Instructional Design: elearning

Service Overview

Award-winning elearning design that is visually engaging, interactive and based on adult learning principles.

What is elearning?

Elearning (or e-learning) is a learning course employees complete online at their own pace. The course is asynchronous. There is no facilitator and, while there may be other participants completing the course at the same time, participants have minimal to no interaction with each other. Elearning courses can be completed on a computer, table or phone. Courses that are specifically designed for phones are often called mobile learning or mlearning.

When is elearning appropriate?

There are many topics and situations where elearning is an excellent delivery channel. There are also topics and situations where elearning is not very effective in achieving performance change. Elearning is most appropriate when:

  • It is critical to provide a consistent message.
  • Employees are geographically dispersed.
  • The content has a ‘right answer’ and is less ‘nuanced’.
  • The content is static and not subject to change.
  • There is a significant amount of content to be delivered to a large audience.
  • When employees are not able to devote extended periods of time needed to meet in person for facilitated training.
  • Employees need flexibility to complete training at their own pace and when they are available.

In contrast, facilitated learning is most appropriate when:

  • Employees need to build relationships with each other to support business needs or learn from peers.
  • The content is ‘nuanced’ and there isn’t a clear ‘right answer.’
  • The content changes often and materials need to be updated frequently.

Elearning is more expensive to develop initially than facilitated learning, especially if the design includes multimedia and a complex design. However, the delivery costs for elearning are considerably lower than for facilitated learning (in-person or virtual).

Learn about my overall instructional design process.

Learn more about facilitated learning.

How is the instructional design process different for elearning than for other types of learning?

The overall process for designing elearning is the same as the instructional design process for facilitated learning. However, there are significant details that make designing elearning unique.

  1. Create a High-Level Design and Visual Concept – For elearning, this needs to also include a ‘backstory’ and a visual concept.
    • The backstory is the narrative or story that hooks the employee and brings the content to life. It moves the course from information with a next button to something the employee can engage with.
    • Successful elearning is so reliant on good graphic design that creating a visual concept is a critical early step. It establishes the visual look and feel for the course and ensures it aligns with the organization’s brand and colour palette.
  2. Create a Storyboard and Functional Prototype –  For elearning, this step includes creating a functional prototype.
    • The storyboard builds out the high-level design to include the script for narration and instructions for the developer to create animation and interactivity. The learning activities such as scenarios and questions are built out in full.
    • The functional prototype expands on the visual design by adding interactivity and animation to the earlier static pages. Quality Assurance (QA) and testing is an important part of building a successful functional prototype.
  3. Develop the elearning course – Gone are the days of HTML programming to create elearning. There are now several Rapid Authoring tools available from Articulate StorylineLectora, and Adobe Captivate that make the ‘programming’ aspect of developing elearning much easier. Like the functional prototype, completing quality assurance (QA) checks, testing on the LMS and completing User Acceptance Testing (UAT) are critical parts of developing elearning.
  4. Support the client in implementing the course – Supporting clients at this stage should be largely taken care of if QA and testing were completed throughout the design and development process. Sometimes clients needs support uploading the course to their Learning Management System (LMS) or setting up user accounts and user groups.

I hosted a professional development session on designing elearning for the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL). I’d be happy to talk with you if a similar session might be helpful in your organization.

What else do you need to consider with elearning instructional design?

I mentioned graphic design and QA. It’s worth mentioning again because both are so critical to the success of an elearning course.

Graphic Design

I find learners don’t necessarily notice good graphic design, but they definitely notice when it’s bad. If the look and feel are clunky or the course feels dated employees can tune out, get turned off and dismiss the overall course. Even if the content is really good, they can’t get past how poorly it’s represented visually.

QA Testing

With in-person courses, a facilitator can tweak slides right up to the last moment. If there’s a mistake, the facilitator can address it or correct it in-the-moment. This isn’t possible with elearning. Design, content, functionality, etc. need to be reviewed, tested and signed off at each step in the process. Finding a mistake early on is easier and less expensive to correct; fixing a mistake just before going live is much more challenging.

Narration

Narration is another consideration with elearning. My bias is to increase the budget to accommodate quality, professional audio talent. It’s so much better than speech to text, which is disjointed and therefore distracting to learners. I’ve also used high-quality recordings of non-professional audio talent. There ends up being so many takes and editing that it ends up being comparable in price to professional narrators. Check with the narrator if they have different pricing for learning and broadcasting.

The other consideration is what to narrate. Elearning and the Science of Instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning by Ruth C. Clark and Richard E. Mayer is a great resource for designing elearning. The authors suggest two principles to keep in mind:

  • Modality principle – Adults retain more from narration plus visuals on screen than from only reading on-screen text.
  • Redundancy principle – Generally speaking, the text on screen shouldn’t be the same as the narration. There are exceptions – if there are language difficulties, the text is complex, etc.

Finally, audio is costly to include, so I recommend clients incorporate it in a targeted way so it doesn’t decrease the longevity of the elearning course. Include narration for content that will remain the same (e.g., welcome, instructions for activities, stable content) and avoid narrating content that is more likely to change (e.g., product details, descriptions of system screens, etc.)

Where can you learn more?