Tips on Researching and Organizing Content

Tips on Researching and Organizing Content

Good design and user interface is only half the battle of creating memorable and effective elearning courses.  The other half is making sure that your course contains meaningful information that will produce results for learners.  We have some tips on editing and organizing content for course creators who are partnering with subject matter experts or doing independent research.

Research Like You Mean It
Research begins with needs assessment.  Your mission is to identify the problems and challenges your target audience encounters.  Maybe this step is as simple as contacting the known subject matter expert in your organization.  If you are delving deeper into the challenges your targeted audiences face, start by locating the communities of practice online or in person. Can you observe or participate in their Twitter chats, meetings, discussions or email conversations?  Make connections with the respected participants to see if you can complete ride-alongs or interviews to better understand their scope of work.  Can you envision opportunities for improvements?  For example, are there challenges emerging as a result of new technologies?  Are there inadequate resources for newly hired employees?  

If your schedule and scope of work permits, ask leaders in the field, consult trade organizations and evaluate any analogous industries or organizations for similar paths of development.  Use your connections to ask subject matter experts about the emerging skills, knowledge and abilities that are essential (or becoming essential) in your field of analysis. Once you have identified the skills and information that needs to be shared, create a narrative outline.  Use this to brainstorm ideas for facilitating that information-sharing.

Organize Your Content

Start by writing your learning objectives.  Decide what you want to focus on: Are you sharing new knowledge, building new skills or trying to change your learners' attitudes about a specific topic?  Remind yourself not to be too ambitious within one course; if necessary, break the information you have gathered into multiple courses or units in order to keep each section digestible for learners.  

It's time to decide how you're going to meet your learning objectives through each component of the course.  Ask yourself a lot of questions.  Where can you can expose your learners to empowering interactive elements instead of rote recitation of relevant information?  If your budget allows, can you use off-the-shelf tools like Quia to build a simple game?  Can you make a short animation to demonstrate a physical skill?  If you are building a course for a specific group of learners within your organization, is there a way to build connections between learners as you complete the course?  

Create a plan for delivering each chunk of knowledge.  Then, stand back, take a deep breath and decide what you can cut.  The Economist Style Guide offers a maxim about text editing that is applicable to curating any content: "Some words add nothing but length to your prose."  eLearning requires the same ruthless approach to editing: Some nuggets of information add nothing but length to your course.  Your goal should be to achieve thorough information transfer without sacrificing brevity.  

Once you have researched, organized and edited, it's time to implement and deliver your course.

Other Resources

Training Magazine posted a great article by Mark Steiner, a learning consultant, on strategies for managing successful elearning projects from start to finish.  I highly recommend reviewing this list and creating a personal checklist that helps you think reflectively about the elearning courses that you create.  Make sure to ask yourself the difficult questions.

Image credit: Geodog