The Rapid Elearning Blog

Ever wonder what your learners really think of the courses you build?  We all would like to know.  But are we afraid of the truth?  Can we handle it?

A while back, I was sitting in my second office enjoying a fine Puget Sound Porter and talking shop with some friends.  Not being in the elearning industry, their perspective is a little different than mine.  I was asking about ways to make elearning more meaningful and engaging, and they just kept sharing one example after the other of things they can’t stand about the elearning courses they have to endure at their jobs.

Since then, I’ve made it a habit to ask people what they think about the elearning in their organizations.  What I find interesting is that many of them start with complaints rather than praise.  Some of the issues have to do with the organization and there’s not much that can be done at this end.  However, many of the issues are things that we can address.

Take a look at this quick mock up.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Hyperactive Hyperlinking Demo

Click here to see demo course.

The reality for many of learners is that they are taking the elearning course because they have to, and not necessarily because they want to.  For them, it’s a matter of getting in and out quickly and then back to work.  This is not a commentary on the quality of the course or its content.  It’s just that many elearning courses are compulsory and the person taking it isn’t motivated by learning the content.

Those people only want to see the essential information, take the required quiz, and get on with their lives.  They don’t want to be held hostage by a course that has them clicking all over the place.  Tell them what they need to know and let them go.

The same is true for the other group of learners who are taking the course because they want to.  While their motivation is different, they also want the course to be focused and a good use of their time.

In the demo above, I highlighted two sources of frustration for your learners.  The first is the continual hyperlinking to additional information which leaves the learners dazed and confused.  The other is using time-wasting branched interactions for obvious and simple information.

How to Avoid Wasting Your Learner’s Time

Don’t waste resources.  The first step is to realize the purpose of the course.  If it’s a compulsory course and really has no impact on the organization, why not just keep it a simple, click-and-read course?  While it’s not the most engaging approach, it probably meets the need and lets the course takers get back to work.

I know, there are some of you in sack cloth and ashes, mourning the demise of sound instructional design; but I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that there a some courses that don’t require a lot of development.  It’s a time and money game.  Spend your resources where you’re going to get the most value.

It’s all about focus.  Many courses tend to offer way too much information and this is what frustrates some learners.  Avoid an information dump.

Each course should have a specific objective.  Then the content you create for the course needs to focus on meeting that objective.  If the content doesn’t contribute to the objective, then it doesn’t need to be in the course.  It doesn’t mean that the content is bad.  It just means that to have the best course and engage your learners, you want to maintain focus on achieving the objectives.  There are other ways to share more detailed information outside of the course.

Is it a course or a reference guide?  A lot of elearning courses could be web pages, or maybe even simple job aids instead of courses.

If you find that you can’t teach your learners without sending them to all sorts of links, then perhaps an elearning course isn’t the right solution.  What might work best is some sort of resource site.  Instead of building a course, build a nice web page with links.

When the last learner leaves, please turn off the lights.  One of the key pitfalls of elearning is that many of the courses, once started, are not completed.  Considering that this is an issue, why create a course that encourages your learners to leave by inserting multiple hyperlinks?

When it comes to the Internet, you know the routine well.  You do a search for adult learning principles and find a link for one site.  Something on that site catches your eye so you click on another link.  Then from there it’s one link after another.  Next thing you know, it’s been an hour and you’ve gone from adult learning principles to the Iceshanty, where you’re looking up tips on ice fishing.

The same will happen with your learners.  If you insert a bunch of hyperlinks, expect them to leave and not return.  You might also want to get them a big freezer to hold all the fish they’ll catch ice fishing.

Leverage Your Rapid E-Learning Software

Here are a couple of ways that you can use your rapid elearning software to change up how you present the information.

Build a course that’s not a course.  Use a simple tool like Engage to share the information rather than using a traditional course framework with a menu and player.  The published file looks nice, they’re easy to build, and you can put them on a web site, embed them in your course, or do both.

I’ve done this a lot in the past with Human Resources training.  They’ll ask for a course, but they really just want to share information.  Using the rapid elearning software, I can quickly build the information module for them.  They’re happy and the learners are happy because that is one less mandated course for them to take.

