Detailed Tips for Building an Effective E-Learning Course

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Building an effective e-learning course requires well thought out design. Here is detailed list of useful tips to help you get started with your e-learning course design.
  • Before developing the content for the assigned lessons, review the proposed learning objectives.
  • Make sure that the content and knowledge assessment tests and exercises “match” the lesson objectives at every step in the work flow process.
  • Provide all the knowledge needed to meet the learning objectives, including information that may seem obvious to you but may be unknown to learners.
  • Use examples that are likely to be familiar to most, if not all, learners. People taking the course may have different backgrounds, so use a variety of examples. This will help learners understand and remember concepts.
  • Classify topics for each lesson as follows:

    • Must know: a core part of the content; the learner needs to understand these concepts.
    • Nice to know: the learner could get by without this information, but it could help develop a better understanding of the subject, or add interest for the learner.
Lesson Part No. of Slides
Learning Objectives 1 screen
Introduction 1 to 3 screens
Content 4 to 25 screens
Summary 1 screen
  • Write directly, simply and clearly. To accomplish this, keep sentences short. One rule of thumb is that a sentence should not be longer than 25 words. It is important to not give the reader more ideas or information than can be handled at one time.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • If you are addressing a multicultural audience, avoid culture-specific slang, colloquialisms and examples.
  • Be sensitive to the fact that many learners are not native English speakers. Write as you talk. Informal language and contractions (e.g. don’t, we’re) can be used.
  • Minimize the use of compound sentences. When you see a colon or semi-colon, examine the sentence to see if it could be made simpler and clearer by breaking it into shorter sentences.
  • Use personal pronouns (e.g. “you”) to refer to learners. This personalizes instruction and involves your reader.
  • Use bulleted lists when appropriate.
  • Use gender-inclusive, non-sexist language (e.g. sexist: “Over the years, men have continued to use non-renewable resources at increasing rates;” gender-inclusive: “Over the years, people have continued to use non-renewable resources at increasing rates.”)
  • Use the active voice. In a passive construction, the agent of the action often disappears from the scene. Use the passive voice only when the active voice is unduly awkward.
  • Spell out acronyms in full the first time they are used. Consider adding them to the glossary if appropriate.
  • Integrate different media to present the example (e.g. a picture and text or audio narration).
  • If the example is long or complex, break it up into smaller components.
  • Try to also use non-examples, e.g. examples of incorrect application of principles.
  • Use a realistic job context for your example; this will support transfer of the knowledge to the job.
  • For strategic skills, use at least two examples which illustrate the same underlying principle in different contexts. Then, ask learners to compare them and identify the common principles.
  • Display on-screen text to provide the best readability and clarity.
  • If possible, use diagrams, graphs and flow charts to help the learners understand the content.
  • Use graphic conventions consistently; for example, italic style must always be used for the same purpose.
  • Use lists or tables to help learners organize the information.
  • Use list points or blank spaces to separate items in a list or focus the attention on them.
  • Consider word and row spacing to improve text readability.
  • Try to avoid graphics that have no real function in complementing the information in your text. Purely decorative graphics do not help learners understand the text and should be minimized.
  • Adding extraneous pictures can interfere with the process of understanding presented materials, thus jeopardizing the learning process.
  • If you use printed words to comment upon the graphics, place them near the parts of the graphics to which they refer, so that learners’ attention is not divided.
  • If you use spoken words (narration), present corresponding graphics and spoken words at the same time so that learners’ attention is not divided.
  • Use digitized photographs when creating a realistic context and suggesting analogies to real-life situations.
  • An animated illustration can be used to show a series of procedural steps or the stages of a process.
  • A matrix, a conceptual map or a tree diagram can show relationships among content.
  • Line charts can demonstrate trends and allow learners to make comparisons between two or more variables.
  • Bar graphs are useful for comparing quantities and dimensions.
  • Pie charts show relationships between the parts and the whole, and are particularly useful for showing proportions and ratios.
  • Flow charts are recommended to describe complex procedures.
  • Diagrams can provide organization and meaning and are therefore recommended when you are trying to help the learner store and retrieve verbal information.
  • When developing a text table, ensure that sequential relationships are accurately reflected, and arrange sequences so that they are represented from left to right and from top to bottom on the page. Working contrary to that “natural” flow can create confusion. When using text tables, provide instructions on how to interpret and use the table.
  • Ensure that diagrams, graphics and screenshots correspond to their descriptions.
  • Allow learners to focus on only one object at a time.
  • Use arrows to steer attention to selected details or motion direction.
  • Segment long or complex animations and allow learners to access each chunk at their own pace rather than playing all the steps continuously (e.g. by adding Play and Pause buttons).
  • Limit the use of animation effects on text because they do not have any instructional function and can irritate learners.
  • Keep the audio short.
  • Use audio to complement the visual elements of the screen. For example, during a procedural demonstration, audio can be used to explain animated steps.
  • If you use audio to comment on graphics and animations, present corresponding graphics and spoken words at the same time so as to not split the learner’s attention.
  • Avoid redundant audio. Do not use it to “read” the text on the screen; instead, combine audio narration with textual summary.
  • Use written text for key messages which need to remain on the screen as long as desired so that learners can refer to that information over time.
  • Avoid adding “extraneous” audio, such as background music and sounds, to a narrated animation. If learners pay attention to sounds and music, they will pay less attention to the narration.
  • Video sequences should always be accompanied by comments in either written text or audio narration.
  • In situations with limited bandwidth connections, a video sequence can be replaced by a sequence of pictures.
  • Avoid using video only to show a teacher speaking.
Type of Content Tips
Fact
  • Have learners recall features or specifications
  • Have learners identify pictures or objects
Concept
  • Have learners discriminate between examples and non-examples
Procedure
  • Have learners practise through operational simulation
  • Have learners actually perform the procedure
Principle
  • Ask questions about the principles underlying a worked example
  • Have learners apply guidelines to solve a job-contextualized problem or case study
  • Practice questions should be created for all critical topics or tasks.
  • The text of the question must be as clear and unambiguous as possible.
  • Incorrect options should be plausible. An obviously wrong option does not play any useful role and decreases the learner’s interest.
  • Incorrect options should aim not to distract learners, but to anticipate common errors so that useful information can be provided in the feedback.
  • Provide textual responses for each option of about the same length. If one of the responses is much longer than the others, the learner will think that is the correct one.
  • Provide explanatory feedback: after the learner responds to a question, provide feedback saying whether the answer is correct or incorrect with a succinct explanation.
ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONAL SUPPORT CAN BE DESIGNED AS PART OF THE LESSON OR THE COURSE. THESE RESOURCES MAY INCLUDE, FOR EXAMPLE:
  • printable versions of the lesson content;
  • “getting started” tutorials, providing an overview of navigation features for new learners;
  • downloadable job aids (e.g. checklists, if/then tables);
  • glossary providing key terms and related explanations;
  • bibliography and/or links to Web resources, for learners to find out more about the topic; and
  • pop-ups or “mouse-overs” which provide additional information on specific topics without interrupting the flow of the lesson.
ACCORDING TO THE TYPE OF LEARNING OBJECTIVES, DIFFERENT METHODS CAN BE USED TO EVALUATE LEARNING.
  • Changes in attitudes and development of relational skills can be measured through interviews, surveys or direct observation of participants’ behaviour.
  • Thinking and cognitive skills can be measured through assessment tests. Assessment tests can consist of sets of questions or assignments designed to verify the achievement of a specific objective or the mastery of a given skill.

