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How to Make a Compelling eLearning Course, Regardless of the Topic


With a little creativity, it’s possible to get your learners interested or even excited about taking an eLearning course (eLearn), regardless of the topic. So, how do you grab the attention of your learners when the subject matter is dry? Make the training relevant, applicable, and enjoyable. This article shows you how to do this in the corporate environment.


How to Create a Compelling eLearn

1. Hone your content

2. Hook your learners from the first slide

3. Write in a conversational style

4. Include scenarios and simulations

5. Flip the script

6. Use adaptive learning strategies

7. Make your training enjoyable

8. Avoid learner pet peeves



1. Hone your content

One reason why eLearning has a bad reputation is that many courses are simply data dumps leaving learners to wonder, "Why do I need this? How long is this going to take?"


Consider your course topics carefully. Always ask, “Why is this important to my audience? How would they use this on the job?”

Below are a few reasons why training content can get off track:

  • The company skipped the needs analysis A needs analysis is important for identifying the cause of knowledge gaps and determining if training is the right solution. Companies often skip this step and create content they assume will be valuable to their learners. Sometimes they hit the mark and sometimes they don't. You may not have time to complete a full-blown needs analysis before every training, but it's worth researching your audience to see if your course content will be useful to your learners.

  • The audience is too broad Does your company try to maximize its training by expanding on the target audience? For example, when completing a sales training, someone notices that slides 15-22 are also relevant to customer service. Now customer service is assigned the sales training. This can lead to one of two outcomes: 1. Customer service employees sit through a training where most of the material is not relevant to them. OR 2. The team redesigns the training so it's suitable for both audiences, resulting in generic content not useful for anyone.

  • The subject matter experts (SMEs) do not represent the audience Sometimes, one department is responsible for creating a training for another department or location. When doing so, make sure to include SMEs who are experts on the topic AND the audience. Example 1: Creating a sales training for a new product roll-out? If so, you'll need a product expert and a sales leader to explain how to present these products to customers. Example 2: Creating a global training? You'll likely need SMEs from all major regions to account for policy, legal, or cultural differences.

2. Hook your learners from the first slide

Hook your learners from the beginning to get them excited about the training. Learners want to know what’s in it for them, and they have little patience to sit through a training that looks boring from the start.

At a minimum, your screens should look modern and have eye-catching visuals that hint at what’s to come next. I'll provide some practical information on how to do this in an upcoming blog post.

Here are some examples of how you can hook your learners:

  • Introduction video Create a video that explains what the audience will learn from the course and how it will benefit them. For example, "This eLearn will show you how to generate more sales leads." or "This eLearn will help you craft a successful marketing campaign." Use this video to wow your learners with motion graphics, visual effects, background music, and a professional voiceover.

  • Tell a story Tell a story related to the course topic, such as a success or lesson learned. Need a hook for a compliance training? Tell a cautionary tale about the consequences of non-compliance. Grab their attention with details about money lost, lawsuits, and other penalties.

  • Give learners a mission Give learners a mission related to the course topic and incorporate it in a game. For example, for a supply chain training, challenge learners to ship a product to its destination on time and on budget.

  • Pose an intriguing question Hook your learners with an intriguing question. These often begin with, “Did you know that...?” “What would you do if...?” or “Have you thought about...?”

3. Write in a conversational style


One of the best ways to engage your learners is to write in a conversational style, as if you’re speaking to them directly. Use plain language and write in the active voice. No one wants to sit through a training full of legalese or that sounds like a technical manual.


It helps to read your narration out loud and imagine you're talking to one member of your audience. Rewrite any sentences you would not say in real life. For example, would you tell someone to "utilize" the workbook? Not likely.


This approach can also apply to your learning objectives. For example, which do you think would appeal more to learners for a sales training?

Traditional learning objectives

After completing this training, you will be able to:

  • Identify the steps of the sales process

  • List the company’s products in the North American sector

  • Describe how to make recommendations based on customer needs

  • Explain how you can add value as a sales representative

VS

Conversational style

We designed this course to help you improve your sales techniques, grow your business, and differentiate yourself from the competition.

