Proper eLearning Design Starts with Analysis

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October 18, 2018
5 min read
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There are several factors to consider before investing in eLearning and choosing one or more eLearning authoring tools. Ignoring any of these could lead to costly mistakes which can also tarnish the idea of using eLearning in the future. When a proper analysis is performed, the process can run much more smoothly and with fewer surprises. Here are the most important factors.

Ensuring Success in eLearning: Questions You Must Consider

There are three main areas on which you should focus your questions. They are:

  • Your Audience
  • Your Content and Context
  • The Technology

Who is Your Audience?

Think about your learners. Who are they? You may think this is a simple question to answer but dig a little deeper and you will discover that there are many questions about your learner audience that may have a big impact on the success of your learning initiatives. Here are some of the questions to ask. Can you think of others?

What do they need?

Let’s start with what should be obvious: what do your learners need to learn? It’s not unusual for the content to not be well-defined at the start, requiring expensive changes and additions to be made after design and development have begun. What are the gaps in what your learners know? Focus your attention on those areas.

What is the required prerequisite knowledge?

What do they need to already know before they can grasp the content you’re providing? It’s tough to learn trigonometry before mastering algebra and geometry. Should you make recommendations to each learner depending on how they perform on a diagnostic test that you provide at the start?

How will their time be spent in learning?

Will they have a dedicated time period to learn? In that case, you can choose to make some lessons longer and others shorter, depending on the content.

Will they be squeezing in lessons as time permits during their normal work day? If so, think of creating shorter lessons whenever possible. It’s better to feel a sense of accomplishment at having completed three short lessons than to return three times to where you left off in a longer lesson.

What are their literacy levels?

Are the learners all college-educated? Do they include many who did not graduate high school? Make sure you address them at their level.

How diverse is your learner audience?

If you include photographs or illustrations of human characters, be sure to make them look as varied as your learner audience.

What are their job roles?

Your learning may address just one job role, or it may need to be taken by everyone from administrative assistants to upper management. When you design your learning, be sure to address each role.

What are their language needs?

A costly mistake can occur when we assume that every learner will be a native speaker of your primary language. Translating a course into other languages is much easier if you plan for that at the start of the project. You also will be more careful not to use idioms or humor that may not translate well.

Will the course be delivered in one language but not all the learners will be native speakers? In that case, be careful to keep the level of your language where more people will understand it. If your learning will include people having a conversation, such as in an office environment, should some of them have regional or foreign accents? Will that help learners feel more included or will they find their use offensive?

What are their cultural needs?

If your learners represent several different cultures, especially if your learners are in different countries around the world, be sure not to assume that everyone will understand your use of baseball or cricket terms. Even the use of gestures must be taken into account. A gesture in one culture may be considered very positive whereas in another culture it may be seen as offensive.

How motivated will the learners be?

Many people have already had bad learning experiences in the past and they may not be looking forward to taking your course. Have they been promised a raise or a promotion upon successful completion of your course? That may encourage them to find the quickest way through the course to reach that outcome.

Make sure that your learning exceeds their expectations so that they will not be trying to find how to speed through your course. Rather, make it so that they relish every moment and are sorry when it’s over!

Do some of your learners have disabilities?

Do some of your learners have accessibility needs? Even when you’re not required by law to accommodate learners with sign, hearing or mobility disabilities, why not ensure that they are not shut out of your learning?

eLearning Content and Context

What is the eLearning Content?

It’s common for eLearning to contain too much content, the idea being that it’s better to give them too much than too little. However, learners usually have limited time and they will not take kindly to being given material that isn’t pertinent to their goals. On the other hand, you also don’t want to provide too little content, as this defeats the purpose of getting learners up to speed. Like Goldilocks, you don’t want too much or too little, you want the content to be just right.

Learning content, even within one organization, can be quite varied. There are thousands of potential topics, but many organizations have common needs. You may need learners to become proficient in a new software program, to serve customers better, to understand and avoid sexual harassment, to comply with safety laws and other regulations, or to sell more product.

