The who and how of online course development

Sarah Phillips

Sarah Phillips is a Senior Educator VET Assessment Specialist at Chisholm Online. She specialises in developing assessments for the online environment and has a background in e-learning that stretches for ten years. If you are thinking about developing your own online course materials, Sarah can help you avoid some common issues and pitfalls.

Online course development – where to start?

So you have decided to develop your own online course materials. Good for you! But before you commence, it is important to know what you need in order to achieve this successfully. There are a number of decisions your management team needs to make before you start employing people to start work.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself;

  • How many courses will you be developing?
  • How many people will your budget allow you to employ?
  • What do you want done in-house and what can be sent to external contractors?

But the most important question is…

What functions do you need filled in order to develop a suite of courses?

When developing course materials, it is important to understand the functions required in completing the tasks, but it is just as important to understand that functions are not people.

It is a common misconception that hiring a team of instructional designers can achieve all you need in the process of developing materials. It is also a common misconception that all instructional designers have the same skills. Position titles in the education sector are often defined by the organisation they are employed by, and just because candidates were called instructional designers, educational designers or learning designers in their previous employment, doesn’t mean their idea of what the role entails is the same as your needs. Such candidates might be skilled and dedicated employees, but does that mean they’re right for the role that you have in mind?

What are the skills needed to develop online course materials?

To understand this, we first need to understand the functions of developing and delivering an online course:

  • Content writing
  • Assessment writing
  • Editing and proof reading
  • Storyboarding
  • Multimedia development
  • Compliance
  • LMS or CMS management
  • Facilitation and assessment

What type of people have these skills?

Online course development needs people who:

  • Understand what the training packages and units of competency are really asking for
  • Understand the industry they are producing content for
  • Understand how to write for VET qualifications
  • Write clear and explicit instructions to the students
  • Understand pedagogy and how to minimize cognitive load
  • Have attention to detail
  • Are competent in multimedia development
  • Have good design skills
  • Understand the impact of their design on the facilitation process
  • Understand accessibility, access and equity, copyright
  • Have problem solving and creative skills to identify strategies for overcoming the limitations that online delivery can expose.

A team that covers all bases

It is unlikely that you will find all of these skills in a single employee, so it’s best to create a team of competent individuals with different but complementary skills. Rather than employing a whole team of instructional or learning designers, the functions required to develop online vocational education and training (VET) courses could look more like this:

  • A subject matter expert (SME)
  • A content and assessment writer
  • An instructional designer (ID)
  • A multimedia developer
  • An education technologist (Ed Tech)
  • A trainer/assessor

The importance of compliance and assessment

When developing courses for the vocational education and training (VET) sector, having staff that understand compliance and the impact it has on their role is essential. Instructional designers may have excellent skills in developing well designed learning materials, but:

  • Do they know the industry for which they are writing?
  • Do they understand the compliance implications in relation to their work?
  • Or are they simply good at visual design, user experience and multimedia development?

You also don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming a trainer can write assessments. It is a very meticulous process that requires a solid understanding of pedagogy, industry and compliance, and someone who has a passion for teaching won’t necessarily understand what is required in the development process.

Staying focused

Never forget what functions are required when meeting your deadlines and budget. While it is nice to have dynamic people who can bring new qualities to your offering, make sure you stay to the scope of your project. It can be tempting to let the skills that you need currently be compromised by employing someone who has skills you would like to use in the distant future. If your budget doesn’t allow for the time it takes to dabble in gamification or other more time intensive approaches, these people will be left doing tasks that are not their specialty, and will be left feeling underemployed and mislead. This can impact upon morale and leave you with a high rotation of staff and extra costs using up your budget.

Say it how it is

It is important to be explicit in your position description when hiring for your team. You need to make sure that the people you hire can in fact do what you require of them, but first you need to be clear in what functions you need filled, and how you will divide those functions between employees. Be clear in your needs and expectations so that you can recruit appropriately, develop brilliant online content, and live happily ever after.

Do you need a hand with your content development? eWorks takes the time to understand your needs and match them with a team of skilled professionals. Contact eWorks today to get started.

Money management help for apprentices and trainees

ASIC’s Be MoneySmart is an online training resource developed to help VET students gain money management skills which support their future careers in small business or as contractors. eWorks has been chatting with clients about ASIC’s Be MoneySmart and they are super excited – as are we! In fact we’re thrilled to be working with ASIC to help VET students develop these essential life skills.

Online money management training

Apprentices, trainees and other VET students keen to improve their money management skills now have access to an online training resource developed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

ASIC’s Be MoneySmart resource covers five topics:

  • Saving, budgeting and spending
  • Personal tax
  • Superannuation
  • Debt management
  • Insurance.

ASIC’s Be MoneySmart was developed with assistance from the Australian Tax Office, Group Training Australia, Fair Work Building and Construction, Kangan Institute and Innovation and Business Skills Australia.

How does it work?

Students can complete any or all of the modules. To support learning, each of the five modules is accompanied by a student workbook with activities, an assessor/trainer guide and assessment tools. ASIC’s Be MoneySmart resource can also be used to support the accredited training and delivery of the Certificate III competency Be MoneySmart (FNSFLT301A) as either an imported unit of competency, as part of the Certificate III in Financial Services (FNS30111) or for general money management skills programs. Assessors and trainers don’t need to be topic experts as the resource is self-contained and has an online mentor.

The new resource is also available as a package for training organisations to include on their learning management system (LMS) with simple reporting requirements. Read on…

How did this come about?

In 2012, ASIC spoke to Australian apprentices and trainees to gauge their need and level of support for financial literacy training. Feedback confirmed most VET students and their trainers and mentors wanted simple, clear and engaging online learning in key financial areas such as tax, saving and budgeting and superannuation.

