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.


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.

Online training: Set and forget is not viable for VET

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller has been involved in online training and assessment for more than 10 years. During this time she has seen the exponential growth in the online training market, as more and more people turn to online study to fit in with their busy lives, or because they live too far away to participate in person. And while online training certainly offers flexibility in general, it is important to remember that this umbrella term refers to a range of different learning scenarios.

There’s online training, and there’s online training

Michael Coghlan (based on Clint Smith’s work) describes nine models of online training, ranging from e-training to blended training to the flipped classroom. Michael explains that:

  • E-training is self-directed training where learners receive no facilitation or human interaction.
  • Blended training is where traditional training is supplemented by web-based content and other e-communication.
  • Flipped classroom involves moving traditional class-based content online and away from face-to-face sessions, and then uses the face-to-face time on practical application of the content.

While a small percentage of the population may find e-training to be exactly what they need, this type of set and forget online training is not a viable business model in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. People may want to go online to access training on their terms, but they still want to feel like individuals rather than part of a vending machine online training model. And being part of a wider learning community is important to many learners, regardless of how isolated their learning environment might be.

How do we know that set and forget doesn’t work?

Here are a couple of examples to explain why set and forget online training is not a viable business model for VET:

  • As Jim Bost, Lecturer at TAFE SA once said: Nobody has ever said to an RTO: Here’s my money to do your online training, but now please, I never want to hear from you again
  • Brad Beach, Manager of the Professional Educator College at Chisholm Institute, also talks about how a ‘wow’ learning moment never comes from content. It comes through conversations and discussions with others. 

I’ve also heard Brad say that the number one reason why learners log into a learning management system (LMS) is to see if someone has responded to them, and he’s not talking about the score from an online quiz.

no money handshakeA no money handshake by Mark Miller

Let’s learn a little more about set and forget online training 

Set and forget online training is when a learner is asked to log into an online course and only interact with the content and activities, with no human interaction whatsoever. This type of training is done mainly through the delivery of online content and self-marking quizzes. While it is quite suitable for mandated or compulsory training such as WHS inductions or testing whether people’s knowledge is still current, it does not lend itself to being the only form of training and assessment in VET. In some sectors or for specific types of learning, yes, but entire courses within the VET sector, no.

VET training requires the application of skills and knowledge, much of which is tacit and can only be developed through interaction with others, through modelling and individualised feedback. Set and forget online training also increases the risk of cheating, as there is no buy-in by learners to take ownership of their work.

Now let’s not confuse set and forget or self-directed training with self-paced online training. Self-paced online training still requires interaction between the trainer and their learners through regular communications with their learners as they complete each section of a course. This might include useful feedback about their work and responding to journal entries or discussion forum posts.

What do you need to think about when setting up online training?

Let’s analyse what you need to consider when setting up online training:

1. Firstly, the cost of setting up your online training course, which involves:

  • Undertaking stakeholder consultations to determine when online training is suitable and when it isn’t. No one wants their hair cut by a hairdresser who has been trained solely through online content and a quiz!
  • Creating storyboards as part of the online training design process.
  • Developing content, whether that be text, images, audio or video.
  • Setting up the online course based on the online training design and incorporating the content developed, and then, 
  • Testing the online course to make sure it is learner-friendly, and that all of the links and downloads work.

2. Secondly, maintaining your online training course to ensure that:

  • The content stays up to date and relevant. Remember, audio and video content can be very expensive to update if, say, legislative changes put your content out of date. 
  • It keeps up with the latest technology with which people are accessing your online training course. At the moment, for example, Articulate Storyline 1 isn’t officially supported with Windows 10, so some Window 10 users might not be able to see your Articulate Storyline 1 content in your online courses. And then there’s a whole other blog post on whether or not your online training course looks good on a mobile device.

Getting it right from the start

So, with all of the investment involved in setting up and maintaining an online course, it makes perfect sense that you take the time to:

  • weigh up whether a course free of human interaction is really going to pay off for your cohort of learners, and,
  • how much extra return on investment you will gain by adding the human element to your online training courses, whether that be a self-paced, fully facilitated online training, blended or flipped classroom model.

Remember, people go to a training organisation to learn from and with others

Otherwise they could get most of what they need from the internet in general, or YouTube, MOOCs or other online courses. Through my experience and observations it seems to me that set and forget online training is not a cash cow, rather it is a short-sighted approach to online training which can potentially be an expensive white elephant. What do you think is the most effective form of online training? I would love to know your thoughts.

How to spring-clean your e-learning cobwebs

Lisa Wait eWorks Accredited ConsultantLisa Wait has held key roles leading national digital education initiatives for government. Her passions include instructional design, educational strategy and digital resource development for schools, VET and industry. Lisa might only get serious about spring-cleaning once per year, but here she explains how we can apply spring-cleaning principles across the board – ‘e’ cobwebs included.

It’s springtime!

When the sun begins to shine and the trees begin to blossom it is time to have a good spring-clean. Springtime is my annual prompt to wash the windows, clean out cupboards and sweep away the cobwebs. I must confess, these are once a year activities in my housekeeping schedule! However, although these cleaning activities don’t happen very often, they are certainly an annual undertaking. But why limit your spring-cleaning to your home? How many of us think to spruce up our organisation’s e-learning programs on an annual basis?

