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Here’s How to Make Your E-Learning Course Meaningful


When I meet people who aren’t in the elearning industry I usually ask them if they have to take elearning courses at work, and if so, what they think about them.  For today’s post, I’d like address some of the more common issues I hear from those who have to take elearning courses and offer a few ideas on how to deal with them.



Is this course important?

To quote James Stockdale, “Who am I? Why am I taking this course?” 


Our industry talks a lot about creating engaging courses; and then we’ll offer up tips on building interactive scenarios and all of that.  That’s fine and dandy, but the best place to start when you want to create an engaging course is to make sure it’s relevant to the person taking it.

If a course is relevant to the learner, you’re more apt to tap into their own motivations for learning.  If it’s not relevant, it becomes a lot harder to keep their attention and to make the learning stick.

The solution? Create courses that are learner-centric.  Focus less on dumping information on the learner and more on what information they need to do what it is they’re supposed to do.  Then help them figure out how to use it.



What’s this course all about?

You’re asking people to invest some of their valuable time in the elearning course.  So they need a clear understanding of what the course is about, what they’re supposed to learn, and expectations after the course.


Conveying clear course objectives is critical and a good starting point.  With that said, it doesn’t mean you have to create a bullet list of objectives.  There are other ways to state the objectives of the course. 

For example, you could challenge them to solve a problem prior to starting the course.  Not being able to solve it exposes their need to know more.  This then becomes the basis of explaining what the course is about and what they should learn from it. 

You can frame the course from the perspective of what the world would be like without your valuable information.  Create an opening scene that demonstrates something negative that happens as a result of a lack of understanding—perhaps a workplace injury occurred…or a sale was lost.  It could be anything.  The main point is that there are more creative ways to state the course’s objectives without the standard objectives screen.



What’s my motivation?

A big concern when building elearning courses is that people just click through the course and don’t look at all of the screens.  So our solution tends to be that we lock the screen navigation.  This forces the person to see all of the valuable information and of course that causes them to learn everything they need to know.

Wrong.  When you think about it, the reason they’re just clicking through the course is probably because the course really means nothing to them.  So that takes us back to the first point: make the course is relevant.


Something else to consider.  If the course included a free iPad upon 100% completion, my guess is that they’d have no problem being focused and meeting the course objectives.  That’s because there’s motivation to complete the course.

You can’t give an iPad to all of your learners (especially not an iPad 2), but you can identify what motivates them and then build courses that address those issues.  A motivate learner is one who will learn.

What’s motivating your learners?  Why would they want to take the course?  What do they get out of it?  Are you helping them do something better?



How do I know I’m done?

I recall a few years back I was showing a manager this really cool interactive scenario.  I was excited because it was one of the nicest elearning interactions we’d developed.  His response was, “We hate scenarios.”  The reason was because they just wanted to quickly get to the end of the course and get back to work.  This probably speaks to the first point again and ensuring that the course is relevant.


Another complaint about the scenarios was that it took a lot longer to get the essential information and the scenarios made them unsure of their progress.  They felt like they were stuck in a labyrinth being taunted by David Bowie

The solution for this is easy.  Let the learners know upfront what is expected and how long it will take to complete the course.  In addition, offer some sort of indication during the course of where they’re at.  I’ll also include that if you add interactive scenarios, they need to be meaningful and not waste their time. 



What now?

What do you want the people to do when they’re done with the elearning course?  A common complaint is that people are forced to take elearning courses with no expectation for them to do something with what they just learned.


This is especially true when you get the November email telling you that there are twenty courses you need to take before years end.  You take the courses and no one really cares what happens after.

The other side of it is that you take a great course; learn some good stuff; but then don’t have a place to practice using it.  I’ve seen this quite a bit in places that roll out soft skills or management 101 type training. 

Here are a few ideas:

§  Indicate a way for the learner to continue learning.  Direct them to additional resources or a shared practice community where they can build on what the elearning course taught.

§  Connect the managers to the course expectations.  It always confused me why the training group was more involved in employee development than the managers were.  We used to send the managers an update of who took a course and then provided some additional coaching tips so that their staff could continue to be developed.

§  Provide some handy cheat sheets or job aids they can use when they get back to the job.  Or ask them to design some to share with others.  This is a great way to assess their level of understanding, as well.