Here’s a simple FAQ interaction that provides some valuable information and could easily be used in lieu of an “official” course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Tom's FAQ

Click here to see the FAQ Interaction.

Consolidate your additional resources.  If you do find that you need to augment the information in the course, consolidate the links and put them all in one location.  This lets the learner know there’s a place in the course to access additional information, but the flow of the course doesn’t require that they leave the page to continue.

In the example below, I built a glossary as a drop down tab and added additional information via the attachments tab, which I renamed “Resources.”  Using the interaction as a tab rather than on the slide lets the learner have continual access to the information without having to leave the current screen. In addition, the resources section lets me add hyperlinks or files that the learner can access anytime during the course.


Click here to see the demo course.

You’re asking the learners to take their precious time and commit it to your elearning course.  Is what you built a good use of their time?

Build courses that have clear objectives and help the learners reach them.  Also, build courses that are appropriate to the objectives.  Sometimes simple is all you need.  Don’t overbuild your course or add all of the latest bells and whistles because you can.

Take off your elearning hats and think about the courses you have to take.  What approach do you prefer?  What do you find to be frustrating?  Feel free to share your experiences with the rest of us in the comments section.


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40 responses to “How to Create E-Learning Courses That Don’t Waste Your Learner’s Time”

I love the idea of focus. Keeping it simple and direct saves time.

Scripting voice-overs can go a long way toward achieving the goal of using the learner’s time wisely.

I require my content authors to provide scripts in the speaker notes area of PowerPoint. A macro exports those scripts to Word for grammar checking; once the scripts have passed that hurdle, they are recorded and attached.

Having a script removes the “um”, the finding-the-right-word pause, and the false-start sentence fragments. Multiplied over the number of people taking the course, those seconds can add up.

Another benefit of scripts in the speaker notes is that they can serve in place of closed-captioning. If the spoken words have value, that value is lost if the user cannot hear – which includes deafness, hardware configurations, and viewing environments that are not conducive to using the speakers.


Good point, Al. I know that I’m guilty of the awkward pauses.

Which brings up another issue that I run into and that is the difference between good and bad voice talent. I know that for myself, I truly appreciate good voice over talent because I understand how hard it is to get it to sound good. It’s definitely not a talent I have.

In fact, someone had just mentioned something similar in a comment I had just received. I was wrestling with approving it or not because the email was fake, but the point was well taken. My policy is to not approve comments that use fake emails.

For material that’s supposed to be both a course and a reference, one of my favorite approaches is the one you demonstrate in your blog: a web page with embedded Flash. The HTML text makes for quick skimming (not that anyone would skim what you write) and the embedded Flashes demonstrate concepts. The Flashes can also present realistic activities that help learners apply what they’ve read.

P.S. Your concern for learners’ safety is touching.

March 11th, 2008

I like Cathy’s idea of designing a web page with embedded Flash showing concepts and/or realistic application exercises.

Tom, could you direct me to one of your web pages with embedded Flash?

Thanks so much!

March 11th, 2008

I think scripting the speaker notes and exporting them to Word is good idea and can save a large amount of time.

Re Al’s comments about voice overs, I make knowledge videos for accountants as part of my job and I script, record and voice them myself.

Though I’m not a professional voice-over artist I think I do a reasonable job, and it means my own enthusiasm comes across. Any false starts, getting my tongue in a knot, “um” or “er” or other noises (like if I sneeze at the wrong time) which do happen even if I’m using a script, can be easily edited out on the video software.

But as Al says, I do think a script is a great idea because it means I can make sure I’ve included all the information I need to, rather than listening to the video afterwards and thinking, “Oh Drat, I forgot this, that and the other”.


March 11th, 2008

Love the examples. On the last demo you had the hyperlinks in one area. That makes sense. I usually put links on the individual slides. I can see now that it is difficult to find them after the fact.

March 11th, 2008

Excellent blog, as always, Tom!

