How To Design Effective eLearning Solutions

How To Design Effective eLearning Solutions

When you have to design an online training course in the form of a mobile app, web application or website, you probably start with these assertions:

  • My product should be a substitute learning environment to the likes of a boardroom or classroom setting
  • It should meet different learning needs
  • It should be engaging enough for learners to stick around and want to come back to it
  • It should offer value

Easier said than done? There is a good reason for that.

Users have expectations. It’s why Candy Crush took off as it did.

It was highly engaging because somewhere, a designer figured that timed gameplay (lining up candies to the tune of upbeat music) combined with instant gratification in the form of rewards would be a highly addictive combination.

In this post, we will discuss how you can use certain techniques to make your eLearning solution bring value to your audience.

1 – Make Learning Engaging

Its why grade-schoolers retain lessons better when teachers accompany it with games or nursery rhymes. She knows that their minds will absorb information better if the teaching method is engaging.

In eLearning, this human element is absent, as is the environment. So the question is, how do you fill these gaps to deliver learning experiences that work?

Use Characters

Characters like avatars are mostly virtual but their presence in online learning software makes the experience more real, with good reason. For a learner, a character is:

  • More relatable than just text on a screen
  • Makes it easier for them to picture their own selves in the environment it interacts with
  • Puts them at ease with learning the task

Here is how you can use characters:

  • Incorporate feedback with facial expressions: Expressions keep your focus on situational changes, and gives visual feedback. For example, a character (depicted as a customer) smiles to show his pleasure after a learner chooses from a list of options the appropriate way to deliver a service. A frown or grimace indicates that the character is displeased when a learner chooses the wrong option.
  • Your target audience as your biggest source of inspiration: To make this easier, consider the role that your character is going to play. For example, if your task is to create online courses to train new employees on company policies, they would be more comfortable if the character was depicted like an expert (a corporate employee in a suit) or a peer in the same employee dress code.

Use Gamification

Consider a scenario in which you are a call center employee and you have to make a sale during a call. Going over a scripted checklist of questions to ask the potential customer over the sales call can get mundane and boring for an employee due to its repetitive nature.

However, gamifying it by allocating a certain amount of “points” to the employee for asking each question on the checklist, and then allowing them to cash in their points at the end of the exercise for rewards is a great way to ensure that they feel excited to ask each mundane questions as it is helping them reach a bigger goal.

This is what gamification in eLearning is all about; using elements that make games highly engaging, and applying them to real world scenarios directly correlated with tangible goals. By training learners within gaming environments (like sci-fi settings for example) you can make your learners:

  • Take an active part in the learning process and be more engaged
  • Participate in situations or challenges within creative environments
  • Enhance problem solving skills
  • Retain information better

Here is what you can do to gamify your eLearning solution and engage your learners:

Develop a story with interactive challenges: Interactive challenges help learners put themselves into the shoes of the character in a game to achieve goals. For example, a learner’s character could be asked to acquire enough resources to complete a certain task (identify tools to recharge a forklift battery, or identify an appropriate plan of action in a safety procedure).

Create Leaderboards to encourage competitiveness and discussion: A game that has multiple players often has a leaderboard. Players compete and the one with the most points goes to the top. It encourages players to be competitive. And you can offer the same value for your eLearning solution.

This strategy certainly worked for Walmart. The retailer saw a 54% decrease in incidents after they made their workforce use an elearning software based on the brand’s safety protocols. And one of the reasons it was regularly used was because it ranked employees on their performance.

2 – Make Learning Effective

Ever take part in a pop quiz in school?

It’s not a pleasant experience and can end with a big fat “F” if you weren’t prepared for it. Tests in eLearning usually aren’t as unpleasant because they can be self paced for one thing.

What makes elearning applications effective is not very different from what makes any teaching strategy effective; students are tested at the end of lessons to encourage students to retain what they learned and use the results to improve teaching strategies if needed.

