Unlocking the full potential of any eLearning project means better learning results. Pursuing those results remains a top priority for those delivering online learning today. To ensure that your eLearning delivers the results that you and your learners want, it’s essential to approach it with careful planning and thoughtful strategies.
In this blog article, our Learning Design Lead, Joy Siegel explores some of the best approaches to plan for better learning results.
Picture this, you’ve just launched a freshly built piece of eLearning. You’re feeling confident that your employees will love it and make those changes that you’ve been wanting to see. After all, you’ve spent quite a bit of time, money and resources to get your eLearning to the release stage. However, instead of the dramatic behaviour change that you expected, you don’t see any change.
Most individuals or teams who are beginning a project are full of good intentions. eLearning is no exception. It’s normal to be optimistic before ‘getting into the weeds’ of content writing, planning, building, reviewing and releasing. You know why you want an eLearning solution and what you want to see your employees do. However, along the planning, decision-making and developing process, those good intentions (and your good work) can lose their way. You end up with an eLearning solution that doesn't achieve your intended aims or meet the needs of your employees.
Let’s rewind and try again – in that space before you spent your time, money and resources on this piece of eLearning. By making four changes in your approach, you can improve the odds of a better learner outcome and achieve the behaviour change that you were hoping for. This is what it means to design learning that works.
Realistically, even the best eLearning cannot account for all behaviours, motivators and situations, but planning for motivation, engagement, design and organisation is within your control. Let’s look at each aspect and consider how you can embed them into your eLearning decisions.
One common reason that eLearning fails is due to a lack of motivation. In a perfect world, everyone would be so engaged in their work that they’re intrinsically motivated to improve.
Continue your momentum from motivation by planning for thoughtful engagement. The most relevant way to embed engagement is by offering opportunities for your employees to practise what you want them to do. Unless you are trying to make your employee a better reader, you’ll need to offer more than passive reading in your eLearning. You can plan for this by providing the answer to the question, ‘What should I do with this in real life?’. This means embedding practical activities into your eLearning to allow learners to try out the skills you want them to learn.
One such activity for promoting engagement is scenario-based learning. Scenario-based learning is when you provide a real-life situation or sequence of situations relevant to your employee and invite them to make decisions about what to do next. This structured approach is a safe way for learners to practise the desired real-life skills within the limitations of eLearning.
Another, perhaps less content-driven but still very engaging, strategy is to plan on offering an incentive within the learning. Not everyone thrives on competition, but for employees who need a bit more motivation, incentives can give them a reason to want to do well. It could be as simple as offering a certificate of learning or a digital badge upon completion. For the more competitive or game-driven employees, you could plan for a virtual or in-person gamified element, such as a leaderboard or points collection to make the learning feel less like a chore. Your employees will likely notice that you planned for motivation and engagement and will be able to point to the places where you accounted for them.
3) Course design
The third category of decision-making should nearly feel invisible to your employees, but it’s essential for creating learning that works.
Course design is a multi-faceted concept but, for the sake of the planning advice presented here, it’s the look and feel of the eLearning. To help explain it a bit more clearly, think about using an online map. It’s visual, it tells you the sequence of streets, you’ll typically find a similar look and feel within a neighbourhood, and it feels as predictable as it can be for an online resource. Now, imagine having an out-of-date map, or no map at all, and trying to get around a new place that has no predictable sequence or structure to any of the neighbourhoods. It would be frustrating and overwhelming. Your course design is the map to your eLearning.
Although course design may feel invisible, it’s actually one of the most visual pieces of eLearning. Good course design answers the (often unspoken but expected) questions, ‘Where do I go?’, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and ‘How long is this?’ Fortunately, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to plan for and answer these questions alone.