What is financial literacy?

Financial decision-making is an essential part of life. If you think about it, we make financial decisions every day – whether it’s how much to put aside for essentials, spend on a holiday, or invest in staff and equipment if we’re in business. It’s also important to be able to manage risk and avoid financial pitfalls. Regardless of our age, life-stage or circumstances, managing money and making financial decisions is intrinsic to every aspect of our lives and the lives of the people around us. Financial literacy is about having the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours to make informed financial decisions in support of financial well being. With almost every Australian owning one or more financial products and taking on greater responsibility for financial decision-making, financial literacy awareness and education is more important than ever.

Who is ASIC?

ASIC, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, is the Australian Government agency responsible for financial literacy. ASIC’s strategic priority is to promote confidence and trust in the financial system – key to this is helping Australians of all ages and at all life stages better manage their money and make informed financial decisions.

How do I get started?

ASIC’s Be MoneySmart is available free of charge in TrainingVC or Moodle with the free VET Commons plugin. Via VET Commons, educators will be able to install a full e-learning course into TrainingVC or Moodle including a student workbook, assessor guide and assessment tools. VET Commons also allows for easy access to the National Repository and other large VET content publishers. Combined with the existing ASIC MoneySmart teacher resources, this is an easy way to deliver valuable life skills to your learners, especially those entering the workforce.

‘ASIC’s Be MoneySmart resource is the next step in helping Australians of all ages and at different stages of life make confident and informed financial decisions’, said ASIC Chairman, Greg Medcraft.

Contact eWorks to learn more about accessing the VET Commons plugin.

Changing your perspective on gamification

Board games

Chris Dunkley is part of the talented team of multimedia designers at eWorks. He is particularly interested in graphic and user experience design. Here, Chris offers advice about the effective use of gamification in e-learning in order to improve the learning experience for students.

Using gamification in learning program design

It’s easy to dismiss gamification as just the latest trendy, marketing buzzword. The term is sometimes associated with the transformation of serious educational content into something which is frivolous. Some gamification techniques can seem like tricks designed to push students through content that is otherwise ineffective, by offering artificial and extrinsic rewards for doing so. It’s easy to argue that these are bad things, but the core ideas that underpin the gamification are good ones. As with any design, gamification must be applied thoughtfully and judiciously to be successful.

Define your success criteria

Success criteria should reward those who engage with the content. A student could, for example, be rewarded for completing a quiz as this demonstrates that he or she has understood the content. A less effective reward would be given for visiting every page in the content, this simply implies that the student has paged through each page of the content and may not have engaged with it at all. When designing your content you need to be clear about the goals you want your students to meet.

Common gamification techniques

Try telling a story with your content. Lending context to actions that the student is required to make can greatly help the student understand why certain actions are required in certain scenarios. Levels and badges can also be used to indicate when a student has achieved something. Levels can be good for showing linear progress through content while badges are best for highlighting individual achievements that may be non-linear.

Gamification should be about learning, not technology

Simply using a high tech solution to a problem doesn’t make it more effective than a low tech solution. Gamification principles can be employed at any level of technology and to any existing e-learning software. Gamification is an approach to design that makes your content more game-like. It’s not about using better technology, or about creating a game that contains learning. It’s about using game elements to improve the learning experience.

Contact eWorks to learn how to apply the principles of gamification to your digital content.

Compliance Training: Avoiding Death by Documentation

Sarah Dodds, instructional designer at eWorks

Sarah Dodds is an award-winning instructional designer. She transforms ideas, content, information and problems into meaningful learning experiences that engage and involve learners. Here Sarah offers clever strategies for cutting out the drivel and sticking to your key messages when designing compliance training. Perhaps not as difficult as you think?

Avoiding compliance training—no can do

That we operate in a compliance-driven world cannot be news to anyone but the freest of spirits. To find out more please see:

  • Our Work Instruction
  • Our Policy (Parts I, III and IV)
  • Our Procedure
  • The Act 2004.

A familiar list that makes you sit a little lower? Maybe even groan internally? Process and procedure documents are overwhelmingly unavoidable. Most, if not all, work practices are governed by some degree of predetermined process that, most likely, supports an overarching policy, which may, or may not, be driven by state or federal law (or perhaps industry best practice). This is not to say that process is a bad thing—on a fundamental level, process keeps us safe and fair. But for the e-learner, process can spell a near death experience of clicking and scrolling and swiping through endless lists of policy, procedure, checklists, flowcharts and decision trees.

So, what to do?

Beyond writing a short summary of the most critical documents (more about this horribly difficult task in another post) how can we, the instructional designer and writer, add meaning to lists of processes in the e-learning format?

Process and procedures are essentially rules that govern our decision making and for this reason it pays to look at the work of Nobel Prize-winning author and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman presents years of research relating to cognitive biases (judgement and decision making). Early in the piece, he states that “errors of intuitive thought are difficult to overcome”, and that “the best we can do is a compromise; learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high.”

So, where lists of process documents are concerned we might try to:

  • Illustrate situations “in which mistakes are likely”. This can be done with real or fictional case studies.
  • Look closely at policy and procedures documents “when stakes are high”. That is, provide greater explanation of policy documentation when consequences are grave.

Most importantly, Kahneman also states the premise of his book; “it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” Permission granted! What we have always known but found difficult to justify—it pays to use other people’s horror stories as vehicles for learning.

Where to next?

For more information and some thought-provoking ideas, have a read of Kahneman’s revealing book. And never forget that while it might not be possible to make all compliance training super fun, with a little thought and creativity it can be engaging and effective. Good luck!

Need a hand designing your compliance training? Simply contact eWorks.