Online learning and spring cleaning

Spring-cleaning our online learning programs allows us to reflect on what we have been doing, to consider what worked and, most importantly perhaps, to review what didn’t. Then we can clean out the e-learning ‘cobwebs’ and brainstorm new ideas for the year ahead. If you’re not sure where to start, here is an e-learning spring-cleaning checklist.

spring cleanCredits: Betty Spent Some Time Cleaning Her Windows by Kate Ter Haar

1. Maintenance

  • Check for broken links and links that should be replaced with more up-to-date information
  • Make sure that the e-learning content reflects current language, concepts or customer needs.
  • Be on the lookout for out dated graphics, logos or branding.

2. Learning design

  • Review the learning design – ‘drag and drop’ and ‘click and reveal’ were once considered highly interactive. Do these activities still deliver the required learning?
  • Is the e-learning as engaging and relevant today as it was 5 years ago?
  • Does the learning design reflect your current workplace and practices?
  • Is there opportunity for communication and collaboration?
  • Can your organisation make use of social media for learning?

3. Technical

  • Work through any interactive learning objects or assets to check they function correctly on the latest browsers and platforms.
  • Is it time to consider delivering e-learning on ipads, tablets and mobiles?

Too busy to spring-clean?

Perhaps I can be a little blunt here? No, you’re not too busy to spring-clean. If we never do it, if we never pause to think about what we have been doing and why, we never grow as individuals or as organisations. So spring-cleaning is about prioritising. Like all things that are good for us, from our regular yoga class to an annual check-up at the dentist, it might take a little effort to make it happen, but we know that it’s important. Lecture over (for now!). Do let me know if you need a hand.

SCORM and Moodle: Common issues and easy solutions

Bernadette ParryBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TrainingVC training, advanced Moodle training and support desk services. Today Bernadette considers common issues when it comes to working with SCORM and Moodle, and simple solutions to these problems.

What is SCORM?

SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. It’s not just a name though. It’s a series of specifications that define information exchanged between the learner’s interactions with the content and the Learning Management System (see image below using Moodle as the LMS). Still a bit of a mouthful? Basically, this is what you should know about using SCORM packages with Moodle:

  1. SCORM packaging is a standard way of putting together some web pages and other content that is then zipped into a .ZIP file. This is a convenient way to transport (share) bits of content. The final ZIP file is often referred to as a SCORM object or SCORM package.
  2. Once the package has been uploaded to Moodle, the user can interact with the SCORM package. For example, learners can click on items that respond, and complete quizzes.
  3. Information is then passed between the SCORM package and Moodle. Examples of this Information are quiz scores (if there are any), and the pages looked at. There may or may not be a grade in the SCORM package. 

SCORM Moodle flowchart

How are SCORM packages created?

There are many ways to create SCORM packages, including the use of software such as Wimba Create, Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. SCORM modules can also be composed of regular old HTML – a mini website if you will. Don’t forget that to make quality SCORM packages, you need to plan, be creative, and make the content engaging and educationally sound.

Should you use SCORM?

Content made using the commercial authoring tools such as Lectora, Wimba Create, etc can help to make your course look more professional, and they are very popular for this reason. However, do keep in mind that if you are using Moodle/Totara, then reporting and grading using standard Moodle activities works better. One of the main benefits of SCORM packaging is the portability of e-learning content which is often expensive and time consuming to create.

Common problems when working with SCORM

1. Changing/updating the SCORM package

SCORM packages that are created in proprietary software are not so easy to edit unless you have that software and the technical skills to use it. You may also need the original files that the SCORM package was created with. (Note that this is not restricted to SCORM packages.)

2. Completion issues

The following may cause issues with the SCORM package sending completion information to Moodle:

  • Having multiple browser tabs open and flicking between them. Best not to do it – each tab doesn’t necessarily have the whole picture of the steps you have taken.
  • Not exiting the package correctly. You must click exit and follow the steps precisely. You should not close the browser/browser page to exit the SCORM package because it is the exit that sends the message to the LMS that the SCORM package has been completed.
  • A temporary internet outage.
  • Using the back button at any time while working on the SCORM package. Again best not to do it – the history of your interactions can become confused.
  • Refreshing the browser page while working in the SCORM package. This isn’t a good idea – you may lose your progress.

3. Is your SCORM package a valid SCORM package?

In other words, is your module SCORM compliant? Of course there are other folders/files/rules required, but this is one good way to check:

  • Unzip your .zip – and there should be a file called ‘imsmanifest.xml’ in the root directory. This is vital as it has information about the navigation structure of the web pages, how to find images, a unique identifier, metadata, etc.
  • Use SCORM 1.2 – be aware that SCORM 2004 is not supported in Moodle.

4. And for the more technically minded:

  • At least one item in the manifest file must reference a resource which is identified as a ‘SCO’.
  • If an HTML page is referenced as the resource for an item in the manifest file it must contain LMS calls.

5. Using a SCORM package in Moodle

  • For SCORM packages which don’t return a score, instead simply relying on the user completing them, the SCORM settings under grading method should be set to Learning Objects. This updates the course score for the user.
  • If you have a package in a Moodle course that some learners have already started/completed, and you update the SCORM package, then the learner’s data remains intact. However, the completion date may be updated to whenever the new version of the SCORM package was uploaded. Note: if you change the identifiers in the imsmanifest.xml file, the learner tracking data can be deleted.

Ready to kick up a SCORM?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one. You can find further valuable information about using SCORM modules on the E-standards for Training and Moodle websites. Or contact eWorks to find out how we use SCORM packages.