5 Alternatives To Boring eLearning Courses
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How To Change Boring eLearning Courses Into Real Page Turners

eLearning at its best has a strong visual impact, engages the learner through a compelling narrative, and uses interactivity to provoke thought and reflection. Put plainly, the best examples of eLearning tell stories, create active learning experiences, and engage learners.

Below, we share a few methods for organizing eLearning courses that will set you on the path to engage your learners and help you avoid text-heavy pages that bore your learners.

1. Use A Story To Organize Your Course

There’s no better way to make content come alive and for material to "stick" in the minds of your learners than to use stories to illustrate your point. In a typical eLearning course, content is presented, then a story or case is introduced to provide context for that content. In a guided story, we use the story itself to organize content.

For example, in a course on team building, we start the course by introducing you to a team in transition. We play out the story through a series of animated scenes in which we see all the earmarks of a team "storming" as they attempt to come together. Now, that the learner is drawn in by the story and a little drama, we step away from the narrative and ask a series of reflective questions about what they think is happening to the team and what action they might take to address the issues. Next, we present content on forming and storming. By using a story broken into a series of episodes to set context then following with relevant content after each, you’ll enhance the likelihood that your learners will retain the information and be able to put it into practice when the time comes. This approach is a particularly effective training on processes or procedures with multiple steps.

2. Put Your Experts Front-And-Center

The design process for most eLearning courses involves interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and compiling and synthesizing their responses into the content for the course. The next time you go through this process think about your SMEs and what they represent. Sometimes, the messenger is just as important as the message. If this is the case, consider capturing video of your SME and using that in the course.

For example, if you are creating sales training, what do you think would be more compelling? A series of slides describing a 5-step sales process or the company’s top salesperson talking through a deal they closed using those 5 steps? No doubt, the top salesperson will make the stronger impression, so go ahead and videotape your conversation and don’t worry if the production values aren’t top notch; sometimes that’s exactly the vibe you want to make it feel real.

Worried about long boring video clips? Here’s a tip for creating a more interactive experience. Edit your video into 30-90 second sound bites, cap each clip with a question so that the clip answers the question, then group related questions together on a page so learners can pick-and-choose questions in any order they like. The outcome feels like a conversation with the expert.

3. Start With Problems

In the real world, we aren’t spoon-fed content, then asked to apply it. Instead, we usually charge forward doing our job or personal tasks until we hit a barrier. For example, many years ago, I volunteered to coach my daughter’s soccer team. Of course, I had never played an organized game of soccer in my life. Did I panic?—perhaps a little, but then I googled soccer practices for 8 year-olds, and I found a wealth of resources to help me plan and run practices. To apply this idea in eLearning, simply start your course with a problem, then provide your learner access to the resources they need to solve it.

An example of this approach was a course we created for financial planners. Rather than force-feeding product information, each topic in the course started by presenting a client who was looking to solve a financial planning challenge. The learner was, then, asked to make a series of recommendations as to what the best solution would be for that client and to provide a justification for each of their recommendations. To add authenticity and a level of complexity to the case, we provided access to supporting documents like a recent tax return and a snapshot of the client’s current portfolio. We also created a number of briefs for each product being considered that included descriptions, risks, best uses, and other information that would typically be in a tutorial on the product. What we didn’t do was force the learner to go through these briefs screen-by-screen. When the learner made their choices, they were given feedback and pointed to relevant content as part of the feedback. This active learning approach challenged the financial planners and motivated them to learn more about products.

4. Put The Learner In The Story

Simulations take storytelling up another level by giving the learner an active role in determining the outcome. In simulations, we give the learner a goal or mission, for example, solve the customer’s problem, then drop them into a situation. In the case of customer service training, the first screen might be an upset customer pulling their hair out in frustration over how they were treated by another associate. You now need to make a choice on how to respond to the customer. If you make a poor choice, the customer might become irate or with a good choice, they might hug you with joy. The best simulations ratchet up the emotion and walk a line between witty and slapstick. The learner must navigate through a series of decisions to get to the best outcome. As they make decisions, whether they’re right or wrong, the learner is presented with "the content" to either reinforce the correct choice or provide remediation for a less than optimal choice. Simulations are great for training on person-to-person interactions.

5. Everyone Loves To Be A Critic

A final option is to put the learner in the role of a coach or a critic. Instead of asking them to help us navigate through a scenario, we share a case or a scene that shows a task or interaction playing out from beginning to end, then ask the learner to weigh in on what they’ve seen. This is typically done through a series of questions that ask the learner to evaluate an action as well as provide some rationale for their opinion. This approach is particularly effective for compliance training as it provides the learner with the ability to make a decision as to whether an action is a clear violation of law/policy, poor judgment or acceptable, and then provide them with the opportunity to justify their response.

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