The Rapid Elearning Blog

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - meaningful elearning

When I meet people who aren’t in the elearning industry I usually ask them if they have to take elearning courses at work; and if so, what they think about them.  For today’s post, I’d like to address some of the more common issues I hear from those who have to take elearning courses and offer a few ideas on how to deal with them.

Is this course important?

To quote James Stockdale, “Who am I? Why am I taking this course?”

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - James Stockdale

Our industry talks a lot about creating engaging courses; and then we’ll offer up tips on building interactive scenarios and all of that.  That’s fine and dandy, but the best place to start when you want to create an engaging course is to make sure it’s relevant to the person taking it.

If a course is relevant to the learner, you’re more apt to tap into their own motivations for learning.  If it’s not relevant, it becomes a lot harder to keep their attention and make the learning stick.

The solution? Create courses that are learner-centric.  Focus less on dumping information on the learner and more on what information they need to do what it is they’re supposed to do.  Then help them figure out how to use the information.

What’s this course all about?

You’re asking people to invest some of their valuable time in the elearning course.  So they need a clear understanding of what the course is about, what they’re supposed to learn, and any expectations of them after the course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - mountain top guru

Conveying clear course objectives is critical and a good starting point.  With that said, it doesn’t mean you have to create a bullet list of objectives.  There are other ways to state the objectives of the course.

For example, you could challenge them to solve a problem prior to starting the course.  Not being able to solve it exposes their need to know more.  This then becomes the basis of explaining what the course is about and what they should learn from it.

You can frame the course from the perspective of what the world would be like without your valuable information.  Create an opening scene that demonstrates something negative that happens as a result of a lack of understanding—perhaps a workplace injury occurred…or a sale was lost.  It could be anything.  The main point is that there are more creative ways to state the course’s objectives without the standard objectives screen.

What’s my motivation?

A big concern when building elearning courses is that people just click through the course and don’t look at all of the screens.  So our solution tends to be that we lock the screen navigation.  This forces the person to see all of the valuable information and of course that causes them to learn everything they need to know.

Wrong.  When you think about it, the reason they’re just clicking through the course is probably because the course really means nothing to them.  So that takes us back to the first point: make sure the course is relevant.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - floating carrots

Something else to consider.  If the course included a free iPad upon 100% completion, my guess is that they’d have no problem being focused and meeting the course objectives.  That’s because there’s motivation to complete the course.

You can’t give an iPad to all of your learners (especially not an iPad 2), but you can identify what motivates them and then build courses that address those issues.  A motivate learner is one who will learn.

What’s motivating your learners?  Why would they want to take the course?  What do they get out of it?  Are you helping them do something better?

How do I know I’m done?

I recall a few years back I was showing a manager this really cool interactive scenario.  I was excited because it was one of the nicest elearning interactions we’d developed.  His response was, “We hate scenarios.”  The reason was because they just wanted to quickly get to the end of the course and get back to work.  This probably speaks to the first point again and ensuring that the course is relevant.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - are your learners lost?

Another complaint about the scenarios was that it took a lot longer to get the essential information and the scenarios made them unsure of their progress.  They felt like they were stuck in a labyrinth being taunted by David Bowie.

The solution for this is easy.  Let the learners know upfront what is expected and how long it will take to complete the course.  In addition, offer some sort of indication during the course of where they’re at.  I’ll also include that if you add interactive scenarios, they need to be meaningful and not waste their time.

What now?

What do you want the people to do when they’re done with the elearning course?  A common complaint is that people are forced to take elearning courses with no expectation for them to do something with what they just learned.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - now what

This is especially true when you get the November email telling you that there are twenty courses you need to take before the year’s end.  You take the courses and no one really cares what happens afterwards.

The other side of it is that you take a great course, learn some good stuff, but then don’t have a place to practice using it.  I’ve seen this quite a bit in places that roll out soft skills or management 101 type training.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Indicate a way for the learner to continue learning.  Direct them to additional resources or a shared practice community where they can build on what the elearning course taught.
  • Connect the managers to the course expectations.  It always confused me why the training group was more involved in employee development than the managers were.  We used to send the managers an update of who took a course and then provided some additional coaching tips so that their staff could continue to be developed.
  • Provide some handy cheat sheets or job aids they can use when they get back to the job.  Or ask them to design some to share with others.  This is a great way to assess their level of understanding.

There are a lot more things you can do that connects the course to the learner’s real world.  If you have some additional tips, feel free to
share them in the comments section.


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34 responses to “Here’s How to Make Your E-Learning Course Meaningful”

It is so interesting that what you have stated above is so much similar to the Gagne’s Nine Events (especially the last bullet point where you say “give the learner a job aid or a cheat sheet” – which is actually an example of “Enhance retention and tranfer to the job”.) I have experienced in my eLearning development years that religiously applying these nine events to any training gives very good results.