One word of caution to your readers, though, with using Engage tab-level interactions if presentation slides contain audio and are set to advance by the User:

Assume you have a slide in your presentation that contains audio, the audio has played completely, and the slide is set to advance by the User. But before the User advances to the next slide, he/she instead decides to access an Engage tab-level interaction, such as the “Glossary” tab in your example. If the User then closes this Engage tab-level interaction, the presentation mysteriously auto-advances to the next slide, which is NOT what one would expect to happen. Per Articulate Support, “There is a known issue where an Interaction is inserted as a Tab and the viewer opens the interaction when a slide has played through (but is set to advance by user), Articulate Presenter will advance to the next slide when the viewer closes the Tab. There is currently no workaround for this behavior.” However, I can suggest that one possible work-around to avoid this strange behavior is to use an Engage slide-level interaction instead, accessed from the left nav of the published UI.

Otherwise, thanks again for your excellent insights and advice. Always worth reading!

Good point, Marc. I wasn’t aware of that. Fortunately, it happens after the slide has played through.

Hi Tom.
Long time, first time.

I appreciate the effort that your team has put into these tutorials and demonstrations. If I may offer a word of advice to your audience;

When using pseudo-scenario based learning it’s a good idea to disable the keyboard shortcuts. While most learners are likely to use the on-screen navigation, there are some who tend to favor the keyboard.

Regards to you and your team, Tom.
Ashu Faruki

Tom, superb as ever. The health and safety issues of falling asleep at the desk had me chuckling as did the link to beers. If we ever meet up I owe you one. You’re giving us all SO much.


Emily pointed out that when she records her own audio, her enthusiasm comes across. I think this is an important point. When we hire professional narration, it can sound a lot smoother–but it can also sound passionless. We can inspire a narrator to sound more enthusiastic by writing a lively, natural-sounding script. But if we don’t have the budget for professionals and end up recording ourselves, we can offset the less-than-smooth aspects with lots of personality.

March 11th, 2008

Many thanks for this sharing this information.
It’s very easy to forger those things when you’re focus on developing a GREAT course and just consider issues as use of multimedia and design.
What I have found difficult in situation where the simple/easy is the solution is that sometimes people find these programs not interesting.
It is frustrating to develop a course you consider PERFECT in all senses and then realizes learners did not spend enough time or got bored in the course. This experience has taught me to show the course to a business person (always busy), to see what he has to say in terms of practical details. His comments and ideas have helped me to be more aware of this situation and develop better courses/activities in terms of usability and practical approach.

March 11th, 2008

Tom, you reinforced what I’ve believed for many years.

The more words you use to say something, the more clouded the meaning becomes of what you’re trying to convey. For so many years we heard about the KISS principle. Why did we ever get away from it?

Give some of us a forum and we’ll talk way too much (and, yes, I have been guilty as well). Let’s all of us just get to the point quickly and then get out before we boar our audiences to death.

Great job – we needed to hear it.

March 11th, 2008


Great article as usual. You always post great tips at the right time.

I was just thinking about how I could post links within my Pivot Chart training module. I also thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to post links in a training module, simply because, the goal is to keep learners engaged in the e-learning module. A Glossary is a nice idea or perhaps, a job aid.

Thanks again for your blogs. They are always great!

Darn you for reading my mind and stealing my thunder!!! 😉

Right on the money. When it comes to required e-learning, your user is generally: A) Extremely busy and doesn’t want to waste time on e-learning. B) Unmotivated and doesn’t want to waste time on e-learning. C) A & B.

Let them get in, get what they need, and get out ASAP. It’s quick and painless for everyone involved. Great article.

March 12th, 2008

I really enjoy your blog…comments and sharing
from other people and yourself. One brain is powerful but the power of all 🙂

I want to forget about the technology in my comments. At end of the day, end users will be motivated to learn if the learning is going to help them personally move forward in their roles.

In some areas, like compliance, it is you need to know. In other areas like induction it is this can help you…and I could go on here. Whatever the learning their needs to be a very clear strategy of why people should want to do the learning and hopefully we are aligning that to what the business needs. Technology based learning probably is only a component of the big picture.

You cannot force people to learn…they need to know why they should be wasting their precious time to do the learning.

Management needs to support us and we need to design and develop to the needs of not only the business but the end users. Sometimes it is just not is a simple communication…or a blended solution…we can all get so focused on our cool technology that we forget the raison d’etre.

We have such an opportunity to make a difference and use the right tools and methods for the goals of the learning.

So thanks for reminding all of us to be clear in those goals and to listen to our end users and the business.

March 12th, 2008

Mini-case study on compulsory course: State of Illinois Ethics Training.

