How sustainable are your e-learning courses?

Jeanette Swain, eWorks ConsultantJeanette has worked in education and training for over 20 years as an environmental educator, e-learning leader and in quality and compliance. She is also a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Further to Jeanette’s Need an e-learning check-up? blog post, it is now time to take a closer look at the sustainability of your courses.

How sustainable are your courses?

In this blog post, I would like to expand on point two in my eLearning check-upHow sustainable are your courses? The questions I suggested you ask of your organisation were:

  1. Are your eLearning stars individuals with passion?
  2. What would happen if they move on?
  3. Are you utilising the skills of these staff in mentoring and coaching others?
  4. What are your continuity and professional development strategies?

What is sustainability?

From a business perspective, sustainability refers to the endurance of systems and processes. In terms of eLearning courses in your organisation, sustainability is about the systems and processes that support your eLearning effort. There are several organisational approaches to providing eLearning:

  • In some cases, eLearning is tied tightly to individual effort and can fly below the radar.
  • In other cases, organisations (especially those where education is not core business) have a team approach.
  • Other organisations provide course content online is part of the job role of all teaching and training staff. In this case they tend to have a digital learning strategy and a ‘whole of organisation’ approach. This model is growing rapidly, as more organisations become aware of the power of online delivery, and expect their staff to have the skills to contribute to it.

1. eLearning individuals

Are your eLearning stars individuals with passion or do you have defined roles within your organisation? If the majority of course design, development and online teaching falls on individuals without a formal eLearning role, then I would suggest that this ad hoc approach is not sustainable!  The obvious risk is the individual leaving the organisation without a transition plan.  Less obvious risks include;

  • course quality and consistency impacting on the User Experience
  • organisation compliance processes
  • copyright laws and regulations
  • ensuring that the individual is maintaining and meeting the business rules of the organisation.duplication of content, difficulty in sharing.

2. eLearning teams or departments

If you have an organisational team or department responsible for eLearning are they multidisciplinary? If you are working in the accredited education space do you have a broad set of skills on your team? At a minimum you should ensure that you have skills in the following areas;

  • learning design
  • content creation
  • assessment
  • copyright
  • organisational compliance requirements, and

There are sustainability issues with this approach also, however. If training staff are provided with a ’ready-made program’, do you have their buy-in, or could time and money be spent developing eLearning programs that are not utilised effectively? Other issues may include eLearning teams lacking skills in Training and Assessment or taking liberty with learning content due to lack of support from subject matter experts.

3. Whole of organisation approach

The most sustainable approach to eLearning is a whole of organisation approach. This would take the form of a digital learning strategy. Developing a digital learning strategy provides the opportunity to set the vision, objectives and strategic priorities for eLearning in your organisation. It is an opportunity to redefine the expectations of your learners and your trainers and to ensure that the organisation is focused to defined goals. A digital learning strategy should encompass:

People

  • Your staff needs, including how you train, support and encourage their ongoing development.
  • Your learners’ needs and expectations of eLearning.

Systems

  • Ensuring your IT systems are robust and able to support growth.
  • Ensuring your policies and procedures support your strategy.
  • Integration of key business systems.

Profitability

  • Reducing the costs of eLearning through preventing duplication of tasks. That is, requiring tasks to be completed online and on paper.
  • Streamlined student induction and support.
  • Bulk purchasing of digital content and IT hardware.
  • Searchable content available organisation wide.
  • Focused professional development of staff.

Is it time to develop your digital learning strategy?

Whatever your approach to eLearning sustainability, now is a good time to consider what you are doing well and areas that need improvement. If you are thinking of developing a digital learning strategy or undertaking an eLearning check-up Jeanette can give you a hand.

Improve your Moodle user experience

Jeanette Swain, eWorks ConsultantJeanette has worked in education and training for over 20 years as an environmental educator, e-learning leader and in quality and compliance. She is also a member of the talented team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks. In Jeanette’s first blog post she offered advice about how to take an e-learning check-up. Now Jeanette focuses on your learners, and considers how Moodle’s functions can ensure a positive experience for them.

What is user experience?

In my last Blog I talked about the user experience and asked the questions:

  • How consistent are your courses?
  • When trainers are course developers there are countless approaches to course development. Does this confuse your learners?
  • What are the organisational strategies you can use to ensure consistency of user experience?

So what is user experience? Wikipedia defines user experience or UX as involving a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership.

What does user experience look like at your organisation?

How do we begin designing the online learning experience with the end user, our learners, in mind? What functions does Moodle have to ensure a positive user experience?.

I have based the following Moodle User Experience Hierarchy of needs upon Maslow, Growth engineering and also Stephen Anderson’s user experience hierarchies of needs. I have tampered a little to get my point across but let’s explore the particular attributes of each:

moodle user experience hierarchy of needs

Moodle’s User Experience Hierarchy of Needs

1. Functionality – it does what it is supposed to do.

There are two aspects to this. The first one involves the service and the other the design.

  • Firstly, Moodle is a learning management system (LMS) that provides learning content to students. Yes it does that job and does it well at a system level, and eWorks ensures that the system runs well and without bugs.
  • Secondly, when it comes to course design various approaches can be used and this has an impact on the user experience. Complex courses using hidden and orphaned activities can render a Moodle course non-functional! If a link to an activity is hidden in a Moodle page or a Moodle book and the learner cannot find it again without searching madly, is that functional?

2. Reliable – it is stable and there when I need it.

This brings to mind several aspects of organisational practice:

  • Locating the link to the learning management system (LMS) on the organisation’s website. Is this different on site versus offsite?
  • Have you utilised the Moodle mobile? Can learners access what they want, where and how they want to?
  • How easy is the password reset? If you are using a single sign on system are the students aware of this?
  • Are all assessments and important course materials available to your learners?

