I’ve helped to create numerous online learning programs and believe it or not, I actually prefer online instruction to in-person, with one caveat – the creators of the training must know what they are doing.
Here is a quick checklist to keep in mind if you are contemplating building online learning:
Your audience and subject matter must be known inside and out. This means you either need to be a subject matter expert, an SME, or locate one. Preferably several – the more the better.
Next, hire an Instructional Designer, ID. This is the person who takes the knowledge from the SMEs and lays it out using evidence based practices for the learners. They understand how people truly learn, and will storyboard out the entire course for you.
Now it’s time for an awesome design and development team, which will take it from paper and bring it to life. These are the people who know the software needed to create the lessons and build the interaction. They are going to make it dance from the backend coding to the front end mechanics. During this process the instructional designer and the developers work together to ensure the material informs, engages, challenges and tests learners.
One of the most important aspects to keep in mind when bringing this team together – everyone should have at least some knowledge of pedagogy. For example, you may find the most wonderful user experience guru out there, but if they have not worked in the instructional field before they are speaking to a completely different audience.
Some key points to remember for you DIYers, or if you are constrained by budget and cannot hire all the experts you want:
Never assume that something in your materials is previously known. Every single person has had a life of different experiences than you. Do not think that your audience is nearly as familiar with the subject matter as you are. Avoid local cultural references (slang, turns of phrase) unless you are 100% positive your materials are exclusive to an audience who will understand them without resorting to urbandictionary.com. Globalization requires keeping language clear, and not just aimed at native speakers.
Sentences should be concise, but never condescending. Write it out and then work to get that message across in as few words as possible. Keep going over it again and again. Also, keep in mind cognitive load and the 7+2 rule of working memory. While all sorts of factors may apply to a persons ability to retain, we all know at some point too much is too much!
Images are paramount! They act as a tether to the information you are sharing. Remember, most people are visual learners. Give them an image to tie that information back to, but make sure those images are useful and not just filler – they need to convey what you want people to understand. Too much noise for no purpose and you have lost your learner.
Give them a story! People grasp and remember what they can relate to. A story makes it real, and can give an emotional context to the material.
Those little learning games do help. They may appear frivolous to you, but learning games help people to cement concepts quickly. Gamification relies heavily on the evidence based success of rewards. Skinner had something there!
Ask questions the audience has to answer! You should be asking questions throughout the material and certainly at the end of each section. This causes learners to engage, think and stay alert. It gives them instant feedback and redirection if needed, and it rewards trainees when they are on the right path.
Lastly, while building any training material the most important piece to remember is test, test and test again. Storyboard out what you want to convey and start getting feedback. Have as many people as you possibly can go through it and listen to what they say. Do not cut corners on this one. You will uncover where the holes are in your training logic, if you are losing your audience and what needs polish.
Online training is exploding in popularity because it works! But, only if done right. Make sure your online training is worth peoples’ time and it will reward you (and them!) greatly.
Danielle VanZorn, PMP, SPHR