Which Mistakes You Need to Avoid When Designing eLearning

A list of bad habits and ineffective practices to avoid when creating eLearning courses!

The eLearning Industry recently shared a few statistics that demonstrate the sheer size and impact of the eLearning industry. This list includes the following facts:

  • 77% of US companies used online learning in 2017
  • For every dollar spent on eLearning, companies make back $30 in productivity
  • 72% of organizations believe that eLearning puts them at a competitive advantage

These facts, among others, illustrate how powerful effective eLearning can be. What these facts don’t acknowledge is that commonly made mistakes can derail instructional design projects and prevent eLearning from being as effective as it could be. The good news is that with careful instructional design and attention to best practices, these mistakes can be avoided. As you create courses, be mindful of not making the following common mistakes:

Too Much Text

Your subject matter experts (SMEs) may give you pages and pages of information, in formats such as presentation decks, documents, manuals, and even hand-written notes. Your job as the instructional designer is to distill that information into meaningful content, and not to repeat each and every word. Use techniques like summarizing, paraphrasing, and breaking up long passages of text into engaging interactions such as flip cards and accordion tabs to keep your learners’ attention. If your learners wanted to read a manual they would; an eLearning course is not the place to present them with long passages of text.  

Information Overload

Similar to including too much text, some courses are weighed down with simply too much information. This information could be presented in the form of text, images, video, and other formats, but there is a fine line with each course where enough is enough. Although there is no golden rule or magic number of minutes for course completion, consider your learners’ needs and preferences when creating courses. Learners may prefer several more focused, smaller courses over one large course, as shorter courses may be easier to complete during busy workdays and allow learners to pick and choose exactly what topics are of interest to them. When it comes to eLearning, more information is not always a good thing.

Lack of Interactivity

You might be noticing a trend here. Courses that contain too much text and are bloated with too much information often suffer from a lack of interactivity. When creating a course, consider how mentally active your learners will be while taking it. When they read long passages of text their only physical activity is scrolling the mouse, and there’s no way to determine if they’re truly reading or just scrolling. This lack of activity can correspond to a lack of cognition, the mental act of acquiring knowledge. In other words, if learners are not physically or mentally active, the content will not “stick.” Authoring tools provide engaging interactions that allow learners to play, discover, and apply content as they move throughout a course, all of which lead to higher retention of the content.  

Related Article: Creating Learner Trust Through Interactivity

Mistaking Clicking for Engagement

As with many design decisions, the right number of interactions can be subjective. If there are not enough, the learners may become bored. If there are too many, the learners might become annoyed. Interactions can add meaning to content and can help learners process and apply information. However, meaningless interactions and unnecessary clicks can create a frustrating user experience as well as slow navigation through the course. Clicking does not automatically equate to learning, so consider the value of each interaction and what purpose it serves within your course. If the only reason to include it is to give the learner something to do, challenge yourself to find a more meaningful way to present that information.  

Lack of Responsive Design

Responsive design means that a course will function seamlessly on any device. This functionality is a pillar of the Knowbly™ authoring tool; we know that designers want their courses to simply work on all platforms without anyone having to predict which device their learners will use or and without having to adjust settings to accommodate mobile functionality. Consider the differences between programs and websites that are “mobile-friendly,” and those that were built with mobile users in mind. Learners with mobile devices who experience difficulty reading and navigating content in your courses and who have to scroll and zoom constantly will become frustrated and will not find your courses to be valuable, no matter the content they include. Designing with mobility in mind, on authoring tools that automatically provide this functionality, ensures your courses are ready for the modern, mobile workforce.

Poor Quality Narration

Not all courses need audio narration, and choosing to include it adds another layer of complexity to the design process. A narration that is too fast, too slow, too monotone, or too quiet provides a poor user experience. Audio tracks with unintentional background noise, or even white noise, can sound unprofessional. Editing the audio and synchronizing it with the presentation of content throughout the course can be time-consuming. Don’t let your course suffer from poor quality narration, and also don’t even think about using a computer program to narrate for you! Creating professional sounding audio narration is a special skillset that not all designers possess, so it may be necessary to outsource this part of the project or rely on a teammate to narrate for you.

Related Article: Narrative Learning: The Value of Storytelling in Adult Education

Assessments That Are Too Easy

If your learners can pass your assessment without even having to take the course, then what value does it serve? Align your assessment to your course’s objectives, vary your assessment format (write different types of questions), and write incorrect response options that aren’t incredibly obvious. A well-written assessment can be as much as a teaching opportunity as the course itself can be. If the learner’s completion of the course is tied to successfully completing the assessment, make sure your assessment is a meaningful measure of their knowledge and their application of the course’s content.

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