On another note, thanks to your blog, I am looking at eLearning and Instructional Designing in a new (and more interesting) light!

[…] Read the rest here: Here’s How to Make Your E-Learning Course Meaningful » The Rapid eLearning Blog […]

Great practical tips for designing our courses to be effective and meaningful! I especially like having the course objectives come from a problem to be solved. I was just speaking with a manager who needed a course to solve a departmental problem of tedious documentation. I didn’t want a “bullet list” of objectives in this course, but needed something to engage the learners from the start. The creativity and challenge of eLearning is why I enjoy my job, and thanks Tom, for your creativity in your posts and sharing such valuable info!

Great points, again. Right on target, again. The ideas of relevancy and motivation are key ones I try to stress with clients I work with. Too often, they succumb to the “if we build it they will come” mentality and create boring, laborious courses that couldn’t lure anyone away from YouTube if they tried.

I have used John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational design for years. Maybe because it’s an easy acronym to remember, but probably because it works. ARCS standards for Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Success. I used to teach music and discovered you can build “applause points” into a show. You can do the same with relevance and motivation in your eLearning, or any learning. You can find more information about the ARCS model online.

If I had a nickel for everytime a designer/developer said “But they need to that!” – No! No they don’t!

Haste makes eLearning waste.

Please proofread your work before you publish it. Have others proofread your work before you publish it. I quit reading this article after seeing errors.

Proofread and re-submit.
Thank you.

@Mike: I didn’t want to waste your time, so I added those errors. Need you to get back to creating cool cars. :).

Can anyone help me find an instructional designer who is experienced in using Articulate and who can facilitate a custom design session in Pittsburgh? Thanks very much.
Donna M. Bodnar
Ironwood Learning, LLC
412 596-4488

March 15th, 2011

Here’s another idea to keep learners engaged with the content after they have completed the learning event (eLearning, ILT, Webinar, etc.) Send mini scenarios or quiz questions via email or via your LMS (if you have that capibility.) It works well for refreshing your learner’s memory. Don’t forget to include links back to the original training if possible – they may go back and take it again if you can re-prove the valuse of the material!

March 15th, 2011

Excellent once again Tom, AND you included an image from the best TV series ever created!

Great post. I 100% believe that motivation is one issue the designers usually don’t consider about when they design the course, especially the ISDs in the goverment agencies, as myself…..
John Keller (my adviser) has a ARCS( Attention, Relevance, Confident, Satisfaction) model. I think it’s a great model which introduces the four dimensions of motivation.

I just want to thank you for this amazing tips! I´m working in a e-learning project and is very usefull to me this kind of info, because i´m not a teacher or trainer, but i´ll be for sure

Tom: Well said. I cannot stand screens that list the objectives – they immediately tell me I am in for a boring learning experience. We built a safety course a few years ago and listed the fatalities that had occurred from people that obviously had not been trained. They were mostly copies of the newspaper articles, obituaries, etc. – we said to ourselves “we need to get the learners to wake up and sit up straight”. On relevance, I have witnessed many times the disconnect that managers have with learning, and the disconnect that training people have from the business. This is mostly about leadership in an organization, but training people need to immerse themselves in the business constantly – not just wehen they are looking for SMEs or a couple of course ideas. Am a recent follower but a big fan! Thanks…Keith

March 17th, 2011

GREAT post, and great disucssion, led me to search out to a few really useful sites on design theory, this one (which includes a database of examples) I especially enjoyed. It’s a little vintage-90’s clunky, but the content is good!

@Eric: thanks for the link

When I do classroom training, I like to set a lightly humorous tone from the outset. I teach one course about a particular class of patient safety equipment. Near the start I say, “I know you are wondering why you have to take this class.” Then I read several names and ages and ask what they have in common. Answer: they all died from improper staff use of the ‘safety’ equipment. You can hear a pin hit the carpet!

Question: does that fall under objectives or motivation?


good elearning here…

i like the graphics and humor! kept me going w/ the reading.

I’m an internet marketer and go thru gobs of stuff from IM’ers teaching others online. Most of it flabs away what you teach here. meaning they bust the rules, blow it.

I’d like to get this in their hands… anyway:

What I do at the end is give 3 concrete and simple things to do:

1. is super easy doing
2. is something new and exciting
3. is a little challenging

no more than three, and of each type.

the third “challenging” thing can simply be write me back an email telling my your experience doing 1 and 2… which I occassionally add “and I have a gift for you. or I’ll give you a personal response… ” some floating carrot as you say.

all the best, here.

from Alaska

Your article is a good reminder to keep the end goal in mind; creating learning courses that produces learning. Unfortunately there are still a lot e-learning courses that are PowerPoint presentations titled as learning. Sticking to the basic principles of course design; relevant content, clear learning objectives, WIIFL (what’s in it for the learner), expected outcomes (what do I do with my new learning) and next steps should provide a meaningful learning course. I liked your approach of using creative learning objectives versus the bulleted list everyone expects and probably glosses over. Also, I think you make a good suggestion to include learner participation in simulations. I think we all agree if learners are not engaged, they will resort to clicking through to get to the finish line.