1) First year, scenario-based. Modest graphics w/ characters and dialog (text only). Nice format but content and situations too scattered. Not relevant to different types of workers. Lots of complaining.

2) Similar format. Learners select type of work place (e.g., university). Much improved. Still lots of griping.

3) Small changes. Format works quite well, a fairly pleasant and occasionally illuminating half-hour. Some professors declared to have “cheated” because finished in 10 minutes.

4) Scenario format changed to click through. No situations or ethics decisions. Boring. Useless. Ethics IS situational decision making. Instead of continuing to tweak a good format (mostly needed to group examples by type of job, e.g., purchasing, rather than type of work place.

5) People still gripped. If taking your next breath is made compulsory, many will gripe. In this case it was a major mistake to chuck a good format with lots of potential (e.g., having users write ethics scenarios) because of gripping.

Great blog – trying to use this concept of “questioning out” – i.e. answer these ?s and your done – otherwise….. your in for the long haul. Seems to have wide appeal.
Wondering how did you get the you-tube flash to embed? tried to do this myseld without success..? can’t capture or save?

Ashu: Good tip. I normally disable the player navigation so that the learner is dependent on navigating throught he scenarios.

BTW, for the demos, I’ll usually offer a subtle back/fwd navigation and keep the keyboard shortcuts so that people can more easily get to specific slides.

March 14th, 2008

I knew nothing about this field before reading the blog and comments. I took notes and found you applied the principles discussed in the actual content. I was eager to keep reading and to keep learning. There were a number of words that I was not familiar with and I will look those up but all in all I feel like I know enough to get started and possibly do a decent job.

Great post! It’s always a challenge to rein in subject matter experts who are passionate about their subject and want to perform the data dump. Then of course there is the matter of the “long tail” dilemna that is being discussed at the Learning Circuits blog, i.e., what about the learning who desires all the extra information, or wants additional information. What is the training community’s responsibility to these individuals?

That said, I really do believe you are spot on in your analysis of how we should proceed with elearning development. Elearning should be developed so that a learner can go in and get just the information they need. I think that may be one reason a lot of elearning courses are never completed because the learners get the information they need and skip out.

March 18th, 2008

That is true when the course is used to get data however many courses are mandatory and require the learner to spend a certain amount of time on the course. What is the best way to deal with this type of situation?

GREAT course!!! Falling asleep and drooling on your keyboard could cause a shock! GREAT! Are you just checking to see who is listening???

Tom – how do you create something like the resources tab?

@Lindsay: I used Engage to create the Glossary interaction. The resources tab was made using Articulate Presenter’s attachments feature.

Hi Tom,

Do you think your examples in this blog will fly for an Affirmative Action Program training? I’m reviewing information that was provided to me by the SME. However, it is a bunch laws -which, I feel may be more effective if I provide links to a spreadsheet or site where they can get to this information.

Thank you for all of this usefull information, I am confident my Elearning program will be a success!

I am new to e-training world. Looks like there’s a lot to learn and I am already feeling overwhelmed. Love your blogs Tom. I wanna know how did you include the glossary tab on the top right corner along with the attachment tab. Is there a way to add to toolbar menu?


[…] Oct I did a post for the Rapid E-Learning Blog where I demonstrated a simple elearning scenario.  I got a lot of emails asking how it was […]

[…]… – A great site about constructing E-Learning sites, the pros and cons about different methods, and examples of walk-throughs and lessons. […]

[…] This is an example of a interactive branched scenario created in PowerPoint and utilizing clip art available via the Microsoft Office site.  How to create a similar type of scenario is discussed in this blog post, How to Create E-Learning Courses That Don’t Waste Your Learner’s Time.  […]

please send me a material how to create elearning materials.


@joel: you can find some information in our user community. This is a good place to start, it includes a free practice course with all of the files.

[…] How to Create E-Learning Courses That Don’t Waste Your Learner’s Time » The Rapid … […]

This is a great article! I’ll have to keep them in mind when creating future eLearning. Here are a couple other tips I’ve used in the past. They focus more on technical training CBTs.

I want to create E-learning at myself.

@Lach: review some of the posts on the blog and if you have any questions, go to the elearning community and someone can help you.