You can achieve your teaching goals if you adopt the same principle by:

Using quizzes to help learners practice what you preached:

How do professors ensure that students retain information and are motivated to better themselves? They test them. Designers who create eLearning solution often adopt the same principle by testing learners with quizzes to:

  • Evaluate a large number of users at once
  • Gain a better overview of learner aptitude
  • Reveal gaps in learner knowledge (surveys)

A reliable way to ensure that learners have retained what they learned within a module

  • MCQs: Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) present different possible answers to a question where there is only one right answer, with other options given to distract you. They are an effective means for teachers to test a learner’s deduction and retention abilities after an online training session. The Cycle Master eLearning app for example requires users to take an MCQ based quiz after viewing every video module.
  • Sequences: Quizzes don’t always have to be text based. Depending on scenarios, they can also be interactive. An example can be a sequencing quiz that requires learners to drag and drop items in-order for a supply chain management module.
3 – Make Learning Stimulating

Ever had a song stuck in your head? What about a movie? Certain movies and songs often stick in our mind long after we have experienced them.

As a designer of eLearning software, you can use multimedia stimuli, like audio and video, to:

  • Reduce cognitive load on a user (recorded videos of scenarios like CPR training instead of text based explanations)
  • Save a learner’s time
  • Make the course appealing
  • Make the course more impactful

Keeping these requirements in mind, here is how you can use multimedia to make your eLearning solution work:

Using Audio

Depending on the context of your eLearning solution, audio can be used to

  • Capture a learner’s attention
  • Explain topics in detail

How do you use audio to accomplish these goals, considering that attention spans are quite short? Here is a start:

  • Use audio, but only when it is necessary: I’ve always found myself toning out audio recordings in training software that already had text. The audio seemed completely unnecessary. It makes more sense to use voice recordings when they actually impart value like teaching learners how to pronounce phonetic sounds in different languages.
  • Use audio to explain visuals: Using audio to emphasize self explanatory elements (like text) is useless. But explaining elements that are not self explanatory like visuals, is not. To illustrate, let’s say that you use flow charts and graphs in your eLearning solution. Your learners will have no idea what they are looking at or where to focus unless you tell them. In this case, it makes sense to use audio narrations to achieve learning goals.

Using Video

Words entice emotion and make learners reflect. Videos put learners right in the middle of the action and are a great way to break up your lesson. Depending on what you use them for, videos can be used to:

  • Instruct
  • Depict realistic scenarios
  • Engage every learner type

Demonstrative videos: In some cases, it’s easier to follow instructions if they are demonstrated as videos rather than text. One of these cases can be practical tips or maybe short videos demonstrating different development stages for certain software for example. Adding a short quiz at the end of the demonstration can help learners apply what they have learned.

Interactive videos: Interactive eLearning solutions often include short video sequences. At the end of a short video, learners are presented with options which they have to choose from before the next video can begin. For example, a video for a health crises can depict a person who suddenly goes into cardiac arrest and ask you (as a bystander) are presented options like “Give him CPR first,” “Call an ambulance first.” The video that follows is based on the learner’s choice.

To illustrate how impactful multimedia can be, consider how it applies to LMS (Learning Management Systems). LMS are used by some major universities and organizations and are considered as the next big eLearning industry. Stats suggest that this industry is expected to grow by 23.17% from 2017 to 2018; not surprising considering that some major universities have made elearning courses a part of their teaching practices.

Using Audio and Video for Students with Special Needs

Designing online learning solutions for learners with working mental and comprehensive faculties is pretty straightforward. A regular learner would for example, would have no trouble focusing on a video or retaining messages in audio.

But how do you design learning solutions for students who have trouble comprehending, and have special needs? What alternatives are available for an autistic child, for instance, whose condition makes him unable to connect two pieces of information (like a video sequence accompanied by audio?)

Focus your Design on the Disability: If you want eLearning solutions to work for special needs learners, focus on the disabilities. To achieve learning goals for autistic children, for instance, consider properties that are unique to them. For example, learners with this condition are easily distracted. For audio and video to work, make the learner focus on one of these stimuli at a time. Consider a video where the learner has to perform certain actions. In this case:

  • An audio recording telling the learning the name of the movement will be played first
  • Followed by the person in the video performing the action

Need to design an eLearning product?

Our team of user-experience designers can turn a project brief into a visual prototype, collaborating with you every step of the way.

Wrapping Up

eLearning is all about creating experiences that are effective, engaging and stimulating enough for learners to gain value. To make eLearning software effective, keep your target audience in mind, keep it engaging, use stimuli on a needs basis and account for special needs.

If you need more inspiration, check out our two part series on Designing for Needs.

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