Effective Elearning Development: What You Need to Know

Asynchronous elearning has proven to be a potent and cost-effective method for delivering training.  The advantages of self-directed elearning are almost as numerous as the organizations that deploy it, but the most common and powerful are…

  • Greater Accessibility. No need to schedule specific times for training. Asynchronous elearning can be accessed anytime, anywhere! 
  • Save Time and Boost Productivity. Asynchronous elearning typically reduces instructional time by 50% or more, meaning less time training and more time producing!
  • Minimize Disruption to Workflow. Learners train at their convenience, not an instructor’s. 
  • Scalability. Asynchronous elearning can train large populations quickly and easily. 
  • Eliminate Travel Costs. Learners access training via their computer so no need for learners or instructors to travel. 
  • Simplified Training Documentation. Asynchronous elearning lets you document the training activity automatically. 
  • Personalization. Learners progress at their own pace. 
  • Consistency. All learners receive consistent instruction. 
  • Free Up Time Instructor Time. Valuable instructor time can be re-allocated to topics where face-to-face interaction is critical.

While elearning can satisfy a wide range of training challenges, developing effective elearning requires time, effort and skill, which typically are in short supply, especially when internal training resources are limited.  We have over a dozen years of experience in custom elearning development and have developed over 1,000 elearning programs.

To assist you in your evaluation of elearning, we put together this resource on how to make elearning effective, efficient, and durable.


When Is Elearning the Right Choice?
Elearning to Share Institutional Knowledge
Elearning for Interpersonal Communications
Where to Start—and What to Avoid
What Does It Take to Create Engaging Elearning?
5 Keys to Engaging Elearning
What Role Do Elearning Subject Matter Experts Play?
Maximizing the Value of Elearning

When Is Elearning the Right Choice?

Elearning is a versatile medium that can satisfy a wide range of training needs.  When evaluating if elearning is appropriate for a specific project, there tend to be three main factors to consider:

1. How difficult would it be to deliver the training through traditional ILT?  Do you have qualified instructors to deliver the training?  Would this be the best use of the instructors’ time, or would their time be better used on other tasks?  Are you trying to distribute the training to a geographically dispersed audience?  Would it be difficult and/or disruptive to pull learners out of their regular workflow to attend an ILT program?  Would employee turnover require you to deliver the ILT on an ongoing basis?

If any of these issues represents a challenge, elearning may be right for you, as it is fully scalable, can be completed on the learner’s schedule, and does not require an instructor.

2. How many people need to be trained?  Elearning tends to incur a higher upfront development cost than ILT, but the cost of delivery is next to nothing.  Therefore, the breakeven point tends to be around 200 users, but this can vary based on factors noted above.  In general, the more users you need to train, the more appealing elearning tends to be.

3. What is the subject matter?  As noted earlier, elearning is quite versatile, so it can be effectively deployed for all sorts of training topics, including employee orientation, organizational policies and procedures, compliance, safety, product training, sales training, customer service, technical training, and software/systems training.  Elearning can also adjust to the needs of various learner populations.

However, if the subject matter is highly complex and/or needs to be customized to small groups of learners, elearning may not be cost effective.  In these situations, it may be best to deploy a blended learning solution in which elearning is used to cover the common topics, while a follow-up ILT session covers highly specialize topics.

Another aspect of the subject matter that should be considered is how often it will change.  If the subject matter will need to be updated on an annual basis or less, elearning may be a good fit.  However, if the subject matter is still evolving and will need to be updated monthly or quarterly, elearning may not be a good fit.

Elearning to Share Institutional Knowledge

A major challenge for many businesses is transferring critical information from veteran employees to newer employees. When an employee has been working at an organization for years, they become a vast resource of institutional knowledge.

They often know more about their job than their supervisor and may even know more about the organization’s operations than executive management because they’ve been there for so long and have worked in various roles. For an organization to reach its full potential, this information must be captured and passed on to those who need it.

Capturing this knowledge and passing it on to others can be challenging for several reasons. Veteran employees:

  • May have gained most of their knowledge informally. There may be no record of what veteran employees know. In addition, veteran employees may take their own knowledge for granted and not recognize its value.
  • Be too busy to share what they’ve learned with others. Organizations are often so reliant on veteran employees to keep the organization functioning smoothly that these employees don’t have the time to mentor newer employees.
  • May not want to share what they know. Some recognize their unique role within the organization and don’t want to diminish their value. Those in senior positions may be reluctant to help train junior employees at this stage in their career.
  • May not be good trainers. They may understand a topic inside and out but not be able to pass this knowledge on to others efficiently. They may also want to be directly involved in the training of new employees, which may not be the best use of their time nor an efficient manner for passing on their knowledge.

