Design eLearning Courses by Putting the Horse Before the Cart

Design eLearning Courses by Putting the Horse Before the Cart

“I need to give a training course to the executive team,” someone recently said to me. “Do you have anything good?”

Of course I said yes. OpenSesame is in the business of selling elearning courses, and just about every organization needs top elearning courses for managers.

But what’s wrong with this picture?

This training professional didn’t have a specific objective or need in mind. He had an experience in mind – a great training course – but he wasn’t focused on what the central topic of of the course was. He’s putting the outcome before the objective.

There are many resources out there for creating dynamic learning environments by combining off the shelf courses, custom-developed courses and informal learning resources like social learning applications. But before you go shopping or designing, you have to begin at the beginning: what’s the point?

Sometimes the point has been chosen for you – you know you need sexual harassment training and other basic compliance training, for example – but generally you have to start at the very beginning.

The Beginning is a Very Good Place to Start

A needs analysis, a needs assessment, a survey. Whatever you want to call it, assess the existing circumstances in your learning environment to understand what improvements will have the most significant impacts on business outcomes. Think of yourself as an internal management consultant, evaluating current business processes and deciding where your interventions will be most meaningful and effective.

Spend real time on this! Get to know the learners you are targeting, ask them meaningful questions and do some “ride-alongs” or “work-withs” to learn more about the different job functions within your organization.

Once you’ve identified some problems and validated them through discussion with colleagues and managers, begin by composing the learning objectives you have in mind. These will be the essential foundation for the cascade of decisions that come next. Create clear objectives by focusing on what kind of change you are trying to effect. A changed attitude? A new skill? Increased knowledge?

Remember that formal training may not be the solution. Perhaps you will need to facilitate informal learning through social networks or creating mentoring relationships. If you decide that a formal training course will be an appropriate solution, think about the most efficient solution for your training need.

Is your company’s specific branded information essential to the content of the course, or are you trying to address a broad and universal skill like “better communication” or “introduction to Microsoft Office”? If the latter, you can save money, time and effort by relying on an off-the-shelf training resource whenever possible. Take a look through our catalog to see some of the great off-the-shelf resources out there!

If your organization’s branded information is essential, then perhaps custom course development is the logical solution. Here you have more decisions to make. Will you develop in-house or rely on a specialty development firm? Will you plump for expensive interaction design or aim for a simpler solution?

As you make these decisions, be guided throughout by the learning objectives. What changed behavior or practice do you wish to inspire in your learners? Think carefully about what learning features will support their learning and make the content and the experience relevant to them.

As Tracy Parish pointed out at Learning Solutions 2011 last week, “the content must be relevant to the learner.” Without relevant content, all the fancy design in the world will fail. Assessment and composition of clear, strong learning objectives will solve that problem by enabling you to focus on the important stuff from the very beginning.

Photo Credit: two2miles on Flickr

Thanks to Tracy Parish for her permission to use this tweet.