Investing time and money on the development of high quality eLearning and implementing a fancy LMS is not enough to guarantee an experience your learners are going to enjoy. This article will explore some important concepts that will help you understand the relationship between these technologies.
I was recently listening to a podcast about user experience. The guest on the show was an interior designer who focuses on healthcare.
Not just the architectural aspects of the environment she is designing, nor the furniture or decor - but the experience as a whole.
This would include opening the front door, walking through the reception area, the subtlety of the lighting, the type of background music, conversation with the receptionist, entering the treatment room, lying down on the bed, the treatment itself - even her visit to the bathroom before leaving the clinic.
Rather than looking at interior design as static objects - the room, furniture, colour of the walls and carpet - she was looking at interior design as an experience.
How does this relate to eLearning?
We can learn a lot from this example in how learners interact with eLearning. Delivering online training is a difficult thing to get right. You can invest all the time and money in the world on a fantastic interactive eLearning course, and subscribe to a top of the range, feature-rich LMS.
But if these two fundamental elements do not work together, the final solution will be severely diminished.
We must think about the journey that a learner experiences from when they arrive at the LMS through to when they begin to engage with the content.
If you take a look at the image below, we see an example of how a course often appears within an LMS dashboard.
So what's the problem with that?
Well let's look at the user experience. The learner logs into the LMS, clicks on the course name and immediately has to make a yes/no decision - do I click on the course or not?
The outcome of the decision is usually based upon what they are looking to achieve:
- Are they looking to undertake an eLearning course from start to finish?
- Are they looking for a quick answer to a problem?
In this example, we are looking at a compliance course. So maybe they are happy to make a commitment to spend the next 30 minutes completing this course - if they don't, they won't be compliant which may have consequences.
But what if they just want a quick answer? In this situation, there are no consequences if they decide to log out and find the answer elsewhere.
The solution is to break down our content into smaller, bite-size chunks. This next example shows how the same content should have been added to the LMS.
It is exactly the same course, with exactly the same functionality, but broken down into several individual modules. The learner can quickly see which part of the course they should access to find the relevant information - we've even added timings onto each module to really give the learner control over their decision on what to click on.
Advantages of breaking down content
In addition to breaking the content down to help the learner quickly find what they need, the modern LMS has powerful content management features which gives the learner even more benefits including:
1) Reducing learner commitment
I prefer watching box-sets to movies. Quite often I will watch three or four episodes of a box set, which is the same duration of TV as watching a movie. But it is the commitment to watching a movie that I don’t like. What if I get bored in 30 minutes? I may feel obliged to finish watching the movie because I have already started it.
The same concept can be applied to breaking your course down into modules. Providing individual modules reduces the commitment a learner has to make in order to consume the content.
By breaking the course down, you may find that the learner still completes all modules in one sitting. However the commitment upon them doing so from the outset is drastically reduced.
2) Visual progress
The ability to see which modules have previously been viewed and/or completed enables the learner to quickly pick up where they left off.
Now you would be right in commenting that most modern LMS will remember where they the learner was within a SCORM course, however this is not apparent on the LMS dashboard, only once they have restarted the course.
By making the progress visible from the LMS dashboard, you are giving the learner greater control over their progress through the course.
3) Content tagging
Most LMS will provide the option of adding keywords as tags for each course or module.
Let's look at an example. If you were to add tags to a 30 minute course, you may end up giving that course 100 individual tags. But if you have 10 x 3 minute modules, you could give each module 10 tags, which would mean when the learner searched the LMS for a specific keyword, they wouldn't see the other 9 modules appear in their search results - and would subsequently find what they were looking for more quickly.
From an administrative perspective, tagging content can be a lengthy process. Adding keywords to each individual item of content could take somebody quite a while, but it is an essential step if you want your learners to be able to quickly locate the content they need.
Reports carry much more impact on a modular level. For example, if a course is broken down into individual modules, you would be able to see the percentage of learners who have completed the first module, but that did not progress onto the second module.
This type of information can be very useful in identifying where training material is weak and needs some improvement, or maybe the learners are not understanding what is being taught.
5) Module replacement
One of my current clients has recently changed content provider. They had one slide within one old course that needed updating, but because the courses were all self contained, replacing even a single slide with a different voiceover would ruin the whole course. So they had to replace the voiceover for the whole course, which was an unfortunate waste of time and money.
However, if their content had already been broken into modules, they could have simply replaced the individual module which would have been a huge reduction in work and wouldn't have looked out of place in the LMS.
6) Perceived size of library
Although the content available to the learner is identical in size, breaking down the courses into smaller modules will give the perception of a bigger content library, and from a commercial standpoint this can be advantageous for those selling their courses online (bigger library = more value).
I have, however encountered one client who mentioned that this might be a disadvantage. For compliance-based training, often learners are looking to complete the training as quickly as possible, with the employees worried about the amount of time the learners are spending on compulsory training.
I have to admit I was quite surprised about this! I had never previously considered that too much training would be a bad thing, but obviously this is something to consider.
Personally, I would always consider a bigger library of content to be more valuable.
Why does this problem occur?
So we know how to improve our course content by breaking it down into modules. But it might be useful to explore why this problem occurs in the first place?
Well let's ask a simple question - who creates the content and who manages the LMS within your organisation? Is that the same person?
Often the answer is no. We will have a team of content developers, internal and/or external, and then there will be another person responsible for managing the LMS.
Do the content developers see the content on the LMS before it is launched? Do they see the content on the LMS at all? If the courses are being designed externally the answer is often no.
If the courses are off-the-shelf, the answer is definitely no!
And this is one of the biggest problems - there is a miscommunication between the content developers and the project manager/LMS administrator. It is easier for the developer to create one big course, rather than 15 smaller modules, unless the decision has been specifically made from the outset to create individual modules.
Blame the software
One of the biggest reasons for the disconnect between LMS and content is the technology used to develop eLearning.
Most of the market leading rapid authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate etc. allow designers to create excellent content. The problem is that the software encourages the developers to create one large course, integrating a menu, additional resources, glossaries and other useful features.
In theory, these features are great, but when this content is published, the software wraps up the eLearning course into one big file that is then uploaded directly to your LMS. This can often be a 30 minute course, and the LMS sees the content as one object.
How can we overcome this?
Before you start building eLearning content, it is essential to consider the platform upon which this the course will be delivered - the relationship between content and platform is often overlooked as we eagerly begin work on the project.
In fact, in the examples shown here, the customer hadn't even chosen an LMS when they commissioned the the design of the eLearning courses. And so it is no wonder that the developer provided a single zipped SCORM file for each course, ready for upload.
If the work is being outsourced, then ensure your developers are given access to the LMS to see how their content will look in the system. Instruct them to create individual SCORM modules or lessons rather than delivering one large course.
Or even better, ask their opinion and see if they suggest breaking it down before you prompt them (this is a key difference between hiring a freelance developer and a more experienced consultant - the freelancer will be concerned with delivering a product, the consultant will be more concerned with providing a solution).
It is extremely easy to commission somebody to create content based on a brief, to receive that content and to make it available to your audience via the LMS. But as the manager of the platform, you are responsible for the user experience. And therefore you need to invest some time and energy into manipulating that content into a format that the learner will benefit from.
Spending that additional time on tailoring the content ready for the LMS, will make all the difference between:
a) your learners leaving the LMS because the content isn't inviting OR
b) your audience benefiting from all that time and energy that has been invested in creating the content.
How is your content currently positioned within your LMS? Have you found a disconnect between the LMS administrator and the content developers?
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The quote taken from Tom Kuhlmann comes from his blog post How Long Should My eLearning Course Be?