Six of the best… ways to make e-learning work

Content no longer sits alone in a book or inside
a trainer’s head. For e-learning content to be successful it must become an
integral part of the whole training delivery mechanism. If a user finds it
difficult to access the training because the navigation is poor, for instance,
the training will fail.

There are scores of different devices,
mechanisms and tools that an e-learning provider can use to create compelling
content. These range from interactive graphics, audio and text, standard text
and pictures, flowcharts, multiple choice questions, electronic whiteboards, to
video conferencing, chatrooms, bulletin boards and online assessments.

Thankfully, knowing what to use and when is the
provider’s job, not yours, but as commissioner of the training, there are six
maxims that HR and training professionals should always have in mind when
briefing the provider to ensure the content is compelling (to see the full case
studies mentioned below go to link at the bottom of the page):

1. Make learning fun:

This doesn’t mean making the training any less
valid. Remember that e-learning cannot rely on a talented tutor or trainer to
make the content interesting so unless the learner is captivated by what they
see on the screen, they’re not going to hang around.

You may not have thought of computer games as a
way to train staff, but online games are an excellent way to let learners
assess themselves.

AdVal, for example, based its summative
assessment courses for the call centres of car rental giant Avis on a TV quiz
show called It’s Your Call.

Games are also likely to stimulate discussion in
the workplace and word of mouth recommendation will help to get buy-in from the
shopfloor. After all, if your training becomes as compulsive as watching Lara Croft,
nobody will complain.

2. Contextualise the learning

There is nothing worse than an e-learning training programme
that bears no relation to the learner’s daily life. Undertaking an e-learning
course can be an isolated experience at the best of times, but if the content
has no relevance for the learner, it has little chance of making an impression.

Customer care skills may well be the same from
sector to sector, but the training will have more impact if it relates to the
learner’s working environment or tools. In its training solution for smartcard
developer GemPlus, Icus ensured that the programme for the research and
development team was designed and set in a familiar on-screen environment:
graphics echoed products they used daily, such as PDAs and smartcards, so they
could relate to the training at all times.

3. Use the media appropriately

If the learning doesn’t need whizz-bang graphics and
multimedia, don’t use it. Some e-learning – such as just-in time and top-up
training, where employers can access a piece of training to help them do a
specific job such as an appraisal – may need be nothing more than a piece of
audio or an on-screen checklist.

A good example of simple, accessible e-learning
can be found at the 3 Course Lunch website (, a range of easily
digestible, bite-sized courses (that you might want to do in your lunch hour –
hence the name).

When learning becomes a hassle for the learner
to access, when too many animated graphics get in the way, slowing up the
process and wasting money time-wise, they are likely to conclude the hassle of
doing the training outweighs any potential benefit.

4. Get help from IT

What has IT got to do with content? Well, quite a lot
actually. As previously indicated, content is inextricably linked to the
delivery vehicle of the training, usually the remit of the IT department.

If you’re commissioning bespoke training, you
need to be explicit about your technical requirements, and IT should assist in the

If employees are likely to be accessing training
at home, for instance, you need to ensure the training runs properly on their
systems and they don’t spend the best part of their evening waiting for huge
video files to download and open.

Chances are, an employee’s home set-up won’t be
based on a high-speed network, unlike in the office, so a low bandwidth
solution may be required for home use.

5. Build in a facility to collaborate

It is easy to overlook this, but it forms an increasingly
vital component of the content mix. Many of those who have used e-learning have
surprised themselves at how much they enjoyed it and wanted to collaborate with
others online.

“Students are starting to appreciate the degree
of reflection and consideration you can apply to online communication,” says
Professor Vivien Hodgson about students on Lancaster University Management
School management courses. Her thoughts are backed by Professor Brian Hudson,
programme leader of the e-learning MSc at Sheffield Hallam University’s School
of Education, who points out that the bonus of online communication is that
everyone can make a contribution, even if the discussion moves on.

And for those who think online chat is an
unhealthy, insular experience, Sally Seymour, one of Hudson’s students and
commissioning co-ordinator at the University for Industry and LearnDirect,
proves otherwise.

“I enjoy the interaction with fellow students
and it’s really made me feel that I want to meet them face to face – especially
those I collaborate with in other countries, such as The Netherlands.”

6. Learn from others:

If you’re new to e-learning, check out the solutions that
have been provided for others. Providers are keen to showcase their work and
their websites will feature case studies. While these will always accentuate
the training positives they will at least give an indication of provider’s
capabilities and may spark ideas of your own.

The web is also a massive resource for free
information on e-learning in general. Apart from searching elsewhere on this
site, other good websites include Elearnity (,
where White Papers can be downloaded; and the Masie Center (, which has a lot of
anecdotal experiences recorded in its TechLearn archive.

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