3. Useable – it is intuitive and I can use it.

What type of material do you give your learners to assist them in using the system?

  • If each course is designed in a different way, then each course will require individual help guides or leave the learner in the lurch.
  • Can instructional materials be produced once for all courses, therefore saving time and money? Plus, your learners will not need to re-learn how to use the next course based upon trainer design.

Poor course design can take away the useability of Moodle. For example, if you think about visiting an online shopping website, there will be a call to action such as add to cart or checkout. Moodle activities such as assignments or forums or quizzes are quite obvious calls to action for a learner; they know they need to do something. Think about how you utilise these in your course. Adding blocks such as the activities block to a course can assist learners in locating and prioritising these activities across the course duration.

4. Pleasurable – it doesn’t detract from my learning.

Lack of consistency in course design can cause learners to be distracted. Good practice examples include:

  • Ensuring course documents are named the same name and not added in multiple places.
  • The use of consistent fonts, headings, layout, and colours.
  • Using white space – rather than cramming text into a page.
  • Using conditional release for activities and learning content, to ensure that the learning follows a structured pathway.

5. Personal – I feel like I am learning with friends.

This is part of course design and embraces connectivism as a learning theory or pedagogical view. How can learners have fun and learn from each other? Moodle gives you the tools to make learning a more personalised experience.

  • Moodle profile. Does each student add a profile picture? Can this be integrated with the student card process when users are created?
  • Messaging. Are learners encouraged to contact each other?
  • Have you added a participant’s block to the course to show when other learners are online? Adding the block with chat as activity to the course can encourage learners to seek answers to others and add to a sense of community.
  • Workshop. The workshop activity enables learners to review and peer assess the work of others.
  • Databases. Consider a bank of learner material curated by learners for learners. 

The moral of the story?

Let the tool do the work. Put your creativity into how you use the tools from an educational perspective. A consistent user experience for learners will make learning more pleasurable and personal and allow them to concentrate on the learning. An easy way to get a consistent look and feel is to invest in a more design focused theme at an organisational level and a consistent minimum standard for all courses. Contact Jeanette to focus on user experience as part of your eLearning check-up.

Need an e-learning check-up?

Jeanette Swain

Jeanette has worked in education and training for over 20 years as an environmental educator, e-learning leader and in quality and compliance. She specialises in helping clients to maximise system integration, change management, reporting, learning analytics and the learner’s user experience. Jeanette has recently joined the talented team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks, a group of experts offering specialist advice across the e-learning spectrum. Here Jeanette reminds us that we all need an e-learning check-up from time to time, and that this process offers a simple first step towards change and improvement.

Is it time to question the status quo?

Perhaps you have been running a learning management system (LMS) in your organisation for some time, but have you questioned the status quo? We’re all busy – it’s easy to get stuck in the habit of rushing to get work done, without taking time to reflect on where we’re at, how we got there, and whether it’s where we want and need to be. Is the present way of working smart, scalable, sustainable? Some of the questions you may need to ask about your existing e-learning practices and processes can be difficult through existing eyes. Working in e-learning across several organisations has provided me with insight into the many approaches that are taken when it comes to online delivery. Are you taking advantage of the latest developments in this constantly evolving (aka exciting!) area?

Status Quo cartoonCredits: Status Quo by Mimi and Eunice

An e-learning check-up can help you consider new options

An e-learning check-up doesn’t need to be time consuming or laborious. It is simply about asking a few questions – then answering them honestly – any gaps, holes or issues will soon become clear. Where you don’t have the answers, it’s time to get some expert advice. A few questions that you might like to consider include:

1. What is your user experience like?

How consistent are your courses? When teachers are developers there are countless approaches to course development. Does this confuse your learners? What are the organisational strategies you can use to ensure consistency of user experience?

2. How sustainable are your courses?

Are your e-learning stars individuals with passion? What would happen if they move on? Are you utilising the skills of these staff in mentoring and coaching others? What are your continuity and professional development strategies?

3. How scalable are your e-learning processes?

The uptake of e-learning has been growing over time, but are processes such as course development, course requests, backups and storage falling on individuals? What about content? Is it accessible to other staff, do you know what and where your e-learning assets are? Can the existing processes be scaled up to meet demand?

4. Are your organisation’s compliance requirements built into your learning programs?

Is this transparent or a hybrid paper/digital solution. Are you able to easily extract compliance data? What changes could you put in place to make the LMS part of your compliance solutions

5. Is the LMS part of your business systems?

What other business systems does your LMS talk to? Is there duplication of effort across multiple systems? How can these systems or their data outputs and inputs be integrated to increase efficiency and reduce costs?

6. Is it time for a stocktake?

What is actually going on behind the numbers? Is it time for a stocktake? How do you delete old material without losing valuable assets? Are your assets accessible to all staff across your organisation?

7. What analytics and reporting tools are you using?

Are you collecting relevant data? There may be a lot of courses on your LMS, but how are they being used? Is the data you are obtaining informing your practice? How should it be? 

So how did you go? 

Answers to these questions will vary depending upon your organisation, your staff and your learners. Perhaps you need a hand answering them or figuring out what to do next? That’s okay. Or maybe a pair of eyes outside of your business or organisation would help? Continuing with the status quo might be the easy way for now, but the longevity of any organisational business system comes from ensuring that it can meet the long term aims of the organisation and embrace change in the field.

Contact Jeanette for a chat about any or all of this.