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Why E Learning Course Design Fails

By: Andrew Jackson
Unless your organisation is blessed with massive resources and high-end development skills, it's likely you will be creating your e learning course design on a tight budget and to a demanding timescale.

If this is your reality, then you will almost certainly be using an e learning authoring tool to help you create your finished product. Regardless of the tool you are using (and there are scores of them out there for you to choose from) they will be both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because they can help you do all sorts of things quickly and easily. A curse because they can constrain your thinking and limit your creativity.

The single biggest failure of much e learning design is the tendency to create very dry, content-centric courses that present screens and screens of text. Learners are treated like sponges, expected to absorb this content with little or no time for practice or reflection. Multimedia elements and interactions are added as ways to 'liven up' this text.

In many respects, e learning authoring tools contribute greatly to this problem. Most authoring tools encourage designers to think in terms of linear screens of content organised into a hierarchy. To reinforce this thinking, many tools offer the ability to import previously created PowerPoint slides.

Using this as your starting point, the authoring tool provides the option of layering individual screens with multimedia elements such as audio, video, animations and graphics. Additionally, ready-made interactions such as multiple-choice questions or drag and drop functionality can be added to screens.

Before long, course designers are creating little more than whizzy online books and high-end multimedia presentations. The finishing touch is a series of tests provided at the end of each content section to convince everyone that learning might actually take place.

Learners are forced to complete the course and take the test. Very little learning happens (apart from short term memory recall to get through the test). The learners are bored and resentful. Everyone's time has been wasted and your e learning has failed.

To avoid this frighteningly common situation happening time and time again, course designers need to do two things.

First, to take control of their authoring tool, rather than allowing the authoring tool to control them. In short, the functionality of the authoring tool should not be driving the development of your course.

In taking this first step, course designers are well on the way to achieving step two: breaking out of the straitjacket of content-centric thinking. This involves thinking about the world your learners inhabit and reflecting that reality in your e learning.

This is achieved by taking a much more context and scenario-driven approach to development. Instead of thinking primarily about the content your learners need to know, think much more about the contexts and challenges that your learners will face when using their new knowledge and skills.

Rather than just telling your learners lots of stuff (with a short test at the end), create appropriate contexts and challenges. Let your learners practice and discover relevant knowledge and skills for themselves through the actions they take and the decisions they make.


Andrew Jackson is co-founder of Pacific Blue an innovative learning solutions company which provides boredom-busting e learning development services to businesses and organisations. To learn more about our unique, approach to e learning course design and how it can help improve your learners' skills and performance, download our free 'Bored to Death by E-Learning Guide' from our website
Tags : Why ,Learning ,Course ,Design ,Fails ,learning ,course ,learners ,authoring ,tool ,screens ,thinking
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Article Number : 213896
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