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Putting the learning back in eLearning

Creating engaging eLearning Part 2

What do most people complain about when faced with the prospect of ‘doing a bit of eLearning’?

Boring – mind numbing and tedious. Slide after slide of text – why do we do that? Why do we reproduce pages of text in an authoring tool when that same information has already been produced and is sat in a Word document or PDF somewhere on the intranet? Are these walls of text there just to provide an excuse to have a multiple choice quiz at the end to ‘test’ their knowledge? Why do we give ourselves that extra work?

Last week I compared retail design to eLearning design. In this article I am going to explore more about what we need to consider when creating eLearning so it’s a great learning experience.

If we decide that it IS important for them to read the company policy then why not provide a link to it or make sure they know where to get to it and save the duplication? Better still, if it’s ‘e-information’ you want to create – be up-front about it and, please, put a little more thought into how engaging it looks for readability on screen.

A lot can be learned from all those remarkable SlideShare presentations and YouTube snippets. But if we are talking eLearning – now that’s a whole different ball game. Learning is about experiencing, thinking, doing and making decisions.


“I’d rather be in the classroom!”

Before we even start thinking about eLearning, perhaps we should first remind ourselves what good learning really is. Let’s think about classroom learning – and I mention classroom learning because that’s what most learners cite as a preference instead of ‘doing some eLearning’.

Why is It they prefer classroom?  Is it because a good classroom experience no longer consists of ‘death by PowerPoint’? Good classroom design and delivery involves the learner from the beginning. It includes critical thinking, scenario activities that are realistic and work related with a good balance of questioning and information.

All these are delivered skillfully by the facilitator drawing out learners’ opinions, thoughts and ideas. It involves opportunities for learners to apply their knowledge with practice and checking activities on work based projects or case studies. It allows them to apply critical thinking – not just answering multiple choice questions. Great classroom learning provides learners with the opportunities to collaborate discuss and share experiences as well as providing each other with support.

My question is why does this have to stop when we are designing eLearning? Why is it that all we know as learning specialists is forgotten or ignored when we are tasked with creating eLearning? It seems the learning has been taken out of eLearning (if it was ever there in the first place). Instead, we have been focusing too much on the ‘e’.

As learning designers, we can easily come up with superb, engaging activities that make the learners think critically such as scenarios, role plays, analysing data, and exercises. We know how to ask the right sort of guided questions to help our learners think more carefully about their answers. We know it is important to break down the activities in the classroom to bite sized chunks so they refocus and are able to work with each other in teams. The good news is we CAN make this happen in eLearning. We just need to be a little more creative in our thinking.

What would happen if we sat our learners down in a room and made them sit through dozens of screens of bullet points spewing out copious amounts of information? Or worse: being read to by the tutor? (Please don’t tell me you do that in your classrooms!)


“But we have built interaction in!”

OK, so what if we give the learners the power to stop us and rewind as many time as they need? Will that help them? I think not! How soon would they fall asleep? Pretty likely if you ask me! If we are lucky, they may stay to the end only to be faced with a few pages of multiple choice questions. That hardly tests their application of the theory to anything meaningful.

Most of us know how frustrating this experience can be so we try and improve it. We know that interaction is the key to good eLearning but our idea of interaction is clicking a button to move a screen forward.

We might go a little further and acknowledge that learners don’t want to see copious amounts of text on a screen all at once. So we hide it behind roll-overs. Now the interaction is a click combined with a slight movement of the mouse to reveal……. wait for it …….. more information.

Whilst this is acceptable in small doses it is still only information. True – it does make it more visually interesting but there is no real critical thought. OK, OK! Some people may learn like that but where is the application – where is their decision making?

We think that by ‘tarting’ up the slides so information is hidden behind cleverly thought up graphics or charts, this makes it ‘engaging’….. think again. It is a little like handing out envelopes in class for learners to open one by one just to discover a few more facts. Admittedly, it’s a little more fun than death by PowerPoint – but only just.

There is, however, light at then end of this eLearning tunnel. If we would normally ask guided questions in a classroom to gain an opinion we can do exactly the same in an eLearning module. The difference being that instead of waiting for someone to answer, we may have to give some realistic options for the learners to choose. In part three I’ll be looking at ideas for creating exciting and engaging eLearning and continuing on I’ll explore ideas on how we can think more creatively when introducing activities in eLearning, how we can help get the most out of our learners and encourage motivation.

Part 3: Engaging eLearning- as easy as CSI

Can eLearning designers learn from retail designers?

Creating engaging eLearning Part 1

Last night I was catching up with ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ where she was trying to help a dwindling DIY business based in a sizable village. On her arrival she was met with a busy shop front with all sorts of bric-a-brac displayed haphazardly outside. The windows were packed with notices of all shapes and sizes – that is if you could see them through the grime.

Once inside the shop, Mary was immediately faced with clutter, this DIY shop didn’t seem to know it was DIY store at all with greetings cards, ladies comfy shoes, toys and very dodgy ‘china’ products filling every nook and cranny of space. The result? Confusion and an urge to get out of there fast. What’s more, the staff didn’t seem to know anything about the products they sold so they couldn’t provide the customer with any help or advice.

To convince the shop owner there was need to change, they paid a visit to a well know DIY chainstore. What a difference. From the outside it was clear what the store did. Window displays were engaging and enticing. Once inside there were clear lanes well signposted and colour coded and staff were easily identified and conversant in their products but most of all there was….


Space to breathe, space to decide where to go, space to see things clearly.

The proprietor of the little DIY store didn’t get it…. look at all this wasted space…. imagine what else they could pack in and potentially sell. He really didn’t get it.

As I sat and watched I realised exactly the same was happening with eLearning. The little DIY store, poorly designed and set out was like poorly thought out, poorly designed elearning that is crammed full of information the learner doesn’t need for the task at hand. No space to breathe, confusing navigation and an urge to fill every bit of white space with something no matter how irrelevant.

Good eLearning is like the large DIY store – clear signage, lots of white space, clear navigation and time to think and choose the right route.

That’s where the analogy stops – I’m not saying the small organisations create poor eLearning or that large organisations create great eLearning – far from it. It is more to do with the ability and creativity of the designer not the size of the organisation.

So what can eLearning designers learn from this programme? 

Here are 10 top tips

1. Have a clear objective – know what you want to deliver
2. Think creatively
3. Give your learners space
4. Keep the information relevant to the task at hand
5. Give careful thought to aesthetics – learn some basic graphic design principles
6. Less is more
7. Set clear navigation
9. Allow your learner to think for themselves not confuse them with clutter
10. Provide help and support when needed

To quote Mary, “if you create a space that your customers enjoy being – they will enjoy buying” which is exactly what we need to achieve with great engaging eLearning.

What ideas do you have that we can borrow from retail?

Part 2: Putting the learning back in eLearning