Creating innovative, interactive eLearning courses isn’t as easy as it seems. Even the best content in the world won’t work if it’s not presented in a way that engages learners and promotes the transfer of new knowledge and skills into the workplace.
Luckily, instructional designers provide exactly the expertise required to create outstanding outcomes. In the following interview, Monarch Media partner Vivayic’s Doug Kueker shares his thoughts on building better eLearning experiences.
Monarch Media: As an instructional designer, where do you start when a client comes to you with a proposal to build an online course?
Doug Kueker: The first thing I ask is, “What are your goals?” A lot of people don’t really think about what outcomes they want from a training. They think, “I need to deliver this material,” but they don’t ask themselves how they expect the learner to be different at the end of the course.
The questions I ask as an instructional designer are, “What are learners supposed to know and what should they be able to do after completing the training? What kinds of new attitudes are they supposed to employ in the workplace?” I start with defining these goals and outcomes.
For example, we recently worked with Monarch on a sales training program for a large corporate customer. The client had tons of good content, but it wasn’t always clear what the goal was for each particular module. That’s one of the places where an instructional designer can really add value — helping you think through the goals and then translating them into behavioral objectives to help your trainees truly improve performance and achieve results.
MM: What common mistakes do organizations make when they begin creating eLearning courses?
DK: When they decide to make the leap to eLearning, one of the traps organizations often fall into is believing that the material they currently have is going to translate online. They believe all you have to do is digitize materials you’ve created for in-person trainings.
You could just digitize content — you could just use the tools available to get your material up online, whether it is PowerPoint slides, training guides and manuals, or videos. But when you add instructional design and expertise in using available Web technologies appropriately, it becomes something more useful for both the organization and for learners.
MM: Are there differences between how you approach informational courses, such as compliance training, versus soft skills courses that really require learners to adopt new behaviors rather than just learning a lot of material?
DK: With something like compliance training, often the goal is simply information delivery. But for soft skills training, learning the new behaviors requires practice and feedback. So, you have to think about how to provide learners with examples and you have to put them in situations where they will be applying the new skills with opportunities to receive feedback. That’s all very different from just delivering information.
From an instructional design perspective, there are a lot of different tools you can use, such as scenarios, simulations, case studies, and role-playing games. But it comes back to your objectives — what do you want your people to achieve and what do you want them to be able to apply at the end of the training?
One especially effective tool for online learning is presenting decision-making scenarios, where the learner is told, “Here’s the situation you’re in. What do you do next?” They then make a decision based on what they’ve learned. Once they make a choice, they receive immediate feedback. In this way, you put learners in the driver’s seat with their learning.
MM: What are some challenges you face in designing online courses versus in-person trainings?
DK: In an online setting, you often don’t have some of those key cues, like body language, that you use in a classroom setting. So you must have a strong understanding of the audience. We try hard from the very beginning of a project to analyze and get as clear an understanding as possible about the people who will be taking the course. Sometimes that happens through interviews or focus groups with the intended audience. And sometimes it happens by really going in-depth with the project owner, so they can provide that first-hand experience about the people who will be taking the course. That’s something you have to have in the back of your mind when you’re designing a training. Who’s the person on the other side of the computer and what kind of environment will they be in when they complete this course?
MM: What’s role does interactivity play in designing eLearning courses?
DK:Interactivity is important. That’s the bottom line. The material you create has to be interactive and engaging.
Again, it comes back to putting yourself in the seat of the person taking the course. If there’s nothing more than just voiceover audio and PowerPoint slides, it’s going to be quite boring.
We try to include as many interactions as possible and try to make them meaningful. For example, for one course that we just finished up with the World Bank, we added in things like knowledge-check questions and exploratory learning activities to generate interest in the material to be presented.
MM: What are some of the new technologies or opportunities online learning presents that have you excited?
DK: I’m really excited about mobile performance support. For example, let’s say a salesperson goes through training to learn a new sales technique. Now a few weeks later, they are getting ready to go on a sales call. Mobile performance support will allow the sales director to push a small chunk of content reinforcing the sales technique through mobile devices so the salesperson will have that key piece of information or some chunk of help — like a small video potentially — that’s going to support their performance. You can push just the right amount of information at just the right time.
The other thing I’m excited about is the use of Web 2.0 technologies. There’s a shift in the past few years around who or what we consider to be an authority on many subjects. We now have more distributed sources of authority. People are able to post relevant content — whether through Twitter, Facebook, or any other social technology.
There’s a lot of opportunity to harness both the attractiveness and ubiquity of those tools. We can use them to enhance online courses. For example, people can be required to Tweet about a course they’re taking as a part of a review process. These posts can collect learners’ perceptions about the most important information they got from the course. Then, those posts become both a collective review and also a repository of knowledge that people can come back to at a later time.
Doug Kueker is the director of learning services at Vivayic Inc., a learning solutions firm and a partner of Monarch Media.
If you would like more information about Monarch Media’s instructional design capabilities, please make an inquiry.