Six easy design tips for your e-learning projects

Matt Mason, eWorks Accredited ConsultantMatt Mason is an award winning instructional designer and the newest addition to the talented team of accredited consultants at eWorks. With a vision to improve the quality of learning and development, Matt is passionate about innovative content development. Today Matt shares his top design tips for e-learning projects.

New and shiny isn’t everything

Yes I admit it, I am one of those people that loves it when a new update comes out on the latest piece of software, or when a new online product is created that will make my online experience a little easier. My personal preference is to research the latest trend then to sit and watch TV. I look around at people who don’t love technology and I want to tell them how much they are missing out on. However, I do understand that just because someone uses the latest and greatest technology, doesn’t necessarily mean that the product at the end is any better. One of my favourite quotations about technology and tools is:

Even though it is shiny, it still needs to have substance.

Getting the design right

I have been developing e-learning for many years now. I still remember creating some of my first online resources with Macromedia Dreamweaver and screen recording with Captivate CS3, and I remember when PowerPoint became popular. Everyone thought it was fantastic and presentations had objects flying in and out, words zooming in one letter at a time, and many other distractions that had you shaking your head. I learnt very quickly that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

The priority for people new to e-learning is figuring out the programmes not the principles for designing with them. This isn’t just a dilemma for new e-learning developers but the industry as a whole. We can all get caught up in the latest shiny thing and design with a programme in mind rather than what we are trying to achieve. I might get a tad too excited when I learn about a new system, but I consider myself an instructional designer before an e-learning developer. Get the design right and it doesn’t matter what programme you use.

e-learning

Top design tips for your e-learning projects

Here are some of the basic design principles I use when putting together an e-learning project:

  1. Don’t forget the reason you are designing your e-learning in the first place. Improving the performance of the learner should be your number one priority. Spend some time with a pen and notepad and consider what you want your learner to be able to do by designing your e-learning without considering the limitations of your programme. You can always think of alternatives later rather than limit your thinking at this point.
  2. Consider ways to evaluate what your learners have learnt. Try and think beyond multiple choice questions. Multiple choice is an easy option because e-learning development software makes it easy to design. There were plenty of other ways people evaluated in face-to-face sessions before the invention of e-learning, consider how these could apply in the online world. Things like participation, critical thinking, and contributions were all factors that ultimately told the trainers that their learners were engaged. This can be measured in e-learning, you just need to open your mind. Also, consider how you can gather the evaluation. e-learning programmes have a rich and vast collection of data that can be used. What data are you collecting and why?
  3. One of the best things about e-learning compared to face-to-face is consistency. You might have the best material, but if the trainer isn’t that good, the entire course will be affected. E- learning makes the user experience consistent and much more guided. You are in control of what they are going to learn, it’s much more than just the content. Your ability to entertain, excite, engage will influence how and what they learn. Be passionate about giving your learners an experience – not just content that they could probably source on a company page or the internet. 
  4. Use stories. Do you remember how, in a face-to-face session after the trainer presented a bunch of theories and text, they would tell you about an example of how that theory was applied in a situation and was successful? After the story you were able to understand the context of what you were learning. We forget this simple principle in e-learning time and time again. Developers get so caught up in the content that they forget how people make connections and learn. 
  5. Make sure you are using relevant materials and examples. I remember developing a workplace health and safety module once for personal trainers. I was told to use the generic workplace health and safety material that used hospital examples and context. It was the same general information that would be required regardless of the workplace, but I knew the learners would be completing the module and thinking to themselves, this information does not apply to me, I just need to get though it and pass the test. Would you prefer your personal trainer to pass the test or actually think that WHS is relevant to him or her? 
  6. If you’re bored as you are designing your e-learning then so will your learners be. People can only look at a computer screen for so long and retain a certain amount of information. We know this in face-to-face sessions, which is why it is always so important to give learners breaks and activities and plan for each session to be no longer than 20 minutes long. Apply the same principles to your e-learning and make sure it is bite sized.

Need a hand?

Matt is very happy to offer some advice if you are struggling to pull it all together.