eLearning Best Practices
- Avoid Sound effects: Avoid using superfluous and distracting sound effects. For example, turn off the default “clicky” sounds that you hear every time you roll over a clickable item in Articulate Quizmaker and the “typewriter” sounds that Adobe Captivate adds when revealing on-screen text. Other effects that can prove annoying over time include button clicks, correct (ding) and incorrect (buzzer) sounds. These sound effects do little to enhance the educational experience and are considered by many as unnecessary “gimmicks.”
- Ensure Sound quality: Unless you literally have no budget at all, it is highly recommended that you use a professional voice talent who can deliver high quality edited audio files rather than recording “do-it-yourself” audio using a USB headset. You can generally obtain quality audio for about $20 USD per finished minute or less, and $600 USD for 30 minutes of professionally recorded and edited audio narration is a comparatively small price to pay for a significant upgrade in the overall quality and production value of your course.
- Use temporary “scratch” audio: Before you finalize your script and record the final audio narration, consider using a computer synthesized voice generator software to create temporary audio. There are many free and low-cost voice generation tools that output mp3 and other audio file types. Many allow you to change the speed/tempo to match whatever your regular voice talent’s average words per minute may be. For example, if your voice talent speaks an average of 160 words per minute, set the synthesizer to this level. You can then time your assets to this temporary track and make sure the course has a nice interplay between the visuals and audio. You may also discover that you need to edit your narration for flow or give the voice talent pronunciation notes, etc.
- Start with templates: Using a template can save you time and effort in the design phase of your course. Tools like Articulate Storyline have several types of templates you can choose from, including slide backgrounds and slide layouts, which include pre-determined but customizable style elements already in place. Use a template to create a quick course, or use it as a starting point for your design and customize it according to your needs.
- Move beyond bullets to infographics: Most types of elearning will feature plenty of text elements in the design and content. However, for some content, you may be able to convey your message more effectively by using graphics instead of text. Using graphical illustration in your content (instead of just sticking with bulleted text) gives learners a welcome change, creates more visual interest, and allows for more engagement on a cognitive level. For example, instead of using a standard list menu, try creating icons for each menu item and display them in an interesting way.
- View Demos from Others: Watching elearning demos created by other people can give you great inspiration for your own elearning courses and can expose you to new and different ways of engaging your learners. Demos can feature content layouts, style elements, and interactivity styles you may not have considered before, and they can be a great source of ideas for your own, unique project.
- Sketch out ideas and hire an artist: As the author of an elearning course, you may have a specific vision of how you want certain elements to look. In order to bring these elements to life, your best bet is to work with a graphic artist. A good graphic artist can take a ho-hum idea and make it dazzle! Don’t be afraid to sketch out what you have in mind and let the artist transform it into something amazing!
- Get your content and narration down before you create graphics: One mistake that people often make in creating an elearning course is to start media/graphic development before their narration is solid or approved by the stakeholders of the project. Think of it like this: the narrator of your course is saying what you want to convey, so you should treat the narration as one of the foundations for your media development. It’s fine to identify great looking images that you want to use before you know what you want to say–great images can sometimes inspire us to say what we really want to say! But generally, it should work the other way around–graphics should support and illustrate what the narration is saying.
- Avoid flashy gimmicks: We’ve all seen those annoying animated gifs in banner ads–the ones that just repeat over and over again. They are meant to distract you from the content of the page you are looking at–and they do work. You never want to distract your learner from the key points of a lesson, so keep those points in mind whenever you use graphical or flashy elements in your elearning. If you do want to use a graphical element to draw the learner’s attention to a certain area on the screen, do so only when the narration is finished or after the key point is made. The same can be said for using excessive text animation–don’t overdo it!
- Use project management software: Creating an elearning course can include several phases of development, depending on many different factors. For example, you may include a discovery phase in order to determine what your learning needs are. Then you will most likely go through an instructional design phase, which may include several of its own phases and may use the services of a number of different people. And all this occurs before you’ve even begun any media development! Using a project management software like Smartsheet or Microsoft Project can help you keep track of tasks, people, and due dates in all phases of your elearning project. It’s well worth the time and effort to use one of these programs, as it can help you determine a timeline for your course and get it built on time and within budget.
- Communicate with an online project system: If you are using project management software, you may want to consider sharing it with others involved in the development of the course. This way, everyone can see whom tasks are assigned to and when they are due. You can also allow other users to make changes to the project spreadsheet as tasks are completed, resources are received, etc.
- Focus on the big picture: If you are the project manager for an elearning course, you’ll need to have a handle on the project as a whole–the big picture. This means that you’ll be the one with your eye on the moving parts, and you’ll know how they all fit together. You’ll also probably be the one that meets with the stakeholders most often, so you’ll have the best understanding of their vision and of what needs to happen to make the course a success. Don’t forget that frequent communication with all the various team members is the key to that success!
- Avoid the “one-man-band” trap: Do you work for a small organization? Do you have a very limited budget? Do you have a tight deadline? All of these factors may affect how many people end up working on your course. While it’s entirely possible to create an elearning course all by your lonesome, it won’t have the same impact as it would if you had the input and help of other members of your team. Take the initiative to engage other members of your team/organization to give you feedback at various stages of development.
- Consider getting a little freelance help: If the members of your immediate team or organization lack the skills you need to create your elearning course, you may want to consider hiring some freelance help. You can find freelance help for almost any stage of an elearning project, including instructional design, writing, graphic artwork, voice talent, and media development. This website features links for many of these types of freelance help.
- Avoid following the ADDIE Model literally and/or linearly.
- Always create and follow an instructional design document: The instructional design document, or IDD, should serve as the foundation for your elearning course. The IDD identifies the purpose of the course, the learning objectives, the intended audience, the course length, and the number of interactivities to be included. It can also include a very basic outline of the course, with lessons/modules and titles broken out, etc.
- Begin with known capabilities/toolset features in mind.
- Research technologies and techniques as needed.
- Keep your SMEs under control.
- Identify content gaps early. Once you’ve gathered all the resources for your content, conduct a gap analysis to identify any areas where content is weak or missing altogether. Once you’ve identified gaps, you can fill these in by accessing additional resources or by interviewing an SME.
- Choose the right tool for the job.
- It’s time to move beyond Flash.
- Always be current on multiple tools.
- Consider outside help for the complicated stuff. Don’t limit your content to the skills and experiences on your team when there is a world of talent ready to help you take your content to the next level. Often the difference between good and great is only 1 hour or less of expert help.
Quality Control and Pre-Launch:
- Avoid checking your own work. Two sets of eyes are better than one! Just as you would review work that anyone else does on your project, it’s a good idea to recheck the work of the checkers.
Course Launch and Evaluation
- Analyze course effectiveness and adjust as needed.
Do you have other best practice recommendations? Feel free to sign-in and comment. We’ll review and consider adding them to the list.