Features of GREAT e-Learning

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In my last post I said that elearning should be an electronic version of the best class you ever took.  To make that happen, you have to start with good information as your key ingredient, and add the right amount of spice… 

So, what makes great e-Learning?  Two things:  Good information and variety.

Good information.  All the spice in the world can’t overcome the bad taste of poor information (or liver, ick).  You don’t have to have breakthrough research or the perfect mouse trap to provide value to your students; you just have to have something they want or need to know.  Your core information needs to be:

  • Focused on the student’s needs.  It’s ok to teach algebra to an 8th grader.  It’s not ok to teach programming to a 30-year old small business owner who just wants a website.  Don’t use jargon that is over the head of your student. 
  • Timely.  Again, an 8th grader might not need algebra at that time, but it is a foundation class and those algebra lessons will be recalled years later.  On the other hand, an adult learner, who has a lot on her mind, isn’t likely to remember today’s lesson if it isn’t applied by tomorrow.
  • Unique.  What do you have to say – or how do you say it – that sets your lessons apart from everyone else?
  • Accurate.  This is not the most critical feature in keeping your audience interested, as wild Internet rumors have proven.  But, I think it goes without saying that it is the most important thing if you care at all about what you do.

Variety…no elearning course should be all text or all video or all anythingEvery course should include at least some of every one of these things:

  • Webpage text
  • Graphics, illustrations, photos, or other simple visual media
  • Video and/or flash animations
  • Audio (separate or part of the video/flash)
  • Field trips for the mind…in the form of RSS feeds, simple web links, linked documents
  • Tests of understanding and competence…quizzes, assignments, and/or projects
  • Interaction with others…chats, forums, wikis and glossaries that are collective works
  • Choice of pace…instructor-led, self-paced, due dates or open-ended assignments
  • Offline and personal time…reflection, individual assignment and projects
  • Tools to further explain and support the concepts…downloadable templates, book lists

To stand on this soap box just a little longer, I’m going to say that it’s not enough to have all of these elements in a course; they must be blended together in a meaningful way.  All too often, I see courses that have several elements, but they appear separate and unconnected.  I am frequently given course outlines that have one video, followed by one downloadable file (a PowerPoint slide deck), followed by a quiz, possibly with a page of text thrown in somewhere.  Aaarrgghh!  We want to create a deliciously rich and complex sauce, not a three-layer Jello® mold!

I think almost every page should have a mixture of media.  When I design a course, my outline goes to the page level, where each page is dedicated to a topic, a concept, or an important point. 

  • Each page has at least some text, an offsite link or two, and some “eye candy” (graphic, picture, audio, flash, and/or video).
  • Every section (week or topic) has several pages (of mixed media) and usually an activity of some sort (quiz, assignment, chat).
  • Every course has collaborative media (wikis, glossaries, forums), tests of understanding and reinforcement (quizzes, assignments), and resources (web links, RSS feeds, documents to save or print). 
  • Every course starts with a POG (Purpose-Objectives-Goals) and ends with a Summary.  (If a course is long, there will be POGs and Summaries for sub-sections as well).

Features of GREAT e-Learning

It is imperative to design the learning before creating it, which means not only deciding what you’re going to include, but how.  There are a great number of software tools to create a range of multi-media, and to distribute that media to your audience.  These are generally referred to as authoring tools; they range in price and complexity from “free and easy” to “a fortune and very difficult”.  Large corporations can spend $100,000 on applications that don’t work, but we small business owners can’t!  Not only don’t we have the money to throw away, but we can’t afford to waste the time, either.  In my next post, I’ll talk about how to choose authoring tools for e-Learning that are affordable, flexible, and worth the investment.

See you next time!  Penny

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