We have all made mistakes in our lives, and eLearning is no different. I have certainly made mistakes in my eLearning designs. Sometimes because I didn’t know any better, and sometimes I knew better but did it anyway out of expediency. Sometimes I had a deadline. What can I say? It had to be done. Remember, the point of our eLearning designs is not to create something perfect, but to create content and experiences that help people learn something new.
So it is in that spirit that this post is written. Not as a “never, ever do that” post, but a simple list of things be aware of and to avoid if you want to create the better eLearning.
Nothing But Text on a Screen
Few things demotivate someone more, in an eLearning course, than to get to a screen with nothing but text. I had this experience just last week, when I took a sexual harassment elearning course. Most of the content pages were all text. Yikes! It was unfortunate because there were many examples of screens with very little text that were much more informative in that same eLearning course. Don’t create all text screens. Use graphics and audio.
No Audio? Really?
OK, there is one thing worse than an all text screen in eLearning: an all text screen with no audio. We have learned this before. There is a simple fix here: take the text and use it as the audio script. Narrate screens with audio and replace the text on the screen with a graphic. There is no excuse for not doing this, since Mindflash allows you to record audio right on the screen.
Using Graphics Just to Use Graphics
Use graphics where ever possible. But keep in mind that the graphics must be useful and in context to the subject matter of the screen. Don’t just put a graphic of a sunrise because the graphic looks good and is a clever metaphor for something in your course. Use a screen shot of a relevant software screen or a picture of what the equipment looks like.
Not Using Tables
When you really, really, really need to use text, figure out a way to structure it into a table summarizing the text. Tables are easy to read, and when narrated with audio, help us retain the material.
Waiting Until It’s Perfect
We all know that it takes a long time to develop an eLearning course, but that is no excuse for making it take longer than it needs to. You have to think like a software developer and get your first version published. You can always say to yourself, “I will publish it after I replace those graphics and check the timing one more time.” At some point you have to launch your course. Don’t wait until it’s perfect.
Note: Take this example: Despite my advice above about only using relevant graphics, if you cannot think of a relevant graphic just yet, publish what you have and correct the graphic in the next version of the course.
Just Record the Webinar
I see this all the time. “Why don’t we just record our existing webinar (live, virtual training course) and make it available for people to view?” This is a mistake for two reasons. First, a recorded, live session has lots of time-wasting content: introductions, getting started, responding to questions from people who cannot hear the speaker, and dead air between sections. A typical one hour recorded webinar can be cut down to 20 minutes of relevant, efficient content for self-paced eLearning. Respect learner time and don’t record live webinars. Second, recorded webinars cannot (easily) be edited. So, later, if you want to swap out a slide or two, because something changed, you cannot. You have to re-record the entire session. Ugh!
Ignoring proper learning objectives
Getting back to the fundamentals of learning design, there is no substitute for writing proper learning objectives. For some reason, this part easily gets skipped when we switch over to eLearning. We concentrate on content, media use, and the technology, and we forget about learning objectives. Properly written learning objectives, set your entire eLearning course up for success.
What other mistakes have you seen (or made yourself) in eLearning? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.