What an Awesome eLearning Course Taught Me About Designing Engaging Courses & Winning Over Lifelong Students

eLearning is boring, right? Think again!

As a self-proclaimed “master in Excel,” I had my socks knocked off numerous times during an 18 hour elearning course on financial modeling. I know what you’re thinking…financial modeling?! That seems like a tough course to learn online! Well, that’s exactly what I was thinking too! But I took a deep breath and hit play…

And that’s when I lost my first pair of socks.

Right from the get-go, the instructor delivered a fast paced introduction (he was obviously from New York), and then went straight to the point: “We are going to build a detailed 5-year pro-forma valuation analysis of Walmart based on its 10 year operating statistics…”

There was none of this “Ahem…now, Excel is a widespread and popular spreadsheet program created by Microsoft”…(!!!) Instead, we dove right into the material, and I was hooked.

The elearning course had lofty goals of teaching accounting, financial modeling and to how to use Excel. I wasn’t quite sure how the instructor was going to pull it all off, but he did a great job by alternating between:

  • Headshots of the instructor, for delivering big concepts, strategies, and advice, which forced me to focus on what he was saying and better process the ideas he was discussing
  • Live footage of him writing notes, which encouraged me to take my own notes around specific accounting concepts and examples
  • A live feed of his computer screen, where I was able to watch him input numbers and build out the model in real time, making it a lot easier for me to follow along with my own model.

Throughout the course, the instructor didn’t shy away from challenging me to memorize a vast number of shortcuts that would ultimately help me make mincemeat out of the model. He also taught me how to apply clever strategies and techniques to calculate things like debt sweeps and taxes that I would never have come up with on my own.

So 18 hours and 5 pairs of socks later, I had a full blown model with a projected income statement, cash flow and balance sheet, a variety of supporting schedules and a dynamic assumptions sheet I could use to update my Excel model.

Here Are a Few Things this Course Taught Me about Designing eLearning Courses

#1: Get to the Point 

State the goals of the course right off the bat, and let your audience know the relevance and importance of what you are teaching them. Immediately answer the question they are asking themselves as they press play: “Why am I investing time to take this course, and what will I get out of it?”

#2: Pick Up the Pace and Stop Over-Explaining 

Don’t be afraid of talking a bit faster with a little bit more enthusiasm. Speaking slowly and over-explaining things will only encourage your viewers to speed you up!

A friend of mine who takes a number of elearning courses every year admitted that he often plays the elearning course videos at 1.2x to 1.5x the normal speed, just to help the instructors get to their point.

Course design rockstar, Breanne from MyNameIsBreanne.com, explains that whereas in a live event you might want to speak at around 160 words per minute, “for video courses, the researchers found that a higher speaking rate actually increased engagement by a factor of 2X. […] Even at a rate of 250 words per minute, instructors on video were easily understood, especially when there was reinforcing material such as slides.”

So if you’re worried about speaking too quickly, remember that someone can always rewind the video if they missed something.

#3: Mix Your Media to Suit Your Content

Alternate between different types of media to break up your dense content or long series of videos. If your lesson is text-heavy and fairly straightforward, maybe make a PDF that students can download and read at their own speed. If you’re demonstrating something live on screen, consider filming your hands or capturing your actual screen while performing the actions. If you want people to take notes on a particular topic, take notes yourself on screen or on a white board instead of just showing a slide. And if you’re trying to teach big concepts, consider discussing those topics on screen, or finding good images to illustrate your point.

#4: Make the Content Challenging and Engaging

Challenge the student with real problems and scenarios to capture their interest. If it’s a soft skill, try and frame the skill in the context of a real obstacle that they will need to overcome. If it’s a hard skill like PowerPoint or Excel, let the elearner experience firsthand what they need to do in the program, and have them cross check their results against yours.

What Do You Think?

These are a few lessons I learned from my own elearning experience. Have you taken a fantastic elearning course that inspired new ideas for your own courses? Share your thoughts below and help us all improve our elearning design!

Don’t miss the next post in Taylor’s The eLearning Chronicles series!

Taylor Croonquist is the co-founder of Nuts & Bolts Speed Training which delivers actionable PowerPoint training courses for working professionals who spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours a year using the program.