5 Tips To Design Workplace eLearning Programs For Lasting Success

5 Tips To Design Workplace eLearning Programs For Lasting Success
Summary: Once an overall workplace eLearning strategy is in place, it can be tempting to jump right into execution – getting a team together and starting to build courses. But wait…

How To Design Workplace eLearning Programs For Lasting Success

Even with a well-defined overall strategy, workplace eLearning programs are prone to pitfalls which can be avoided with some careful planning during the design phase. While the strategy sets the overall direction for eLearning implementation at the workplace, you still need a good micro plan before you get down to designing individual courses. Here are a few considerations for the same.

Just to be clear, this is not a deep-dive article that discusses specific instructional approaches for designing successful learning programs. Instead, I’m talking more at the level of ensuring that we get the key design elements right.

Note that the ideas suggested in this article can be applied irrespective of whether the program is being developed internally within the organization, or whether all / parts of it are being outsourced to external vendors.

So, here you go:

1. Define What Success Means

The first and the most important step in designing eLearning programs for success is to identify what success looks like. Is it:

  • The most number of people going through the program and logging completion rates?
  • Or, learners demonstrating their understanding of their learning via an online assessment?
  • Or, a visible and positive change in the workplace due to the enhanced skills or attitudes of the learner population?

Experts would argue that the third (visible and positive change) is the one that we’ve got to aim for. And I would concur. The reason is that any investment needs to be justified in measurable terms, and the same goes for investments in eLearning as well. The best way to do so is to demonstrate a measurable change in the workplace as a result of the program.

That said, it is okay to go with any of the other two options, provided the third option has been thoroughly considered first before being knocked down.

Once we have a clear vision of what success looks like for the program, it’s easy to steer the rest of the development towards achieving this goal.

2. Define Τhe Learning / Performance Outcomes

This step directly takes off from the first one above, and involves defining exactly what it is that learners will be able to know or do after going through the program.

As an example, while ‘knowing all about the company’ might be a good outcome, a better outcome would be that learners are able to ‘navigate their way around the various departments to get something done’.

Here are a few other examples of know vs. do outcomes:

  • Know: Recognize all the components that go into a vehicle seating system, and distinguish the materials used for making these components.
    Do: Design a simple vehicle seat using the appropriate materials for each component.
  • Know: Explain the principles of communicating clearly.
    Do: Draft a clearly worded e-mail that has a well-defined call to action.
  • Know: Identify the features of the new CRM application.
    Do: Create a customer’s profile in the new CRM application.

You can see from the examples above that do outcomes are way better than know outcomes. But as with the definition of success, know outcomes are okay, as long as do outcomes are considered carefully before being rejected.

3. Put Practice First

Once you have the outcomes defined, it is easy to go down the content route, adding more and more content until the course turns into an information dump. A good approach is to mind the content to practice ratio, which ideally should be around 20:80.

Practice should typically be challenging, and should reflect the realities of the job that the learner would face after completing the course.

Taking the same examples we discussed above, here’s what practice would look like for each:

  • For the outcome ‘Design a simple vehicle seat using the appropriate materials for each component’: Provide the requirements and specifications for a seating system, and ask learners to design the seat, assembling the components and selecting the materials.
  • For the outcome ‘Draft a clearly worded e-mail that has a well-defined call to action’: Provide an e-mail that’s been drafted and ask them to identify mistakes, or have them construct an e-mail to a colleague asking for something specific.
  • For the outcome ‘Create a customer’s profile in the new CRM application’: Provide the application’s interface and have learners enter the details to create the customer’s profile.

Designing the practice first has a couple of advantages:

  • The focus is on how learners will apply their learning, and not simply on what they will learn.
  • This makes it easy to determine what content needs to be included, and what can be cut out.
  • Anything that doesn’t support practice can go into a nice to know section which contains additional reading material.

4. Consider All Forms And Methods Οf Learning Delivery

Think of the last time you learnt a new skill. Did you go through a course (in any form – classroom or online) just once and simply start applying your learning to your work? I’d be surprised if that was the case.

Your experience was probably more like this… learn a little, think about it, come back and learn more, think a little more, apply it to work, make mistakes, discuss with colleagues, forget part of what you learnt, go back to the course and refer, apply it to work again, gain confidence and expertise… this is typically how people learn.

And any learning program needs to accommodate and support this experience that people naturally go through when they are learning something new. To do so, think of the following points:

  • What can we do help learners gain confidence and expertise in the skill? The answer is more practice, and varied practice.
  • How can we make it possible for them to refer back to the contents of the course? Downloadable resources, or a wiki-page containing the content, can help with this.
  • In what context will learners need to go through the course? If they are constantly on the move, then delivering on mobile devices is a good idea.
  • Can we support them at the point of actually doing their work? Yes, we can, by providing performance support tools delivered either on mobile devices or in the physical form.
  • What if learners have unresolved queries on the topic? We can support this by providing a forum for discussions between peers, and with experts.

5. Use Templates

The templates I’m talking about are the building blocks for a good eLearning program, and help ensure that key elements don’t get missed out. I’ve listed 12 of them in this article.

These, I think, are the main considerations for designing eLearning programs for lasting success. What are yours? Please add your comments at the bottom of this post.

Learnnovators will shortly be releasing an eBook titled "The Ultimate Guide To Successful eLearning Implementation At The Workplace". Meanwhile, do get in touch at [email protected] if you would like to discuss any of the above pointers, or if you need assistance with implementing eLearning at your workplace.