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I'll tell you something: E-learning has proved vital this year – here’s how to get it right

24 Sep 2020 By Heather Lamb

Online training has been invaluable during the Covid crisis, but not all organisations are using it to its full potential, says Heather Lamb

In common with virtually every area of society, Covid-19 has presented L&D with new and ongoing challenges. Continuing to support, develop and nurture staff at all levels with (at best) minimal personal contact is hugely important. E-learning has always been an option in the blended learning toolbox, but now it is surfacing to be a key cornerstone of many strategies. 

But what makes for a great experience and what undermines its effectiveness? Earlier this year I was forced to endure a so-called ‘e-learning package’ to gain a qualification. That interminable session consisted of 96 screens of closely written text, the only interaction being the ‘advance to next screen’ button. Within five minutes I’d switched off and resorted to imaginative means to pass the exam. I learned nothing and ended up bored and frustrated at the loss of four hours of my life. This is not e-learning! There’s no magic to creating e-learning, but there are some important principles to follow. And it does demand time, effort and commitment. Successful modules are concise, engaging and relevant and provide management feedback. 

Planning the content of modules needs to be thorough to ensure objectives and expectations – yours and stakeholders’ – are met. Storyboarding is a great technique, particularly if your project is complex, and can help identify natural breaks that will keep sessions manageable. Create a narrative to link the whole programme – it doesn’t have to be business related; in fact, some of the most successful e-learning I’ve experienced has been based on imaginative scenarios and analogies. But make sure audiences aren’t patronised (cartoons and games aren’t for everyone).

Designing the look of your e-learning is critical. Using a template will give consistent visual clues; applying colours and emphasis coherently will help focus the learner and maintain their interest; and choosing easy-to-read fonts (and limiting the number used) will keep screens clean. Replacing text with video or professional-looking graphics is a great way to stave off boredom – as is selectively animating pictures (but remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should). Always consider accessibility to ensure inclusivity.

Make every screen interactive. I’m not just talking the usual click, tap or drag; give choices, force decisions or interpretation, ask questions – in other words, make learners think and engage. Keeping text as short as possible will avoid screen fatigue and aid comprehension. Use a conversational style and avoid unnecessary images and sounds. Beware of mixing text, animation and audio, which often causes cognitive dissonance, and watch out for redundant content.

It’s important to introduce each module, its purpose and what users will achieve. Signal the average time taken, and whether they can break and return or they need to set aside sufficient time to complete the whole session. Give positive feedback and allow learners to repeat critical or complex sections. Test for all eventualities – one person can’t anticipate everything. Get feedback before releasing.

You can use e-learning across the whole learning cycle. Software simulation can test for aptitude and teach new software. New or changed processes and procedures are also prime candidates. Perhaps surprisingly, skills, organisational expectations, culture and behaviours can all also be introduced through e-learning provided they are then supported with other blended solutions. When used with a learning management system, proof of completion and outcome is automatic and evidential. Without, results are just as available with a little extra effort.

So e-learning is truly versatile – and has proved so particularly during lockdown. But remember: e-learning is for life, not just for Covid.

Heather Lamb is a learning and development specialist at HLM Learning Solutions and former national sales trainer at McCarthy & Stone

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