One area that you did not address is testing to see if learning occurred. What creative approach would you recommend (beyond standard testing or quizzes)?
Pam T. Harris
Candidate for MA TD/Roosevelt University

Your article is a good reminder to keep the end goal in mind; creating learning courses that produces learning. Unfortunately there are still a lot e-learning courses that are PowerPoint presentations titled as learning. Sticking to the basic principles of course design; relevant content, clear learning objectives, WIIFL (what’s in it for the learner), expected outcomes (what do I do with my new learning) and next steps should provide a meaningful learning course. I liked your approach of using creative learning objectives versus the bulleted list everyone expects and probably glosses over. Also, I think you make a good suggestion to include learner participation in simulations. I think we all agree if learners are not engaged, they will resort to clicking through to get to the finish line.

One area that you did not address is testing to see if learning occurred. What creative approach would you recommend (beyond standard testing or quizzes)?
Pam T. Harris
Candidate for MA TD/Roosevelt University

Personally I LOOOVE cheat sheets. They summarize the content and give the learner a tangible token of what they learned.

March 21st, 2011

Great article! Relevance and motivation are so important to effective design. To connect the learners to the real world, my suggestion is to have the learners create an action plan. This keeps the learning relevant after a specific learning event is done.

If the environment doesn’t support transfer of learning, what suggestions do you have to keep learners motivated and the learning self-directed?

@Pam: There are other posts where I talk a little more about assessments. I think the assessment doesn’t need to be a test. You can build the assessment as the learner progresses through the course. As they learn they advance.

[…] Tom Werner on March 22, 2011 Tom Kuhlmann makes the good point that it’s relevance, not interactivity, that makes a course […]

You bring up some good questions but I’m skeptical of some of your answers. For example, you cite the iPad as being a motivator to learning, but I have strong doubts that a gift will motivate people to learn – i see no correlation. I think the problem really boils down to people not caring (as you said) and also not actually doing any learning. You say ‘they learn lots of good stuff’ but do they really? I doubt it. Make people reflect in a meaningful way on what they’ve learned AFTER they have ‘learned’ – with follow-up analysis of their reflections from others – and you’ll get all the motivation you need.

I did very much like your idea of stating objectives by posing a PROBLEM to be solved. It would be interesting to see ways of doing this in an online course, for example, by creating a video or audio short, or possibly something more collaborative would be even more interesting.

You asked ‘Is the course important?’ and I was left wanting to know how you would make learner-centric courses. How do you know who your audience is and what they want/need, etc. Also, maybe you, as the expert, know what they need better than they do.

@Sage: if my boss gave me an iPad, I’m pretty sure I’d be motivated to do what needed to be done to get it. 🙂 I think the point is less about the iPad and more about the person having a vested interest in participating.

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This blog provides a detailed framework of the total school experience for elearners and also for elearning to be successful especially in regards to motivating elearners to be successful and for optimal learning to take place. It is critical for learners to be interested in the curriculum to process new information. Instructors can run into a variety of problems but making the elearning a meaningful experience is one of the most common. There is a relationship between higher student achievement and making learning an important part of a students life, motivating students to succeed, maintaining students interest and giving learners a guide as to what they should be doing after they complete the class or classes. By making the class more meaningful you are transforming information for the learner to make it more easier for the learner to understand, comprehend and apply to new situations as well. Despite behaviorism not being dominant or popular as it once was the theory still has some is valid with learning principles and this article mentions that if you were to give free ipods out to all learners then they would become more motivated. Behaviorism theory explains that learning is accomplished when a proper response is demonstrated following the presentation of the environmental stimulus ( Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 55).

These are the tips that I had been looking for a long time. Splendid TOM. You’ve captured the important components (showing the learner’s progress [how long?], introducing a situation to state the objectives clearly)that constitute a good e-learning course.

July 27th, 2011

I love the images you put in your blogs! Where do you find your photos to add speech bubbles to? What is the copy right for example on the photo of the one at the top? I would like to actually re-use that one if you would allow.

Thanks for considering!

[…] Relevance. Make sure the content is relevant and meaningful to the learner. […]

Thanks for very interesting article. It’s really important to motivate people to take the course. Of course the objectives must be clear for learners. But it’s also important to provide people with entertaining learning process. It must not be boring. The learning process must be media reach and colourful. I think for some people the possibility to share results with other people is also some kind of motivation. Even exams and tests must be diverting. Now I’m researching this niche and going to create my own on-line courses. Will use Joomla quiz deluxe tool. It claims to comprise all I need for quizzes and tests. I’m also thinking over to use online conferencing for you teaching activities. I will be grateful, if anyone can help with tips on usage of live conferences within a course.