ASSESSMENT TESTS CAN BE USED FOR DIFFERENT PURPOSES:

  • Prerequisite tests: used to verify if learners have the minimum required knowledge to participate in a certain learning course.
  • Pre-assessment tests (or entry tests): used to assess a learner’s knowledge and skills before beginning a course, in order to personalize learning activities.
  • Diagnostic tests: used to assess the achievement of a unit’s learning objectives after the completion of a specific learning unit.
  • Post-assessment test: used to assess the achievement of the course’s learning objectives after the completion of the entire course.
  • Certification tests: used to verify specific skills and knowledge inside the organization and are not necessarily related to a learning course.

IN SELF-PACED E-LEARNING, ASSESSMENT TESTS MAINLY CONSIST OF “CLOSED-ENDED” QUESTIONS ASSOCIATED WITH RESPONSE OPTIONS. THE MOST FREQUENTLY USED QUESTION FORMATS INCLUDE: MULTIPLE CHOICE; MULTIPLE RESPONSES; MATCHING; ORDERING; FILL-IN-THE-BLANK; AND SHORT ANSWER/ESSAY. LEARNING PLATFORMS OFTEN INCLUDE EDITORS TO CREATE TESTS, QUESTIONS AND TOOLS FOR REPORTING RESULTS.

IN FACILITATED AND COLLABORATIVE E-LEARNING, “CLOSED-ENDED” QUESTIONS ARE INTEGRATED WITH DIFFERENT TYPES OF ASSIGNMENTS WHICH ARE CARRIED OUT DURING AND/OR AT THE END OF THE COURSE. QUESTIONS AND ASSIGNMENTS ARE EVALUATED BY THE FACILITATOR OR INSTRUCTOR. THIS IS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH CONTINUOUS MONITORING OF INDIVIDUAL AND GROUP ACTIVITIES DURING THE COURSE.

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