Designing Effective eLearning Courses
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Designing Successful eLearning Courses

Learning and Development (L&D) is one of the largest growing industries that create momentum for training programs. It offers the benefits of training right-skilled professionals for organizational growth sustainment in the long run. This learning design is at the core of the ADDIE approach, to name one. However, the design analysis of content in a specific training program can sometimes be easily unrecognized or left incomplete. Creating a clear business-focused plan can help designers or product managers see what lies beyond the design. Learning objectives, success criteria, as well as context, are essential factors to consider before curating any content.

There are 5 considerations that should be studied before Instructional Designers and/or product managers dig deeper into the design of a learning product:

  1. The organization's mission and context of learning
  2. Theories of learning
  3. Learners' audience analysis
  4. Situational factors
  5. The designer's approach to learning

1. The Organization's Mission And Context Of Learning

The mission, vision, and values of any organization are the first stop for any designer or Subject Matter Expert when designing online courses. Time and effort will be wasted if the intended learning initiative isn't included or the online course does not reflect the mission of the organization.

The context of learning is influenced by 3 factors: learning practices, work practices, and technologies. In most organizations, learning practices are usually presented informally, for example as daily tasks or learning by trial and error. These can be performed by preparing a set of tutorials or job aids in the form of "best practices." Work practices can be emailed or recorded as webinar communications. Professional development training can also be presented as a prototype module for course design. Technologies can be utilized with the use of a customized Learning Management System (LMS) that focuses on learner-centric models in different forms: fully online, blended, or face-to-face.

The fully online solutions can either be asynchronous or synchronous learning centers for staff. The face-to-face solutions are info-sessions for audiences and stakeholders. In addition to the above, learners need effective communication through emails and social media. This communication can happen by sharing success stories in online discussion forums and workshop events.

2. Theories Of Learning

Start considering and looking at the different epistemologies in your workplace. These can be varied according to the instructional goals and criteria of each project. It can be a mix of cognitive, behavioral and constructive learning approaches. In most workplaces and/or educational institutions, constructivism can prevail and lead when the audience is adult learners. Constructivism is built around people who construct knowledge and its application through sharing experiences in online discussion forums. Scaffolding, as a learning strategy, is best built with microlearning (bite-size learning). This will be very useful when addressing 21st-century adult learners. Another topic that would also help adult learners is co-creating success criteria on ideas like engagement, UDL (Universal Design for Learning), and writing descriptive feedback with online audiences.

3. Learners' Audience Analysis

The learners' characteristics play a vital role in determining the format of the design of the eLearning course before the process starts. These are many, but some can be listed below:

  • Adult learners tend to complete concise modules and/or design course pages that sometimes don't follow the organization’s expectations and/or don't meet the needs of 21st-century audiences.
  • Adult learners are reminded to design/improve course pages by following existing success criteria.
  • Adult learners prefer to learn with flexibility in mind.
  • Adult learners prefer to have a mix of interactive digital media, infographics, job aids, and microlearning activities with fewer texts/readings.
  • Some adult learners follow instructions and show examples of the design of their current online courses while others don't participate.
  • Adult learners tend to fast-pace the completion of specific tasks when it's busy.
  • In light of motivation for instruction (ARCS) by Keller, adult learners believe that live or recorded webinars are good motivators.
  • Adult learners believe that updated tutorials can be a great addition.
  • Adult learners have varied perceptions of the effectiveness of training and the organization.
  • Group adult learners are very heterogeneous in achievement and motivation.
  • Adult learners need motivational and ongoing training to learn new skills at different stages each year.
  • Adult learners are flexible in working on their own at their own pace.
  • Adult learners can work individually or in groups during professional development workshops.

4. Situational Factors

Cost, access, and quality are factors that are always intertwined and affect the design of the learning product. In the workplace, it is very rare to see all 3 factors meet. We can only see a maximum of two out of three meetings, leaving the third out. When the project has a tight budget, it is important to have a clear, upfront business plan that puts costs and completion dates for each phase of the project into consideration. Every adult learner should have access to a strong reliable internet connection to access all the features of the LMS. At the evaluation process of the learning product/prototype, the quality can be updated or altered in order to reflect and meet the expectations and success criteria after the adult learners' feedback.

5. The Designer's Approach To Learning

This can always be unrecognized or missed. The Instructional Designer or the product manager are, themselves, adult learners as well. By definition, designers are adult learners, too. Therefore, any learning approach used should be brought to the eLearning course design phase.

To sum up, when it is not always possible to meet online adult learners in person, more emphasis should be put forth toward the cognitive approach that builds their knowledge without the interference of the moderator—something that can be highlighted in any designed online training program. Not to forget that, as designers, we need to be aware of the context of any learning product. The contextual learning factor can be social, influenced by the subject matter, the past experiences of adult learners, their attitude toward the subject matter, and their own professional background that impacts learning new material.

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