Instructional Design

How to create engaging eLearning content

Engaging_contentIf you were to draw-up a SWOT analysis of an eLearning product, the lack of physical presence between classmates and the instructor would be high up in the Weaknesses column.

The SWOT analysis is a tool used by businesses to determine the Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities & Threats that revolve around a company/idea/product. You can conduct a SWOT analysis on practically anything, and in relation to anything.

One of the reasons the SWOT Analysis is drawn up in a matrix fashion, is so we can start converting things that appear on the one side of it, to the other. For instance, we want to see how we can turn weaknesses into opportunities.

Is lack of physical presence an opportunity?
Today I want to explore how it can be a major opportunity both for the learner and the instructor.

I want to look at two things:

  • eLearning is largely based on the ability it gives all parties involved to be present, while essentially being away.

Now, let’s investigate. On its face value, this is a good thing, because for once, the ability for people to study remotely, is present. And apart from that, people who once couldn’t afford being educated after high-school, or even people who looked for alternatives to very expensive business or other qualifications, can now find a plethora of different vendors or providers who offer classes for minimal fees, or even for free.

  • How do we overcome the bigger burden of eLearning environments?

I will go ahead and assume that the biggest burden of eLearning is the lack of contact between the instructor and the learners, but you may feel free to disagree, and I will be more than glad to add any points to the discussion later on.

Let’s look at a few ways that you can make an eLearning course more engaging; not being there all the time doesn’t mean you can’t engage learners effectively!

1) Do some research beforehand!

Yes this sounds generic, and yes it’s a vital component of building anything; anything from a product, to a service, to a lesson that will be delivered to a series of different individuals, you need to consider tailoring it to the needs of different people.

Building a course is not just compiling information that you gather from other sources into one single space. That is practical because your students will have easier access to the information, but how valuable is a compilation of information found elsewhere?

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

You might want to think about creating a course about how to do research, it will go a long way; if you are absolutely sure about creating a course out of a compilation of third-party generated information, you may want to follow these instructions to make it effective:

  • Interpret the information; don’t throw in information you know is meaningful; it’s oftentimes a common misconception between experts in a field to believe that others understand what they are trying to say. It’s not always true, you need to make sure that you simplify the information in a way that you can grasp the attention of your learners. This will vary depending on the level of the course, and the expected knowledge of the learner before taking it, but it’s a rule of thumb that you want to simplify things in a way that most people will understand (sometimes people know but need a refresher, give them that bit of a push by simplifying the information at least to get them started).
  • Use different sources that lead to your conclusion; you want to be able to back up the curriculum and enhance the credibility of information going through to the learner.
  • Make it your own! By that, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t cite or give credit, far from it! There is a very big difference between making something your own through the way you portray it, and making it your own by deceiving people about the origin of the information.

2) Facilitate contact where there isn’t much!

This comes in second, not in matter of importance but because I believe that you need to do your reading before you begin the journey of teaching. Assuming one of the biggest issues of eLearning is the lack of contact as mentioned above, the most natural response to it would be to use the tools available to facilitate contact. Email is an all time classic and allowing the student to email the instructor is a good idea, but a better idea would be to allow for interactivity, not only between student and instructor, but also between students. Discussion forums then! (TalentLMS will feature its new discussion forums for its users on the next update! Stay tuned!) A great solution, through which the instructor can monitor the needs and issues arising throughout the course is a discussion forum. It can be used by students to contact the instructor, but students also have the ability to step in and reply to another students inquiry. This is not only good because students now communicate with each other, thus facilitating a sense of community in the “classroom”, but it allows for:

  • The students to practice what they’ve learned by applying knowledge to help others
  • Engage in constructive conversation
  • Share opinions and often realize a mistake where the learner didn’t realize existed
  • Give students a sense of authority when answering others’ questions, boosting their motivation to be better

3) Drive success!

It’s probably not as simple as saying those two words, but you need to keep one thing in mind; adults are a lot more complicated to teach than children. While children are innately interested in their adventure to discover new things, adults are a lot harder to engage, especially in a professional setting, nobody wants to seem vulnerable in the eyes of a coworker. It’s often perceived as a sign of weakness, not the ideal feeling when trying to progress, personally and professionally. But… no matter how hard, it’s out of weakness and the acceptance of lacking something that we find the strength to want to learn.

As an instructor, the suggested course of action would be to eliminate parts of a course that are repetitive to the knowledge your audience already has. Yes, giving learners a refresher crash course is never a bad idea, but make sure it doesn’t cover a large enough part of the course to tire and irritate your audience. In other words, try not to “dumb it down” too much.

4) Set and communicate your goals

This is crystal clear; in every setting, you want to let your learner know that they will be earning a specific trait or piece of knowledge from taking up your course. Part of driving success – mentioned above – is setting clear goals, and communicating them to your audience. You want to let them know what they are going to know after they’ve dedicated their time to your course; that way, they can track their progress themselves, identify weaknesses throughout, and ask questions accordingly, focusing on the more important points of the course.

5) Give them the option

I’m all about efficiency and practicality; If I have a deadline and I need to know specific things by said deadline, I like to learn things on point. Something I dislike more than being flooded with excess information where it’s not needed, is being forced to do so. Observe any child around you, this is something we, as humans, are familiarized with early on. If we are forced to do something, we most probably won’t do it. Instead, when you want for your staff or students to learn something, you may try to show them all the benefits out of taking up your course.

Example: Cold War teachings? Why get into it? Well, maybe you are not even a fan of history, and encyclopaedic information are not your thing. How about if I told you that the Cold War teachings are a master class in diplomacy, and how fear can play out in so many different ways that it teaches you not only history, but winning is sometimes more about playing the man than shooting the guns. It makes it a little bit more interesting doesn’t it? Try looking for the benefits, they’re there in everything you do; not everything has to be about routine reading.

Don’t forget to read about how you can optimize your eLearning content development process by creating an eLearning problem statement!

Got any advice to make creating a course more interesting and engaging to the average learner?

Share it with us!