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How to design effective e-learning courses?

efektywny e-learning
Table of contents

E-learning is at its peak of popularity. All trainers were forced into a sudden digital transformation. Teaching and training groups were furious with posts in which participants recommended different tools, ideas for interactions and “icebreakers”. However, there is no discussion about the methodology of distance learning. Everyone knows that online training shouldn’t be longer than X, and the text on the screen shouldn’t be longer than Y, but this equation rarely produces anything of value.

In this article, I will introduce you to the online training design process, recommend practical sources of knowledge, inspiration and experts. This is a very extensive field, so please take this text as an introduction. The rest is in your hands and heads.

Instructional Designer – who is he?

The role of Instructional Designer is so recognizable in Poland that it has not even been well translated yet. However, this role is extremely important in any e-learning project. It is up to this person to determine not only the training goal and measures of success with the ordering party, but also the choice of formats, presentation of materials, interaction design and other engaging and motivational mechanisms as well as checking the knowledge transfer. This requires cooperation with both field and technical experts who finally create / program the training.

Instructional Designer

How do you get these skills?

I have not found a single book on the market that would allow everyone to gain the required knowledge over the weekend. This is due to the fact that it is a very extensive topic. However, we can break it down into parts.

Determine if training is needed

Often, e-learning training courses are created impulsively. Our sales are falling? Let’s create a product training! However, it may turn out that the cause of the problem is not a lack of knowledge or skills, but is due to a lack of motivation, market changes, or poor marketing. Even the best training will not change this situation. One of the easiest ways to get to the bottom of the problem may be the 5 Why Method. We should not start any project without applying it.

Determining if training is possible

When we are convinced that the training will help us solve a given problem (or at least it will not hurt), we can discuss our limitations: budget, resources, time and technical constraints. It will also allow us to initially reject some training formats. Large, scattered population, a month’s time and low budget? VR probably won’t work, but video, podcast or a simple job aid could work. The e-book “20 Questions L&D should ask before talking about training!”, which also includes a ready-made template, will help you ask the right questions at that stage.

I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the Learning Battle Cards project. Thanks to special cards, we can learn and plan various training formats and create one, coherent development project.

Setting the training goal

Sounds trivial. After all, our point is that the participant of our training should “know”, “remember”, “be able to”. But is it really? Is it enough for the insurance agent to “know” a new product, or is it rather important for us to know how to apply a specific sales technique in a given situation to convince an undecided customer to buy? When establishing training goals, Bloom’s taxonomy works great, thanks to which we can define measurable goals using a special list of verbs and a simple structure of “who”, “what” is to do, and “how”.

Identify behavioral changes and choose training materials

We have set a goal for the training and we know how we will monitor it. What’s next? We know where we want to go, but we don’t know how. To do this, we need to define what people should start doing after training, what is holding them back now, how they could practice new behaviors using our training, and what knowledge they need to get started.

We must avoid two common temptations – “it will come in handy” and “let’s give some interaction.” In online training, it is very easy to add new information and insert ready-made interactive elements, but inserting them by force or “just in case” will have the opposite effect to what’s expected. Let’s stick to the rule: only include the necessary elements.

Cathy Moore and her proprietary process called Action Mapping will help us in this. You can also find a lot of practical knowledge in her book “Map It: The hands-on guide to strategic training design”.


How does the brain work?

Just a sidenote – it may be quite surprising for many designers, but the recipients of e-learning trainings are … people. ? They also have brains! Therefore, before we get down to one of the popular authoring tools such as iSpring, Articulate or Gomo, it is worth finding out a little about how we process information, how we remember and how to increase knowledge transfer. There is a lot of information on this subject, but I would especially like to recommend two sources – the most popular MOOC (massive open online course) in the world, Learning How to Learn, and Patti Shank publications.

Training design

Only now can we really start designing a training course that takes into account all of the above findings (and the newly acquired knowledge). There are no golden rules. Forget about the optimal amount of text on the screen, video length or interaction frequency. It all depends on many parameters and should be adapted to each project.

projektowanie szkolenia

However, there are some techniques (backed by research) in the field of cognitive science, which allow the creation of effective, digital educational programs and materials. A simple example is the reduction of unnecessary information that the brain has to process by removing unnecessary elements such as background music, a reader reading the text visible on the screen, decorative graphics, or contributing animations and interactions. If you are starting to design e-learning trainings (or you get lost), I recommend the following readings:

All these publications will provide you with a solid, research-based foundation for effectively transferring knowledge using technology. However, they will not teach you how to use the tools.

Technologies and tools in e-learning

I always emphasize that e-learning is not only about technologies, therefore we did not start with systems and tools. However, they are essential in e-learning. Using them is not complicated, but technical skills are not enough. It is worth looking for inspiration in other projects and other designers. Stealing is bad, but being inspired by others is absolutely advisable. ?

We actually have three paths:

  1. We can follow experts on their blogs and publications like Tim Slade.
  2. We can find inspiration for interesting projects on the Lifesaver market on the E-learning superstars or E-Learning Examples websites.
  3. And then test yourself in practice and collect valuable feedback by taking part in E-Learning Challenges.

If we want to explore the secrets of the authoring tools themselves, we also have at least three options:

  1. Use the tutorials available on the manufacturers’ websites – in most cases, they will allow us to learn basic skills.
  2. Take advantage of the available online training courses – paid or free.
  3. Sign up for a workshop / training or postgraduate studies where we will learn about the best market practices .. and start building the necessary network.


Evaluation and revisions

The work of Instructional Designer does not end with creating, testing and sharing the training. At the very beginning, I wrote about setting training goals. When the training starts, the evaluation process begins. More than one book has been written on this subject, but it’s good to know the basics and market standards, such as the revised Kirkpatrick model, which measures training effects at four levels: Reaction, Learning, Behavior and Results.

e-learing efekty

Another issue is the extension of the training process in time and the appropriate planning of the repetitions in order to consolidate the newly acquired knowledge. The best source of information and inspiration here is undoubtedly Will Thalheimer and his articles summarizing the results of research on “spaced repetition”.

E-learning myths

I would like to warn you about the myths circulating on the market. “Training should be tailored to our learning styles” or “We only use 10 percent. the possibilities of our brain ”are just two examples. It is worth remembering about them when meeting with your clients, because we can often hear them in a conversation and we must immediately scientifically straighten the topic before we start working on the project. Two great resources for training myth busters – the Debunker Club portal and Clark Quinn’s book, Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions.

This is just the beginning

The topics that I have touched upon here are just the tip of the iceberg – a veeeery big one. In addition to all this information, Instructional Designer should have at least basic knowledge of storytelling, gamification, color matching theory and fonts, but we will develop on these topics in the next articles.

Community first

Finally, I would like to thank our entire Polish e-learning community who shared their sources and experiences on the e Learning I Do group and LinkedIn and is an endless source of inspiration for me. I have always been a networker and I would like to encourage everyone to participate in this knowledge exchange. ?

I wish you only successful projects!