Typically, navigation is supported by whoever will be developing or engineering your eLearning. As part of their planning, the developer will set a navigation structure and select a small range of instructional prompts that will answer the questions of where, what and when. As a note of caution, even though you may want to get heavily involved with the wording of the prompts, be aware that the developers are making decisions based on accessibility for a variety of learners and devices. For example, choosing the word ‘select’ rather than ‘click’ seems minor, but, depending on a particular employee’s device or accessibility needs, a word change can lead to inaccuracy.
Where you will likely need to be more involved in the planning of course design is the look and feel of the eLearning. Start with deciding if illustrations or photographs would convey your message better. You may already have high-quality images to use as a starting point. You can mix illustrated infographics with other visuals but avoid a large mixture of styles, such as cartoon figures with high-concept sketches with photographs. It will feel jarring, and your employees will notice something is off.
One last aspect of course design is duration. As part of your motivation and engagement planning, you’ve likely thought about the learning strategy. Maybe you think it’s best to have your employees complete a 5-part scenario or engage them with an interactive video and reflective questions. No matter your approach, avoid surprising your learner with unrealistic time expectations. According to a study by Brysbaert and Vantieghem (2022), an adult’s average reading speed peaks at 300 words per minute between ages 20-25 and is down to 200 words by age 31-45. It’s important to note that these figures pertain to reading fiction; reading non-fiction will take longer. Realistically, plan for about 100 words per minute to try to accommodate different ages and experiences. Overburdening your employees is not learning that works.
Planning for organisation may not feel as flashy or fun as motivation, engagement or course design, but it provides an essential structure for these other principles. Think about a builder who used the same plans for a development. Once you’ve walked through one house, you could easily navigate the rest. Well-organised learning is very similar in that it follows a predictable structure.
Make sure to answer the following questions: ‘What does this eLearning cover?’ and ‘How will I know when I’m done?’ Establishing the learning outcomes will partially answer the first question and should be included near the beginning of the eLearning. Provide clear objectives to the learner upfront to let them know what they will be able to do differently (other than just ‘know something’). Be mindful of sticking to these objectives, as all content should directly relate to them. A pro tip for group eLearning planning is to have someone who can be confident in the role of gatekeeper: they should be on the lookout for any ‘bonus’ non-learning objective-related content that tries to sneak into the eLearning and flag it for removal.
To answer the ‘What does this cover?’ question more fully, consider planning with the end in mind. You’ve already identified what you want your employees to do at the end. Now, identify how many steps or stages will it take to get that result. Presenting eLearning in manageable chunks is great for cognitive reasons and because employees find it easier to revisit content. Once you make it back to the opening step or stage, look at the full sequence and make sure it flows in a logical order.
Once you have planned and checked the organisation of your content, this is a good time to make sure that any learning outcomes that you’ve written match what you’re planning to include in the eLearning. Ideally, your employees will start the eLearning, view the learning outcomes, topics and duration, and then they’ll interact with your motivating, engaging and well-designed eLearning. Although not needed at the early planning stage, you may want to decide how you will let learners know when they’ve finished a topic. One solution is to add a statement to let employees know they have finished a topic and a cover slide to start the next one. These will further emphasise your attention to organisation and provide an anchor for learners.
When planning for eLearning, it’s extremely challenging to account for all variables and all learners, but try to start with a good plan that is centred around learner needs. Help your learner identify with the content and relate to it for better motivation. Promote better engagement by offering opportunities for learners to do, practise and perhaps even compete. Design the eLearning experience in such a way that the design doesn’t get in the way of your intended message. Plan for a predictable flow through good organisation.
We hope you’ve found this resource helpful and that it helps you with your future eLearning planning. If you like the planning ideas but are looking for more guidance or have a piece of eLearning that could use the Aurion Learning approach, get in touch and let's start a conversation about how we can help create learning that works for you and your learners.
Brysbaert, M. and Vantieghem, A. (2022). No correlation between articulation speed and silent reading rate when adults read short texts. doi:https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/sq9vw.
Knowles, M.S., Holton III, E.F., Swanson, R.A. and Robinson, P.A. (2020). The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.