Creating E-Learning for Your Organization: Where Do You Begin?

To create effective, attractive, efficient e-learning begin by performing these steps:

  1. Define what types of e-learning courses you plan to create.
  2. Decide on the method you intend to use for giving your organization or customer access to your courses.
  3. Select your authoring software(s).
  4. Create a process/workflow for churning out courses.
  5. Create some design parameters around the development process.

 

Defining Your Output

The types of e-learning you intend to create will inform your choices as to what types of authoring applications you will use to create courses. There are two basic types of courses in my opinion:

  • Courses containing simulations -involves learner practicing in a simulated environment for an application (i.e. they are learning how to enter their hours into your company's time tracking system)
  • Courses containing content matter - a course in which learner learns about a subject but does not participate in a simulation (i.e. a course detailing aspects of good customer service)

Of course there will be times when you'll want to combine these two types into one course. You may need to present content related matter related to a process and then require the user to learn how to take what they've learned and perform a task in an application of some sort. For example, if you are creatine one course that teaches users how to conduct an audit and how to enter their findings into an audit database this course would be considered a mixture of the two types of courses.

Providing Access to Courses

Your training budget is definitely a huge part of this process. Will you have enough to purchase a multi-million dollar Learning Management System (LMS)? Will your courses need to accessible from both home and work? Will they be dispersed on disk, will learners access them via an html link on the company's Sharepoint site? As you can see there are many considerations. A meeting with our company's technology department is probably in order. The decisions made at this point will inform further decisions about what authoring applications will be used and how the courses will be published after they are developed.

Selecting Your Authoring Software

When you are selecting your software package it's important you do your homework. Talk with the sales representatives, download trial versions of each software and create a mock course you can upload to your LMS or training website. Visit online forums for each type of software and look at the issues current users are experiencing. Determine what it will cost to purchase a contract for ongoing help from your software vendor. Evaluate what types of books may be available for reference to your instructional designers as they learn how to use the software. Surprisingly, many authoring tools don't come with reference books, only online help files. These files can often be lacking in their descriptions when a user wants to create a more complicated interaction using the software. Here is a basic run-down of some biggies:

-Lectora: With this application, you can design a variety of interactions. You can use javascript, html, and flash to punch up your training as well. You don't have to know the aforementioned technology though to create great e-learning. With this software you are provided a plethora of attractive layouts from which to choose, or you can create your own templates for everyone in your department to use. You can publish to HTML, CD, or a Single Executable File. You can also create AICC and SCORM compliant courses.

-Captivate: In this blogger's opinion, Captivate is the number one choice for creating training requiring simulations. Instructional designers can quickly create simulations using the auto or manual recording feature. This software allows you to create demonstrations, simulations requiring user input/action, and tests. The latest version of Captivate (version 4) allows users to input PowerPoint files and then edit the powerpoint screen while still in the Captivate application. The changes are made in both the Captivate course and the original PPT file.

-Articulate: If you want to churn out courses as quickly as possible, consider Articulate Presenter. Simply create your course presentation in PowerPoint and then use Articulate to turn your PowerPoint file into a swf (flash) file. You can also purchase Articulate Engage if you want to scatter some slick looking flash-based interactions through out to test user knowledge. One drawback to this option is that you can't create interactions on your PowerPoint screens that involve rollovers and clicks. You can get around this by incorportating Captivate into the process, however. More on this in a later post.

These are the top 3 applications, but there are also some other pieces of software that are extremely helpful when creating e-learning, these include:

Snag It- This inexpensive application allows one to take screenshots of windows, particular regions of a screen, scrolling windows, and much much more. You can even record screen movements. The instructional designer can quickly edit still images to suit the needs for the project at hand. For example, if a screen contains a customer's private information, this can be blurred or replaced with John or Jane Doe's information in a flash. Many instructional designers use this application to add aethetically pleasing callout boxes to a screenshot, create rollovers, and construct gorgeous flowcharts. It truely is a must have. Be sure to get the latest version because you can edit text and shapes that one wasn't able to do in earlier versions.

Photoshop Elements: If the instructional designers in your department will be responsible for creating their own graphics, this inexpensive stripped down version of the full Photoshop is invaluable. Aside from being able take digital shots and make them look more professional, this program is extremely valuable for building your own e-learning templates, creating graphics, editing multiple images to make them the same standard size before putting them into your course, and creating simple animations. As an instructional designer, I use it most often for creating montage graphics that allow me to create a graphic that represents a concept not easily communicated by single stock image. For example, if you want to create a graphic to represent the fact that employess should always password protect their computer before leaving their desk you can blend together an image of a person at a computer, a screenshot of a password entry screen, and a picture of a large steel lock.

Create a Process

 

The goal is create great courses as quickly as possible. The process for creating these should be taking shape as you evaluate the authoring software. After you decide which software to purchase clearly document the processes to be used for creating courses. As you do this it is a good idea to assess each person's strenghts and weaknesses. Also think about the steps involved in creating a course and the implications on workflow should someone be out due to a vacation or illness. Following are some though provoking questions to get your started:

  • Will your instructional designers meet with clients, author courses, and produce their own graphics?
  • How will you make Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) accountable for their decisions and responsibilities regarding the training? A scope document is a great way to do this.
  • Will you require a completed storyboard to be reviewed for content purposes prior to the course being programmed? Doing so is a great idea and saves time. Reprogramming a course due to content changes creates double-work and is time consuming. Often having SMEs sign off on content first saves hours worth of work.
  • Will all courses need to be reviewed by the training manager?
  • Will you have specific review document tools in place that need to be used by each course other prior to showing the course to the SME?

Create Design Parameters

The most effecient and attractive e-learning courses are born out of a department with clear cut design parameters in place. Unsurprisingly, you may find resistance from the creative types of individuals in your department on these issues. However, if you let these employees help create templates and style guidelines you will often help them to get excited about any changes taking place.

Sadly many training departments let each instructional designer have a blast creating courses namby pamby without placing some design guidelines or rules in place. To produce courses that will be well received by a corporate audience, you must ensure consistency. This point cannot be overstressed. How would you feel as a student if everytime you accessed a new course, it had the navigation panel in a different area of the screen, used different color palettes, and certain words like email were spelled three different ways? To help achieve consistent courses, here are some considerations:

  • Nail down your templates for various genres of courses. You might use one template for every course produced, or consider creating a different template for each departments courses. For instance if you work for a bank, maybe all of the Commerical Banking courses have a green and blue palette and all of the courses produced for banch personnel have a green and yellow palette.
  • Build a style guide. Meet as a team and brainstorm about all of the different style decisions to be made. Then build a living document that spells out the styles to be used. For instance, if you always want to use the phrase, "The ___ window displays after you click the __ button." Then spell it out. Otherwise you'll have some courses that say "The ___window appears once you push the ____button." More on style guide considerations to come.
  • Build a resevior of templates. A great idea is to build as many interactive templates as possible. Then Instructional Designers can copy the template and simply change the content. This saves time and ensures consistency. To help your team avoid feeling creatively stymied, encourage them to build new templates and add them to the resevior. Each time a new template is built everyone can decide on the look and feel and begin to use it with consistency.

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