Interested in e-learning? Thinking of building, or commissioning your own?
Before you do – check out these handy tips to make sure you don’t get caught out by the “big five” blunders.
We use these pointers with our digital learning clients – if you can successfully navigate past all five of them, you are well on your way to creating some meaningful and constructive e-learning!
If you like the look of my presentation, read on for my (somewhat fragmented) notes from the talk (given at BETT 2010).
I guess the problem we are looking to solve with the “big five” is this:
I have a limited amount of money, and want to get the most effective digital learning possible. How can I make sure that I invest it for maximum impact, yet not fall foul of the endless standards and structures imposed on digital learning?
pitfall 1: The right subject matter, but the wrong learning
Good e-learning is all about the Learning. The ‘e’ represents a great opportunity for enhancement, but it can also distract you from the main game.
Look at the structure of what you are trying to achieve. Think about the structure of the learning.
Get to know your learners. What problem is your learning resource going to solve for them? Are they going to do it alone or with support? What devices will they use to access it? Where will they be when they do it?
Ask the right questions at the outset, and you’ll have fit-for-purpose learning at the end.
We ought to be trying to solve the learners real world problem, not push content at them that they might not need or want!
pitfall 2: not making the full use of digital, or even making the wrong use of digital
Higher on Guerra / Interactivity scale doesn’t mean better
The tools and methods don’t themselves make good learning, it’s what you do with them that counts.
examples of this going wrong:
classic mistake 1: “paper behind glass”, batch converting your paper-based course materials or concepts into e-learning equivalents.
This never works – You are failing to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital media.
The flexibility, portability, and community aspects of digital media offer a great opportunity to tell immersive, engaging, contextualised stories in your learning materials. Look for those opportunities and exploit them – think about other ways of adding the ‘e’ to ‘learning’ beyond simply posting documents online
classic mistake 2: focus on pumping up the number of interactivities to make the learning more engaging.
Higher up on the on Guerra (interactivity) scale doesn’t equal better. There is no direct relationship between degree of interactivity and quality of the learning experience – interactivity alone is not enough.
Design an effective learning experience with your repertoire of digital – and non-digital – tools and delivery methods in mind. The tools and methods won’t themselves make learning more effective, it’s what you do with them that counts
classic mistake 3: hoping bling will cover up poor learning. If all the facts are there, and it looks good people will learn, right? Wrong! All that glitters is not gold. Pouring money into visual glitz, 3D avatars, virtual worlds, and other trappings of ‘high-end’ commercial content doesn’t automatically enhance the learner’s experience. There may well be a better initial impression, but for the learning to empower the learner they need your e-learning to offer them a meaningful learning journey. If good (and expensive) visuals are going to be an integral part of, or genuinely enhance, the learning experience, only then are they worth considering.
pitfall 3: messing up on accessibility and usability
This looks like a great course, but… I’m going to need transcripts for the videos… and why did pressing that button delete all my work?"
The flexibility of digital is a blessing and curse. Done well, digital resources can be opened up to a much wider range of learners, including those with disabilities, than many non-digital resources. And, done well, the experience of using these resources can be a delightful one.
If it’s digital, it’s got an interface, and a poorly-designed interface – or navigational structure – can become a barrier between the learner and their learning. There is a battery of cheap-and-cheerful usability techniques which will help make sure learners spend their time thinking about the content, and not about how to get from one screen to another (and will make sure they won’t lose their work at the press of a poorly-labelled button!)
There’s a wealth of good information out there about making your learning accessible to the widest possible audience. Published accessibility guidelines provide a useful framework for this, but at the same time you shouldn’t necessarily feel constrained by these ‘rules’ – there’s nearly always a way to ensure that a learner can have a worthwhile learning experience in order to achieve their learning outcomes
pifall 4: excluding your champions
Learning doesn’t happen in isolation. It is scaffolded by other stakeholders (other learners, tutors, systems etc). To make sure the learning works, make sure you have thought about these stakeholders’ needs too:
- make sure tutors have support / training so that e-learning empowers them
- keep the content structure as open ended as possible, to encourage tutors / mentors to remix it into their own lessons.
This second point is critical – if you get it right, you are future proofing your course. Good tutors find ways of using resources in new and different contexts, and if you support them in this (with open structures and technologies) they will help keep the course alive, and adapted into the future.
pitfall 5: Preparing for the unknowns
But it worked fantastically in the labs!
There are loads of seemingly small pitfalls that can suddenly become large when least appropriate: Your college changes their VLE just when you finish developing for the old one. A new browser gets released that breaks your materials. Your learners are supposed to learn online, but can’t get access. They use tiny-screen mobile devices, but the materials require a big screen.
These is no single solution for this, but here is a set of starter questions to keep your eyes open …
- Keep all stakeholders informed (Does your tech support team know? and the bursar?)
- Use open standards (the more browsers your content run on now, the more likely it will still look good in 5 yrs time)
- Plan ahead for mobile learners (remote learning. possibly unsupported. smaller devices)
- Is the platform right?
Are learners (and tutors) ready for it?
Do courses integrate into your own processes?
Can you edit the content yourself?
Do you need to track learners / measure progress?
How do you contact and communicate with remote learners?
Thanks for sticking with this – what do you think? Could these tips help you? Please let us know if they did – or if you think we have missed something big🙂