8 Things To Consider Before You Design an eLearning Course

If you are an eLearning newbie and you’ve been tasked with developing an online course, you are probably asking yourself “Where do I begin?”. While it can be very tempting to some (ME!) to jump right into the creative development aspect, there are some critical things you should get straightened out first. Here are eight initial considerations that you should contemplate before getting started.

1. What are your timelines?

Determining your timelines is an important first step. The software you use, the level of interactivity of the training and the overall quality of an eLearning project is directly impacted by the timelines involved. If you have 1 week to develop a 30 minute eLearning module for a soft skills training course, you might not have much time to get creative, and you almost certainly wouldn’t have time to do anything remotely fancy like audio narration. On the other hand, if you have 3 months to make a 30 minute eLearning module, you have more time to find great graphics, add realistic scenarios, and maybe even throw in some animations and narration. So the first thing to do is to take into consideration how much time you have to create this course.

2. Which authoring software will you use?

There is a plethora of eLearning software out there and as the industry grows new options are available every day.  Personally, I am a believer in the tried, tested and true. When it comes to developing rapid eLearning, the top authoring tools are Adobe Captivate, Articulate and Lectora. You could fill a blog about the advantages of one vs. the other (and indeed, such blogs do exist) but the bottom line is that the three are well-known and used by thousands. This means you can find TONS of online help, forums, chatrooms, experts on Twitter, etc. who can answer your questions should you run into any issues. If you are a newbie, chances are you might run into one or two head-scratchers. If you are using new software, there will be a learning curve no matter which one you choose. You can make life easier on yourself by downloading a free trial of any of the abovementioned softwares. This way, you can try them out first and see how you feel about the functionality and interface.

3. How will your learners access the eLearning?

The answer to this question might rest on if you are using a Learning Management System (LMS) or not. A LMS is generally used when you want to track scores and quiz results. If you already have an LMS, then the training will most likely be accessed from inside the LMS. If you don’t currently have a LMS but think you might need one, there are free (*technically free, but you do pay for the server space, time to set it up, etc) ones out there, such as Moodle. Moodle can be set up and configured  relatively easily by a web developer or IT department. There are also hundreds of non-free ones, for larger organizations with big projects and lots of eLearning courses.If you aren’t using an LMS at all, there are still options available to track scores (some products come with Quiz Reviewer tools) but you’ll  need to decide from where your users will access your eLearning. From an intranet portal? The company website? A shared folder? It’s something to consider early on.

4. What are the required resources?

Before you get started, identify all the resources that you will need for your eLearning project. Your SMEs are one of your most valuable resources. Identify who has the most knowledge on your subject, and who can provide you with explanations and clarifications. Hopefully, they can also provide you with examples, scenarios and (hopefully) help you sort out the need to know. vs the nice to know. Some other resources to consider: image editing software to crop/edit photos, a stock photo account for graphics, recording software to add narration… etc. It is wise to get a good handle on your required resources and have everything approved by management. This should avoid some headaches, i.e, you find the perfect photo, but can’t download it until you get approval from 3 levels of management to order a 25.00$ photo package.

5. Who are the learners?

Who is taking your eLearning course? It’s important to assess your eLearning audience. Are your learners factory workers who aren’t very computer savvy? Or are they software engineers who are highly technical and very computer literate? Will your eLearning course be taken by highly motivated interns and new employees? Or by people who hate their jobs and don’t want to take the course? Take your audience into consideration. Get an overall idea of their level of education, their work experience, knowledge of the subject at hand, average age, background, motivations, etc. This is a critical step which will really help you create a course that is more relevant and meaningful.

6. What are the hardware/software requirements?

Requirements can be many things ranging from simple web access to get to an online eLearning course. Some other examples: will learners need Flash to view the course? Will they need a screen resolution of higher than  800 x 600px?  It’s a good idea to put together your hardware and software requirements, to ensure that the vast majority of your learners will be able to access and view your eLearning course without too many issues.

7. What are the branding/ style requirements?

Some organizations have a thick style guide that dictates exactly which font, colour schemes, logos, etc., can be used in any corporate documentation/materials. This may or may not include your eLearning courses. Find out ahead of time if there are style guidelines. If not, it’s still a good idea to stick to the general look and feel of the organization. There’s no need to overdo it and slap a huge logo on each and every slide, but using the basic corporate colours is a simple way to make it consistent with the brand.

8. Does the eLearning need to be localized?

Localizing content can be time-consuming and costly. Even when using sophisticated software, it costs money to translate content and it takes time to duplicate a course in another language. Some design considerations also need to made when content will be translated. Certain languages, like Spanish and French, have more verbiage and longer words than English. This could lead to space constraints, if it’s not taken into consideration in advance.

Are there any other important initial considerations that I’ve left out? Leave a comment!

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4 Comments on “8 Things To Consider Before You Design an eLearning Course”

  1. These are all questions that need to be asked. But, it seems to me that you left out the major questions: What is the purpose of this training? What are people suppose to be able to do after they complete the training? What is the scope (how broad is my topic)? What is the essential information? After answering these questions, then answering the question you mentioned, then you need to ask: Given my current limitations/resources, how can I create learning experiences to help the participants accomplish the learning objectives?

    The questions you listed are very important because it’s real world stuff. These are limiting factors or resources that have to be taken into consideration. You can’t create the best learning experience in the world if you only have a week, but yet you can’t lose focus on what the real purpose is, either. So you create the best learning experience possible under the circumstances.

  2. @nicole_legault says:

    Thanks Kim! I wish everyone who read my postings left such valuable comments :) You make some really valid points.

  3. Thank you for sharing all of this valuable information. Your “layout” makes it easy to begin. I appreciate Dr. Corbeil sharing it with her students. We are learning and wanting to do more. This helps to see the visions can become reality.

  4. Definitely agree with Kim Green. Before you create a new course, you need to be very clear about the objective “What will the learner be able to do at the end of this that they couldn’t do before?” And who is/are the various learner groups? (your #5 consideration re audience). Is there more than one group that needs to learn the same skill but they have different learning preferences?

    Answering those two questions will often determine how long the training needs to be and how best to deliver it (a 10 minute YouTube video versus an all-day instructor-led hands-on experience, as an example). Knowing your audience also determines localization requirements, which forms part of the budget.

    Once you’ve figured that out, you can determine how best to create it, where to put it so your audience will find it when they need it (or will you market it to them directly?). Not complicated but all things to consider before you commit to action.


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