In this training, we will cover:

  • The sales process

  • Our products in North America

  • Making sales recommendations

  • Adding value


To clarify, I'm not suggesting that you do away with traditional learning objectives - they're important for creating a sound training course. Instead, consider using traditional objectives for internal documentation and re-writing them in a conversational style for your eLearning course.


4. Include scenarios and simulations

For training to be effective, learners must know how to use the information on the job. The best way to do this is to create scenarios or simulations where trainees apply the information they just learned. Scenarios and simulations provide some of the best forms of engagement in a training.

Scenarios

A scenario is an activity where learners make decisions based on a hypothetical problem or situation related to the course topic. Scenarios typically have a backstory, questions, and a debrief. They can consist of one or two questions or have an extended branching sequence based on how the learner answers the questions.

Scenarios can be created for almost any training topic. Below are some examples:

  • Sales training scenario Learners make product recommendations to a customer based on the customer’s size, needs, and budget.

  • Data privacy training scenario Learners decide what types of information they can release about an employee to the employee’s supervisor.

  • Accounting training scenario Learners calculate the Cost of Goods Sold based on a fictional company and its inventory.

Simulations


A simulation is an immersive activity where learners try out new skills learned in the training, such as a role play. Some simulations can be set up like a scenario - with a backstory, an activity that tests the new skills, and a debrief. A simulation can also be incorporated in a scenario.

Examples of simulations:

  • Customer service simulation A role play involving the learner speaking with an angry customer via dialogue presented on screen. Learners choose what to say to the customer and the customer responds. The conversation continues down a certain path based on the learner’s choices. The goal is to de-escalate the situation and make the customer happy.

  • Sales training simulation A role play involving the learner meeting with a potential customer to make a sale. The set-up is based on a conversation with the customer in a manner similar to the customer service training described above.

  • Software training simulation An activity where the learner tries out the software by clicking on the appropriate areas of the screen.



5. Flip the script


Most eLearning courses are designed with the content appearing before the questions. Have you considered flipping the order - inserting questions before the content? This poses an interesting challenge to your learners, as they choose answers based on their existing knowledge or best guess. Learners will be pleased if they answer correctly and will learn something if they don't.


The flipped approach can work as a nice lead-in to a section. For example, for an eLearn on business ethics, you could begin the sales section with a question based on an ethical dilemma.


Example: "You're about to close a deal with a new customer, but she is not available to sign until tomorrow. Today is the last day of the quarter. Do you add this sale to your quarterly report?"


For variety's sake, you may want to include both flipped questions (before content) and traditional questions (after content) in your eLearn. When doing so, make sure that only the traditional questions count toward the course completion criteria.



6. Use adaptive learning strategies


Have you ever taken a training and thought, "I already know most of this information. This is a waste of time"? This can happen for two reasons: 1. The training team misjudged the audience.

OR 2. The training was delivered to an audience with a wide range of knowledge on the topic.

The former can be prevented by a needs analysis, and the latter can benefit from using an adaptive learning approach.


Adaptive learning is a technique that provides custom training for your learners based on their mastery of the material. This means that learners who answer certain questions correctly will receive different content than those who don't.


You can create adaptive learning using special training platforms with preset algorithms or with eLearning authoring tools that have variables functionality (e.g., Storyline or Captivate). Learners are directed automatically to appropriate content, so they don't know they're on a remedial or accelerated learning path, unless you choose to reveal this in the feedback.

Here's how you can incorporate adaptive learning in your eLearning courses:


  • Pre-tests Include a pre-test at the beginning to determine the learners' existing knowledge level. Those who achieve a passing score on the pre-test can skip certain slides, while those who don't will receive all content.

  • Custom learning paths Direct learners to material based on how they answer certain knowledge checks. Learners who answer correctly can move to the next question or topic, while learners who don't receive additional content related to the topic.


7. Make your training enjoyable

The more enjoyable the training, the more likely your learners will pay attention and retain the information. All trainings can benefit from incorporating some of these elements below, even trainings on compliance or other serious topics.

Gamification

Gamification is the use of game-like elements in non-game activities (e.g., training or marketing) to increase participation. You can apply this to eLearning by giving learners points or virtual prizes for answering questions correctly or completing a simulation. To maximize engagement, add game elements related to the course topic.

