eLearning Tools Are Very Powerful, Use With Caution

eLearning authoring tools (for example Storyline, Lectora, Captivate, etc.,) are very powerful and offer a number of tools and features for enhancing the appearance and performance of the output. Unfortunately, many of these features, used improperly, can have the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of enhancing and speeding up learning/performance, they can make it more difficult for learners to access and learn from the material.

You may hear from non-instructional designers (perhaps your manager or director) that we should “jazz up the interface or content.” By that they mean make it more “visually appealing or attractive.” They’re typically not thinking of ID/eD/adult learning principles. Instead, they were playing with the tool, attended a demo, or saw a fancy example and think that that feature or function will work in other/all circumstances. Wrong!

Features and constructs to use sparingly, if at all:

  • Sliders, accordions, flashcards, flip cards, buttons, fiddly process diagrams, tabs, and other interactive gimmicks that hide information behind unnecessary clicks (and not part of practice)
  • Image maps, drop-downs, expanding sections
  • Purely decorative images (people, places, objects that are not directly related to the topic)
  • Overly attractive/distracting images lacking an instructional purpose
  • Background music behind the narration
  • Distracting games
  • Hidden content (is it a secret?)
  • Lengthy lectures (eHectoring) without worked and practice examples
  • Important text buried in images or under multiple clicks
  • Items that move unnecessarily in an attempt to hold interest while the narrator drones on

eLearning Course “Elaborateness”

ROI CloudJust as you (probably?) wouldn’t spend $1000 on an expensive meal for your dog, you wouldn’t spend a lot of money to show four guys in the shop how to enter their time in the new time-entry system.

By elaborateness, I’m talking about how much time and effort you put into your course, or any communication piece, to make it highly polished and professional looking and acting. The level of effort (cost) that you allocate to create your communication piece (e.g., email, letter, conference call, document, memo, user guide, job aid, eLearning course, etc.) depends upon several factors.

Return on Investment (ROI)

How expensive your course is to create, publish, test, and maintain has to be in proportion to the learning goals, the size of the audience, and the expected return on investment (ROI) compared to other delivery modes such as virtual ILT or a simple email.

The elaborateness of an eLearning course can range from the short and simple single course to the lengthy, highly interactive, multi-character, audio and video-rich curriculum.

An Expensive Process

Even short and simple eLearning is generally pretty expensive to create and maintain when you consider the entire process. The course has to be written, produced in an authoring tool (Lectora, Storyline, Articulate Presenter, etc.), narrated, tested, edited, reviewed, published, and set up in the LMS. Before going down this path, you should have a good idea of the ROI.

Do Some Analysis First

At the low end, you and or your team might get together to craft your message. This is appropriate for immediate needs such as press releases, putting out fires, email to staff, simple polices and procedures, etc. For more involved interventions, you or your team should do some research, analysis and produce a written report that describes the problem or gap, presents options for correcting or closing the gap, costs, timeline, audience analysis, stakeholders, metrics, success factors, etc. With the report, and its conclusions agreed to and the budget approved, then you and your team can create the interventions, then monitor progress and report your success.

Gotta go, my two 15-inch beagles have a hankering for lobster tail and filet mignon.

Windows XP, IE6 for LMS/eLearning Course Testing

Windows XP Pro LogoIn 2013 I set up an old Dell OptiPlex GX260 computer with a fresh install of Windows XP Pro SP3 and Internet Explorer 6. I use this machine to test eLearning courses that have to work with IE6. This machine is joined to my domain and is under the control of my WSUS server for updates. So, I have to be careful not to approve IE7 or IE8, and I imagine, related updates.

Platforms for Course Testing

This is just one of several platforms that I use to test LMS’s and eLearning courses. Others include IE9, IE10, IE11, Google Chrome, and Firefox, on Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. We also normally have to test several versions of Safari on several generations of iPad as well as the Mac.

I can log into this machine, or any of my other machines, from anywhere using either Remote Desktop Connection (RDP) or Remote Web Access (RWA).

November 1, 2014 Update, eliminated IE6 Test Machine

I eliminated the GX260 machine that had IE 6. I replaced it with a Dell GX620 box with Windows XP Pro SP3 and Internet Explorer 8. This configuration is what some larger corporate clients still have deployed. I understand however, that the clock is ticking to eliminate these machines from corporate networks.