In the rush for companies to ‘pivot’ and create an online presence during the lockdown, it is evident one industry that is significantly hit are those who normally deliver traditional classroom-led training. Not just schools, but those who deliver first aid training, coaching, process training and anything other learning that usually requires a physical presence or practical skills.
But all is not lost.
A lot of people have quickly adapted to using Zoom to run sessions, and are now looking to a more sustainable and practical way to create online courses as a long term plan. Or to at least create a blended learning program.
With the odd exception, most topics can be converted into e-learning, but it isn’t just a case of turning your PowerPoint Presentation into a document that can be flicked through on screen. Classroom training provides a type of interactivity and engagement that is difficult to replicate online, so we have to find other ways to replicate this.
1. Understand the levels of e-learning available
Firstly, you need to decide what type of learning your budget will allow as there are several ways you can go. To break it down simply:
- Level one – This type of learning is very simple with a lot of ‘click and reveal’. It is the no-frills option when you have small simple content or a small budget that will not allow for increased development costs. It will usually use stock imagery and icons.
- Level 2 – This brings in a little more interactivity, but is still quite heavy on the click and reveal. It allows some personalisation, but not the building of bespoke pages, or those requiring a lot of development. It increases the level of interactivity for the learner and adds a little more variety in the way information is presented. Levels 1 and 2 usually provide customisation so you can add branding elements and change colours, but they are quite restrictive.
- Level 3 – This is the all singing-all dancing option which allows for the creation of bespoke activities and games, additional resources, videos, case studies, animations, controls, illustration and more. It provides the highest level of interaction and engagement, but it will come at a heftier price and longer development time.
2. Look into the tools you need
If you want to have a bash at doing it yourself there are many authoring tools out there such as LearnDash, Podia, SquareSpace, and Heightplatform. Or you could use a website such as Udemy. These allow you to create the learning online and publish to their website, or use a plugin or members area on your website to upload to. Generally, the highest level of learning you will create with these is level 2.
To create level 3 learning an authoring tool such as Articulate Storyline or Captivate is required which would allow the level of bespoke design required. This tool allows everything to be created from scratch (though it still also provides templates if you wish). However, unless you have some solid software skills already and can pick things up very quickly you will need to hire an instructional designer to produce this for you. And you will also need a Learning Management System (LMS) of some sort to upload the learning to.
3. Use methodology and learning theories
There are some differences in online training as opposed to the classroom, just as there are differences in teaching a classroom of teenagers to training adults in tasks essential to their job. Learning theories and methodology help us to understand these differences.
A good start is to look at Adult Learning Theory and the ADDIE and rapid development models. Both popular choices in the e-learning development world.
That the technical, intimidating bits out of the way. Now let’s look at some of the more practical bits that you can start sorting with your content.
4. Consider how you will add interaction
One thing that is missing in online learning is the engagement that a physical trainer and classmates have in steering the room, the activities and answering queries. You need to think about how you can help the learner to feel engaged, lead them through the learning, make the learning conversational, and try to preempt their questions.
The more the learner interacts with the content, the more it is likely to be taken in. So look at how you can take the text and break it up into activities, dialogue between characters, quizzes, animations and anything else that feels appropriate. Just because it is in written form, it doesn’t have to be formal and full of jargon. Which brings me onto my next point…
5. Use a mixture of media
Mix up your methods of presenting the information through text, icons, animations, videos, audio files, infographics, diagrams, challenges, games, downloadable resources and more.
This means there is something for everyone, and also you have a bank of resources to use to promote your course or provide a sneak preview should you wish to repurpose them. A separate post about using media in e-e-learning will follow soon, or you can see my Communicator article about ‘Using Visuals in e-learning’ here.
6. Write in plain language
Write as you would speak. Just as you would with face-to-face training, make it conversational. Make it feel like they are being guided, but have some autonomy and control. Get rid of technical terms and jargon as much as possible – or make sure you explain the terms well and/or put them in the glossary if one is available.
In short, make it enjoyable! Don’t make them feel like they are being set homework or assignments.
7. Be concise
This goes hand in hand with the point above.
When you turn a day’s, or even an hour, worth of face-to-face learning online, that is a lot of content for someone to go through alone, and often there are added bits and pieces that the learner doesn’t need to know. If your learner is anything like me they will struggle to keep focus working through large amounts of content (especially if it is text-heavy) on screen.
The generally accepted rule is to cut the content in half, then half again. Or think of it this way – what do they need to know vs what is nice to know.
If there are extras that you are struggling to cut out, consider whether this information could be signposted out to in the resources section, so those who want extra context can have it. If in doubt, and you are too closer to the content to cut it down, get input from others.
8. Don’t underestimate the time needed
As I stated earlier, creating online learning is not (or shouldn’t be) just a case of uploading a PPP and a handout online. It takes time to do a proper job; write activities, source case studies, write the content into a story with flow, and to build and to carry quality checks. And that doesn’t include many other factors like SME feedback and making amends.
As a general rule, a smoothing running, 60 minutes long, level 3 course will take around 2 months start to end if done properly.
9. Intersperse knowledge checks
Even if you have an exam at the end of the learning, intersperse your course with learning checks throughout. This allows the learner to test their knowledge without fear of failure. And mix the activities up, don’t just use multiple-choice questions. They are a great tool to use, but learners can easily just randomly click on these without thinking so they are not the best test of knowledge. Use them sporadically.
Level 1 and 2 learning will usually limit you to multiple-choice, drag and drop and matching exercises. For the more fun stuff, you need to go to level 3.
10. Include accessibility features
Legislation introduced in 2019 means that a certain level of accessibility must be included, but depending on your audience there may be additional considerations. This can include keyboard navigation, subtitles, transcripts, colour use, screenreader integration and so many more. It is a minefield of possibilities and an area that is definitely worth getting some advice from someone in the know.
Bonus point…don’t go it alone
I am aware a lot of this list might sound intimidating, but in all of this remember – there are people out there to help you. Either in doing the work for you or providing some advice.
It can be very daunting to create a course in a system that you are not familiar with, but there are people out there willing to help. With the current situation and many businesses struggling, in the spirit of helping each other I have been having free (hour-ish long) chats with people who want to explore the idea of getting their training online and don’t know where to start. I am sure many others are too.
If you want a chat I can help with any of the points above, for example:
- Take a look at your content and see if it is transferable to online
- What level of learning would be most suitable
- Advice on breaking your content down
- Accessibility features you may need
- Media to be included
Just give me a DM/prod/yell if you want to chat.
Write 52: Week 41
Write 52 is an accountability initiative started by Ed Callow, to encourage the team to create original content every week, and to commit to it. You can find more information here.
Come join us and get writing!