Heads Up! 3 Pitfalls to Avoid in eLearning Development

by: Paul Kaufman

For what seems like eons, humans have learned best in two ways. One is by doing something and finding out that the resulting action was just plain unpleasant. For example, the first guy who thought fire looked cool and wanted to grab a handful and bring it back to his cave. He learned a valuable lesson all by himself. The other way people learn is by having other people teach them. We all grew up with this mode of learning. Year after year, we sat in front of men and women who taught us stuff like geometry, the joy of conjugating verbs and how to make rice pudding. In the vast majority of cases, it worked, and we actually learned things. We then took tests and exams, had the requisite post-graduation parties, and went on our way to fruitful careers in geometry or rice pudding production.

But here we are in 2014, and we face a new reality… learning over the web. For a while now, we have been told that learning via the web (using a PC, tablet or phone) is a revolution. That we can use this “eLearning” to increase our brain power and cast aside any need for antiquated “classroom learning.” But what are the challenges of this new educational technology? What should you be wary of? Here are three things to watch out for:

  1. Unfocused, Poor and Unstructured Content
    They say content is king. Well when you are trying to learn something important, it’s vital that the content (in the form of text, and audio) is carefully crafted to teach you something and not just there to sound or look cool. So many courses suffer from poor content that leaves users scratching their head. Or worse, are angry that they aren’t learning anything. A great way to solve this is to have usability tests where developers stand aside as a sampling of new users go through the training. Sit back and observe them. Watch them and when they are done, ask them what they think. Find out where they struggle or where they are energized. Use that info to fix issues and make improvements.
  2. Lack of Interactivity
    Boring eLearning is the worst. Having to click past slide after slide of bland text and stock clip-art can quickly put the most caffeine-guzzling individuals to sleep. Integrate short games, quizzes, and scenarios where the learner has to do something on screen. Make sure they have to interact with the elements and therefore will have a better chance of soaking in the topic being delivered. Is this hard? Yes. It takes design and careful interface layout abilities to sculpt engaging elements into the learning session. It is worth it? Yes again.
  3. Focusing Too Much on Graphic Design Instead of Course Navigation
    Just because an eLearning course looks cool and has spinning giraffes and silver gradients around the text boxes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get actual learning. So many courses are created to wow the users and keep their attention. Though it’s true the interface should be professional and engaging, if the underlying instructional design and navigation scheme is not working, then it won’t help fill the knowledge gap. To work this out, it takes a seasoned curriculum professional who knows how adults learn. Great eLearning also has frequent tools in play such as mnemonic devises and short quizzes to help the user retain the information so they can use it later.

If you are designing eLearning, take these hints to heart as you develop your next online learning! If you don’t find any of these pitfalls in your next eLearning session, then… congrats! The learners are out there, and they want a great eLearning experience!