there’s a big skills gap between ID and development and that’s around design. That’s certainly where all my focus has been since starting to design in Storyline.

Storyline is the best tool in the world, but you still get a blank slide when you open it….thats why the community and your blog are so important!

January 27th, 2015

Tom, in this week’s post you address “compliance” courses that are required but don’t affect the bottom line. I work in Security, one of the functions that is required to provide training every year, and disagree that these courses should be designed to “get them out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible” (I’m paraphrasing).
If our employees don’t understand the imporatnce of Security we could be out of business tomorrow. If our employees think Security is the responsibility of the Security officer only, issues will go unreported that could result in catastrophe (the Navy Yard shooter is a great example of a situation where everyone who worked with the guy knew he had screws loose, but didn’t think it was their responsibility to report those issues).
Every compliance course I can think of is mandated because of significant events caused great harm. It’s up to the trainer to get the employees to understand why this is important – motivation (this is where stories and scenarios come in) – and provide the tools to do the right thing when a situation arises (content).

January 27th, 2015

BTW – the people responsible for the bottom line ask “why does the tranining take so long? The content is only 20 minutes worth.” If we present content without attempting to sell our product we are failing as trainers.

January 27th, 2015

I am a “one man shop” in a state government office so, no budget and no designer. However I’ve been doing it for some time and am self taught on design, have the training/education background and we are doing well with what we produce thanks to the internal support given by my agency.

When I need graphics – they often need to be ‘in-house’ to fit what needs to be presented and we have video cameras, still cameras and time/resources to make our own. My point being in some cases (such as mine) the support of the organization and willingness to work internally can overcome the lack of external cost items, a lack of dedicated budget or being short on creative staff. Thanks to the agency I work for and the people associated with training delivery we can put out an above ‘good’ product.

This article is one hundred percent true in the government contracts environment. As someone who has been developing online training since the early 2000s, I’ve never had a graphics designer as an integral part of the online training team as the development was for software training and management was of the mind that “why would we need a graphics person for online training when all we’re doing is showing how to use proprietary software?”

Eventually, after about six years, a decision was finally made to subscribe to a graphics library online which helped as we were always trying to find non-copyrighted, royalty-free images online which wasted a lot of man hours.

I see a lot of useful tools that make training more engaging for the adult learner (e.g. Prezi, Café Expresso, VideoScribe)but management can never see past the point of having to pay for it or convincing the government client it can be useful. Thus, we are developing training that simply shows “click here, tab there” and it does get boring as it’s not engaging to show abstract concepts in ways that aren’t stiffly presented beyond typical PowerPoint-like presentations.

In my experience, these tools are rarely, if ever, used in the government environment – usually cited are security concerns over the software (which is true in some cases where the tool needs to be used over an internet connection and the training is only on a VPN). However, most of the time it’s simply because nominal cost is seen as difficult to justify.

January 27th, 2015

Wow! So much of this rung true for me. And is a constant throughout my career as an ID (7+ years).
I love your comment about valuing GD’s just as much as ID’s and would love to work in an organisation that had both! Two very different skills sets with equally valued skills. I’m finding now organisations are wanting ID’s and GD’s to have that dual skill set, which I always find interesting because they are two very different areas of expertise.
Great read!

@Steve: I agree that many compliance courses are tied to real performance goals. In the context of site security, it may not be a daily performance requirement, but workplace safety is part of the expectation. However, there are a bunch of compliance courses that fall outside that and are mostly a waste of time or overbuilt for what the organization needs. That’s one of the reasons I added the link about drawing some distinction between the information and performance type courses.

Right on Tom! As young ID I have learn the importance on having to invest in training like you mention some organizations think authoring tools are enough which is not the case, it goes far beyond from graphics to LMS to IT etc. All those components are necessary to make training effective. Unfortunately some organizations don’t understand that or try to save as much money. I mean it can be very challenging for us.

Totally agree with you Tom. Working for a small health board in New Zealand, more and more of our training is going online. Our orientation training is a classic example of what you are talking about – far too much information and just Powerpoints uploaded in to Moodle. In our organisation we get our educators to make the courses which is totally the wrong way to go about it but we don’t have the human resource to dedicate to this. Frankly, I find it embarrassing putting courses up.

February 5th, 2015

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