Elearning can document veteran employees’ institutional knowledge in a format that passes information on to others efficiently. Online learning programs can help bring junior employees up to speed and minimize instructional demands on veteran employees. When institutional knowledge is available to all who need it, the organization is more effective and no longer at risk of losing this valuable knowledge.

Elearning for Sales Skills and Interpersonal Communications

In an ideal world, training on interpersonal topics, such as sales skills or interpersonal communications would be delivered by a great instructor in   a small  class just before the learners need the information.

However, this ideal class environment isn’t always available, and there are logistical challenges:

  • A single instructor can reach only a limited audience.
  • Hiring enough instructors to reach a large population of learners can be quite expensive.
  • It can be difficult to coordinate the timing of ILT so it’s delivered right as the learners need the information.
  • Not all students can fit a live class into their schedule.

While elearning cannot provide the same level of personal connection and support as a live instructor, proper Instructional Design and the use of audio, video, learning exercises, and interactive scenarios can increase elearning’s emotional appeal. In addition, elearning can overcome the limitations of ILT—elearning is fully scalable, fits into students’ schedules, and provides consistent delivery of content.

The most important question is not which method is best but rather “When each method should be used?” If you need to deliver interpersonal training to a small audience, ILT is likely the way to go. However, if you want to reach a wider audience and/or make the training available on demand, elearning is the way to go.  In some cases, you may want to incorporate both methods. Offer ILT for those who can access it and elearning for those who can’t.

Where to Start—and What to Avoid

If you’ve ever worked in retail, food service, or similar sectors, you’ve surely heard this rule: “The customer is always right.” When it comes to elearning, we apply the rule: “The learner’s needs come first.”

In an article in Elearning! Magazine, Bluewater CEO Chris Bond lays identifies four factors that often cause elearning projects to lose focus and, as a result, implementation to fail:

1. Rush to get things done

2. Improvised business processes

3. Focus on capabilities over needs

4. Lack of consideration of the user experience

So what’s the solution? Bond lists seven elements to ensure positive results:

1. User experience

2. Content

3. People

4. Technology

5. Process

6. Data

7. Reporting

Too often, Bond notes, the focus is on the technology instead of on the learner. As he puts it, “If the user experience is wrong, then it does not matter how cool the supporting technology is.”

What Does It Take to Create Engaging Elearning?

Developing engaging elearning is part science and part art, and it varies based on the subject matter and target audience.

Disseminating information among adults via elearning is dramatically different from the formal education we grew up with. In school, the teacher is the authority figure and has almost total control. But in an elearning environment, the learner has a lot of control.

Experts point to three basic styles of learning, all of which have a role in engaging elearning: auditory learning, kinesthetic learning, and visual learning.

  • Auditory learning is our first tool as children. We learn speech by listening to and repeating the words of our parents. As we grow into adulthood, we learn by listening to speeches, presentations, and even the nightly news. We also react to audible signals like changes in tone or accent.
  • Kinesthetic learning (tactile learning) is learning by doing. Tactile learners learn by discovery. This style of learning emphasizes movement and repetition. Anyone who has attempted to improve in a sport has used kinesthetic learning—repetition of a motion to create a physical or sense memory that can be repeated over and over.
  • Visual learning creates interactions within the brain to comprehend graphics and create memories. For most, sight is the most powerful sense. Studies show that students practicing visual learning show greater retention, reading comprehension, and critical thinking. This style of instruction also levels the playing field for those with varying levels of reading skills and aids first impressions. If a training program looks good, our first assumption is that it is good. If it looks bland, we assume the underlying training is bland.

Many custom elearning solutions blend all three learning styles to engage users. All employ images and visual cues judiciously. There certainly is no “one size fits all” application for every elearning solution.

Client needs may call for instructor-led materials. A game-based course may enhance retention. Simulations and computer-based training may solve an instructional issue. A student may be prompted with an auditory cue, then click on a game to devise a solution—all while receiving reinforcement from graphics and static text.

5 Keys to Engaging Elearning

Ultimately, there are five key elements that all engaging elearning programs have in common. Engaging elearning must:

1. Generate interest. Provide learners with a visually appealing user interface and incorporate professional narration and other sound effects to engage their auditory system. Knowing your learners is the first step in creating on-point content. Catchy headlines, occasional humor, and plenty of brevity help engage learners and optimize retention. Examples throughout the material should be based on problems consistent with their field of expertise. The more relevant the content, the more it will hold learners’ attention.