Who will determine the content?

Who within your organization will decide and prioritize the content to be learned? You may have one person or a committee of people, but even in a committee needs to be an arbiter who will resolve any conflicting ideas.

Shouldn’t this person be the content expert, normally called the Subject-Matter Expert (SME)? That would make sense but keep in mind that the SME may not be an expert in learning principles, especially if your learning is going to be online, self-paced and individualized. Make sure your SME is coupled with an Instructional Designer (ID) who can help focus on what content is crucial, what can be made optional, and what may not be necessary. Furthermore, the ID can segment the content so that each segment can become a lesson in the course. Finally, the ID will know how to create interactions that will engage learners in effective ways.

What are the objectives?

As learners grasp the content, you must know whether they are meeting the lesson goals. These should be based, of course, on your organizational or departmental goals and objectives. Start with those and then determine:

Your terminal objective:

This is the overarching course objective, such as:

  • You will identify and resolve common customer problems.

Your enabling objective:

These all support your terminal objective. Generally, there is one enabling objective per course segment or lesson. For instance, you may have these lesson objectives:

  • You will identify the category in which a customer problem falls.
  • You will determine the course of action to take when there is a customer billing dispute.

Both terminal and enabling objectives must use verbs that are testable. Here’s an example of an objective that doesn’t work:

You will understand the reasons for equipment failure:

How do you determine whether the learner now understands the reasons for equipment failure? It’s hard to test whether something is understood or not. It’s better to use a different verb, such as in the following:

You will identify the reasons for equipment failure:

Using the verb identify gives us a means to test the learner’s understanding. We can set up scenarios and choices, perhaps, to see if the learner is able to identify the reasons.

In What Context Should the Content be Taught?

The context is an important consideration. Consider the following, all related to context:

  1. If you were given advice by a good friend, you might be inclined to take that advice. On the other hand, you might reject the same exact advice if you don’t like the person who’s giving it to you.
  2. Learning context also refers to the environment in which the learning is taking place. It can be very different to take a lesson when sitting in a noisy area than one that’s quiet.
  3. Will the course you’re creating stand alone or is it part of a larger curriculum? For instance, are you providing an eLearning course to cover the fundamentals and then following it with a classroom setting to discuss the higher levels? This is often called the flipped classroom.
  4. The context also refers to the content. For instance, if the learner is supposed to learn how to set the timing on a car engine, will they be working with just one car brand or multiple ones?
  5. Finally, the approach you take in your design may have a huge impact on how well the content is learned. If you provide content in a series of slides, showing text, images, playing audio and video, you may think that learners are able to grasp the content well. On the other hand, you may be surprised to find out how much better they’re learning when the experience is not passive, but challenging. Give learners problems to solve rather than just telling them how to solve the problems. Let them learn from making mistakes in a safe environment and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to find the solution. When they make mistakes, offer them a short demo of the solution, but then make sure you have them perform the action as well. That’s the best way to learn.

What technology must be supported?

Consider that there are several browsers and many versions of those browsers. You will want to test your learning within all the browses and browser versions you want to run your eLearning.

Also, be sure that your learning will work with Learning Management Systems using SCORM technology or with Learning Record Stores using xAPI technology.

Finally, access your eLearning at various internet speeds and in both quiet and noisy environments. Does it pass muster where it’s necessary?

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

If you take the time to perform a proper analysis by determining the answers to the questions above, you will set the stage for a much smoother process of eLearning design and development. This can save you a lot of money and time. In addition, having considered carefully the needs of your learners, they will feel much better served and be much more inclined to praise your hard work in creating the best eLearning possible.

About the Author

Joe Ganci, aka "eLearning Joe" is President of eLearningJoe, LLC, a consulting and training eLearning company located outside of Washington, D.C. Joe has been involved in every aspect of eLearning development since 1983.

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