Do you struggle with writing and developing eLearning content? Do you spend hours considering what to include in your staff or sales training, and how to lay it out?

One solution to your problem could be going back to university for one to three years; to gain a wealth of knowledge on teaching principles, strategies and best practises.

Or… you could just read this blog.

Having been through the training myself and taught for several years I am going to save you the hassle, blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights that I went through. By learning and applying the best practise techniques the hard way, I am going to share with you five simple tips that will help you structure and build your eLearning content the easy way.

So where should you start?

Learning objectives

Learning objectives are a teacher’s staple item. They inform the learner of the areas and the understanding they should acquire, and can be used as a measure of student performance. However, coming up with three succinct objectives can be easier said than done, which is why a knowledge of teaching pedagogy can come in handy.

For support in creating objectives a vast amount of teachers turn to Bloom’s taxonomy of learning (1956). Bloom’s taxonomy is hierarchical, building learning in stages through increasing complexity and deepening understanding. Some likening it to a staircase, starting off with lower order thinking and building to higher order thinking and therefore learning.

You can use Bloom’s taxonomy as guidelines in order to write your objectives. For example, if you were a drugs company creating eLearning for your representatives:

Identify and describe… the different types of anticoagulation drugs we supply.

Compare and contrast… different anticoagulation drugs on the market.

Recommend and create… an anticoagulation drugs sales package.

By using these key words to frame your eLearning you have already created structure for your content with developing complexity and aims for your learners to reach, with three simple sentences.

Now most eLearning is presented as pages and pages of text that the learner must trawl through. Is this the best way to present your e-learning content? I’ll give you one guess…

What other options do you have?

Visuals and audio

You have at your disposal: visuals, audio and text, or even better why don’t you use them all at once! Not according to Mayer (2002) and his Cognitive theory of multimedia learning, which includes these three principles:

The Redundancy Principle: visuals and audio are better than visuals, audio and text combined. The visual text information, presented with the verbal information becomes redundant, as the learner struggles to focus when they both hear and see the same message.

The Multimedia Principle: visuals and audio are more conducive to learning than just text or just visuals alone for a more in-depth learning experience.

The Modality Principle: learning is increased when new information is presented in audio rather than text especially when the material is complex.

So why is this the case? There are two main channels that we use to process information, the auditory channel processes sound and the visual channel processes things that we see.  By combining these two processes to present your eLearning content, studies have shown that learning will be more in depth and stay in the learner’s memory longer.

When it comes to eLearning we obviously are missing one vital component… a teacher. So how should you lead your learner through your e-learning series?

Learning agent

A learning agent is a character who offers instructional advice and helps focus the learner’s attention.  Studies by Clark and Mayer (2011) have shown that the appearance of the learning agent does not have an impact on the learning (man, woman, animal or bacteria!) and that the voice alone is sufficient.

But what should your learning agent say?

Moreno and Mayer’s (2002) Personalisation Principle states that learning is increased if you use personal language such as you and I, in conversational style rather than formal. This style stimulates unconscious social conventions; as when you are in a conversations you are expected to listen, thereby leading to deeper learning.

So we have managed to solve the problem of having no teacher present by using a learning agent to guide and support our learners, but are all learners the same?

Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners

Fleming (2006) identified three types of learners: visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic.

Visual learners, learn through seeing and think in pictures.

Auditory learners, learn through listening and think in words.

Kinaesthetic learners, learn through moving, doing and touching.

However, recent research has shown that this is over simplistic, some people have a mixed and evenly balanced blend of the three styles. Rather than tailoring teaching techniques to each individual, a combination of three styles enables all learners to improve their encoding, storing and retrieval of information. Therefore, learning activities that contain visual and auditory cues as well as interactive elements; such as ordering, sequencing, drag and drop, and labelling, support all types of learners.

How can you test their understanding?

Assessment

Most eLearning modules assess the learner at the end of the course. However, more learning is likely to take place in courses that are broken into sections, sometimes called ‘chunking’. This so-called ‘chunking’ can be formed by your objectives, but also by assessment of learning; which can fit in at a point you want to check that learning has taken place.

Effective assessment is characterised by: the revisiting and consolidation of learning objectives; the tackling of any misconceptions; and also requires the learner to evaluate their own learning. Implementation of assessment within an eLearning course is simple if you use your objectives as structure, to create mini-assessment tasks when the learner has completed each objective.

Assessment strategies can include multiple choice questions, quizzes and true or false, but try to make them fun and entertaining; perhaps use a game show format to create a change of pace and interest. For more help on writing effective test questions, read this article here.

It is also vital that the learner evaluates their own learning against the objectives to consider their development and potentially identify gaps in their knowledge; feedback from which can be used to better support them in current and future modules.

So there we have it – five simple tips for e-learning creation, backed by pedagogical research:

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Visuals and audio
  3. Learning Agent
  4. VAK learners
  5. Assessment

Of course if you still want to go back to university to study the teaching principles yourself, be my guest. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Good luck with developing and creating your own eLearning content and I hope these five simple tips help you in structuring your eLearning and supporting your learners.


References:

Anderson, L W, & Krathwohl D R (eds.) (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman

Bloom B S (ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive Domain New York: McKay

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons

Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R.E. (2002). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.

Fleming, N., and Bauma, D. (2006). Learning styles again: VARKing up the right tree. Educational developments SEDA 7 (4), pp 4-7.

Moreno, R. & Mayer, R.E. (2002). Verbal redundancy in multimedia learning: When reading helps listening. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94 (1), 156-163.

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Mikila Sutch

Managing consultant

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