Here are some examples:

  • Sales training game Learners are challenged to “make the sale” by completing a sales call simulation or giving correct answers in a sales scenario.

  • Cyber security game Learners navigate through several cyber security threats. Those who avoid all threats receive a virtual prize, while those who don’t get “hacked.”

  • Management training game Learners receive the designation of Top Manager, Experienced Manager, or Novice Manager depending on how many questions they answer correctly.

Bells and whistles

There may be some controversy on this topic, but when done appropriately, bells and whistles can make an eLearn much more enjoyable. The key is not overdo it in a way that detracts from the learning experience.

Here’s how you can do this effectively:

  • Multimedia Adding videos and sound effects to certain slides can capture the learners' attention and break up the monotony in a course. Media should relate to the course content and not simply be included for entertainment value.

  • Animations Include animations to add interest to a training. It’s best to keep animations simple on most slides (e.g., fades, wipes), but to add more complex animations on occasional slides, where appropriate. For example, complex animations could be used in an introduction video, section divider slides, game results slides, or in motion infographics.

  • User interactions Clickable interactions and drag-and-drops add a small amount of engagement to a course. Keep in mind that these interactions are no substitute for scenarios and simulations - they should be used occasionally to add variety to the course. Too many user interactions in a training can become tedious for learners.


Humor and whimsy

Consider adding humor and whimsy to liven up a training. When doing so, be mindful of the subject matter and your audience, accounting for demographic and cultural differences.

Examples of how you can add humor and whimsy:

  • Funny pictures or videos related to the course topic

  • Scenarios or simulations with funny backstories

  • Sound effects

  • Avatars: Learners select an avatar that appears on various slides of the course

  • Cinemagraphs: Include cinemagraphs for a surreal effect. A cinemagraph is a looping video or animated GIF that looks like a still image with one moving part (e.g., eyes blinking, water pouring, steam rising).

Easter eggs

Easter eggs are hidden surprises included in video games that are designed to delight the user. The surprise may involve a message, video, animation, or interaction triggered by the user’s activity, such as clicking on an item on screen. The same concept can be applied to eLearning.

You can incorporate hidden surprises in eLearning that are activated when learners click on certain objects, hit a specific button on the keyboard, or land on a certain slide or layer.

The hidden surprise can be anything you choose, such as fun facts related to the topic, an animation or interaction, a short video, or a sound effect. Make sure these surprises are fun extras, not critical pieces of information needed to complete the course.


To increase engagement, challenge learners at the beginning of the course to find the Easter eggs hidden in the training.

8. Avoid learner pet peeves

So, you've honed your content, created a hook, and packed in all kinds of engaging activities. Don't let your hard work go to waste by using tactics that annoy your learners.


Examples of common learner pet peeves:

  • Including too many clickables on a slide Clickables have their place in eLearning, but nothing fills a learner more with dread than landing on a slide with 10 items to click through before moving on. When building these slides, try to limit the clickables to five items or less.

  • Slide text that duplicates the audio Slides should highlight key points stated in the audio, not repeat all narration word-for-word. Duplication of the audio and visual does not improve learning retention. Instead, this can irritate the learner, especially if the learner finishes reading the slide before the audio is complete.

  • Forcing learners to stay on the slide Some companies are concerned about learners clicking through courses, so they put time minimums on slides to force learners to stay and read the information. This will not work - instead, it will annoy those learners who finish reading early, but have to wait until time's up before moving on. Rather than punish learners with this tactic, focus on making the training relevant and engaging so they'll be interested in reading the information. If you're concerned about click-throughs, tie your completion criteria to a minimum achievement score on a final quiz.



Do you have any tips for creating compelling eLearning courses or any learner pet peeves to share? If so, please tell me about them in the comments.



Natalie Sikes is an accomplished learning consultant with 20 years of experience developing training programs for corporate, legal, and non-profit organizations. To learn more, visit www.sikesdesigns.com or email nataliesikes@sikesdesigns.com.


Today's trivia question

What was the top baby boy name and top baby girl name in the U.S. in 2019?


Boy:

a. William

b. Liam

c. Noah

d. Matthew


Girl:

a. Sophia

b. Harper

c. Amelia

d. Olivia


The answer will be in the next blog post.



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