Nobody said developing good e-learning content would be easy. There are some steps you can take to improve your e-learning development process. Migrating from traditional instructor-led training creates some real challenges for anyone tasked with creating an e-learning version. If you are new to instructional design for online classes, here are five common mistakes most of your peers have made.
1. Using the Wrong Tools
Almost every e-learning development package includes a tool with which you can rapidly import your existing Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. It should be labeled “For Emergency Use Only”. Using the wrong tool to create your e-learning class is just as dangerous as having poor content.
Instead, begin by deconstructing your existing materials. Save images, video, and audio files for use in constructing your e-learning class. If you don’t have an existing presentation, begin by storyboarding or outlining the new class.
No single tool performs every function an e-learning developer needs.
The tools to create e-learning content are varied in features and price. Virtually every development tool out there offers a trial period, so take advantage of them. Take your deconstructed presentation, and reconstruct it using an e-learning tool. Create the same content in a couple of the tools so that you identify the one that best fits your training needs.
The same concept applies to identifying how your e-learning class will be delivered. With an ever-growing number of services able to host your class, try several before committing. Some services do better with online video, others are more capable of handling international sessions. Some free services are available, such as Join.Me. Free services often come with file size limitations, limits on the number of participants, or are supported by advertisements.
Utilize small groups made up of instructors and students with recent experience in the class to help you evaluate your tools.
2. Audio and Video Troubles
Audio and video are key elements of most e-learning sessions. As such, they deserve as much attention as the presentation.
Audio is a source of frustration for many students. Volume changes between slides, unintelligible words, and background noise are all things within your control. Some tips to help you with audio:
- Select a variety of individuals, both male and female, to be narrators for your classes. Audition voices to the peer group mentioned above. Select people that sound casual and relaxed, that speak clearly.
- Use a quality microphone, positioned properly (normally 8-10″ away).
- Use a script. Print it out in a larger font (14-16 point) and leave plenty of white space.
- Stand up while recording narration.
- Use plenty of silence – before and between takes. This makes it easier to edit clips.
- Use closed-captioning if your authoring tool makes it available.
Video components of an e-learning class can be equally frustrating. Videos from YouTube or Vimeo may seem like an easy way to avoid setting up a media server, but be aware of the potential down side. The URL can change unexpectedly, or the publisher can change the content. These services also process the video, so there is going to be some degradation of quality from the original.
Students get frustrated when they click “play” and the video is poor or grainy, or their media player mentions the word “codec”. Students pick up on videos that are dated, as well. With the ease of creating high-definition quality video, and the readiness of cheap editing tools – you should really consider creating videos unique to your training program.
Some other tips about video:
- Use a script.
- Shoot raw video in the highest definition possible, and keep the raw video files intact in your library. Edit copies.
- Keep segments short. They are easier to edit, are smaller in size, and are easier to get right in fewer “takes”.
- If doing a screen recording, control mouse movement carefully. Edit out delays in transition between screens.
- Know the types of devices that will be playing the finished video. Scale the video during editing. Frame rates should always be 24 fps or higher (29.97 fps is the US standard).
- Used closed caption or titling to illustrate key points.
3. Time and Engagement Issues
The nice thing about e-learning is that you can break complex, lengthy courses into manageable sessions. There are a number of papers that make recommendations on the proper length of an e-learning course. The best answer is not exact – simply, as long as you can keep the learner engaged. Some research suggests that learners can only pay close attention for as little as 10 minutes.
What keeps learners engaged?
- Video clips, typically under 5-7 minutes each.
- Interactive exercises that provide immediate feedback.
- Self-guided sections, where the learner decides how to proceed through the content.
- Photos and graphical representations; including those that allow user interaction (hotspots, exploding diagrams, etc)
- Questions or quizzes
As you try to keep the audience engaged, bear in mind that any content should be specific to the class or course. Avoid using stock photography, clip art, or stock animations if possible.
4. Feature and Content Overloading
Each authoring tool has its own unique set of features, and the vendors are constantly creating new ways to help you deliver your message. The ever-present technology imperative. A technology exists, therefore we must (a) have it and (b) use it.
Creating learner engagement is a core concept in e-learning development. Many of the ‘features’ of today’s authoring tools focus on these elements. The key to using features is to identify where they have educational value, and are not just stuck into your course because you had content that fit the feature and context.
For example, Adobe Captivate 6 includes no less than ten interaction types, sixteen object types and over 100 effect that can applied to those objects. Designers can easily get lost in the feature set, trying to engage the student with animations and objects rather than the curriculum. Students benefit most when material is presented in a structured manner using a consistent template, with interactions and features being used to make key information stand out.
The same principles apply when an instructional designer tries to deliver too much content in the duration of the class. Not to be confused with classes that are too long or too short, which we just covered. In a short class, it may reasonable to only achieve one outcome.
5. Lack of Evaluation
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to create an e-learning class, make it available, and then never follow up with your students. Odds are that the system you use to deliver your e-learning will support surveys or exams. Especially with the first few participants, you need to go beyond the traditional evaluation. Specifically look for technical problems; sometimes students are reluctant to point out flaws unless specifically asked.
- Did you have any issues gaining access to the class once you were registered and received instructions?
- How long did the class materials take to load?
- Did you experience any technical issues during the class?
- How was the audio in the class?
- What equipment were you using? a mobile device? a laptop?
After you have a sufficient number of students participate and have gathered basic feedback, conduct a class review. See if the e-learning class is comparable to previously offered instructor-led class. Inquire about job performance of both sets.
E-learning is not create, post and forget. One benefit of e-learning is the ability to modify content without have to redistribute materials or retrain instructors. Take advantage of the tools available to you, and don’t be afraid of your mistakes – correct them.
E-Learning: Lessons Learned
In brief, every new instructional designer will have problems. The key is to take advantage of the research and learn from the mistakes of others, while evaluating your own e-learning offerings. Every audience, every training center has different needs and requirements. A constant dialogue helps you identify and correct the mistakes you will invariable make.