2. Demonstrate practical value. Answer the question “What’s in it for me?” Explain the practical value from their newfound knowledge or skill, and how they will be able to use it. The content does not have to be rigid, but all paths must point back to the central issue and the approach. Remember, if adults are not motivated to learn, they won’t.

3. Be interactive. Require the learner to interact with the course by responding to instructional queues, performing interactive learning exercises, and completing self-checks and knowledge assessments. Interaction significantly increases comprehension and retention while also boosting learner satisfaction.

4. Challenge without overwhelming. Challenge learners through discovery, participation in thought-provoking exercises, and incorporation of meaningful knowledge assessments. All learners can benefit from positive reinforcement and constructive feedback. A wrong answer doesn’t have to mean failure—it can be part of the learning experience and push the learner to do better.

5. Deliver information efficiently. More is not necessarily better. Keep each session to one main idea with several supporting points. Strip out extraneous content, package the content in bite-size pieces, and use multimedia elements to convey complex information. If employees may want additional information, include links to explore on their own. Allow the learner to progress through the content at their own pace, take different paths where appropriate, and return to previous parts of the course.

What Role Do Elearning Subject Matter Experts Play?

Effective training couples a proven Instructional Design and development process with the expertise of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The collaborative effort ensures engaging elearning development that meets organizational training requirements and business objectives.

A fundamental part of custom elearning development is translating SME expertise into effective elearning. In our experience, SMEs often ask:

  • What will you need from me?
  • How does this whole process work?
  • How much of my time will this take?

If the associated subject matter has already been complied, vetted, and prepped for delivery, SMEs can expect to spend anywhere from 10 to 18 total hours, spread out over several weeks, to assist in the development of a one-hour elearning program. If the subject matter has not yet been complied, vetted, or prepped for delivery, the amount of time required from the SME may increase significantly.

A key to effective collaboration is keeping SMEs informed, invested, and involved during every stage of the design and development process—while minimizing time demands. SMEs are involved in four main phases of elearning development:

  • Discovery (4–6 hours). SMEs should plan on committing 1–2 hours to discuss training needs and business objectives with a design team, and 1–2 hours to compile knowledge assets. The discovery process begins by asking key questions like “What content needs to be covered?” and “Who are the learners?” to gain a clear understanding of business objectives and training requirements. SMEs also provide existing training materials that Instructional Designers and Multimedia Designers use as reference material during design and development.
  • Instructional Design (4–8 hours). Elearning instructional design, which takes place during weeks 2–4, is the art and science of presenting information to enable learners to master required information efficiently. Proper Instructional Design defines desired learning and/or behavioral outcomes, factoring in learners’ existing knowledge and experience, and designs a training program to achieve desired results. Instructional Designers lead the elearning course storyboard development. During this phase, SME involvement is vital but limited to review and approval.
  • Multimedia Design (less than 1 hour). This phase occurs concurrently with Instructional Design. Graphic designers create prototypes that reflect the appropriate look and feel. SME feedback is incorporated into a final module prototype design.
  • Production (2–4 hours). Once the storyboard and multimedia design are approved, the development team combines them into an engaging and interactive elearning program. Similar to the Instructional Design phase, this process typically involves two review cycles, during which SMEs confirm that the course accurately reflects the approved storyboard and that multimedia elements support underlying content. The production team incorporates feedback into a final version of the course and submits it for final SME review and approval. Production occurs during weeks 3–8.

What it takes to create effective elearning

Maximizing the Value of ELearning

To ensure longevity of an elearning investment, it should be easy to update as new information and situations come into play. Upon the conclusion of an elearning module, ask each employee who participated to complete a user survey. Use this feedback to tweak the content and presentation as needed.

Also, remember that “If you build it, they will come” does not apply to elearning—no matter how great the courseware. Organizations must develop an effective communication program. This often includes email blasts, newsletters, social media, and journal articles. Communications should include sample visuals and may even include links to short demos. Courseware can also be marketed along with other products and services that the organization provides, such as instructor-led training or consulting.

More than ever, learners rely on their handheld devices to find resources. Learners often search Google, Bing, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, so any organization marketing elearning needs to have a presence in these online communities.

Learn more about custom elearning development for your organization by contacting us today.

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