Better e-learning – Day 1: Learning outcomes and structure

Today we’re going to make sure that your e-learning course will have a positive impact on the business.

We’re going to do this by looking at the learning outcomes and making sure that the course content aligns with those learning outcomes and flows well.

I’ve broken this down into four individual activities.

  • Review and improve the learning outcomes

First things first: we need to re-examine the learning outcomes of the course. (Or perhaps write them, if they were never defined in the first place, but I hope that’s not the case!)

What makes a good learning outcome? I asked the lovely people on the webinar and this is what they came up with. (The size of the words and phrases corresponds to how frequently they were mentioned.)

One of the most popular responses was that learning outcomes should be focused on behaviour or, as Colin Steed put it, they should focus on what the learner can ‘do’ rather than what they ‘know’. Nick Simons described Saffron’s approach, which also follows this philosophy:

‘At Saffron we like, and I like, that outcomes should be directly testable. That means you don’t want to be asking if people can list or recite something. That’s not the behaviour people go around doing; they go around making choices and that’s what you should be testing. Let’s make them relevant and make them testable, through good interactions that test the learner’s ability to make the right choice.’

I couldn’t have said it better myself. So it’s well worth spending the time reviewing your learning outcomes against this approach and making any adjustments as required.

  • Check and re-order the flow of topics

It’s still early on Monday and we’ve already established what we want your course to achieve. The next step is to make sure the content in the course supports those learning outcomes.

The way I do this is to run through the course and make a list of all the topics covered. (By this, I don’t mean list all the screen titles; I’m talking about your broad topic areas.) I do this because it helps you review the flow of the content, the headline topics, without being distracted by the detail.

When reviewing this topic list, you’re looking to identify whether there is anything missing, duplicated or unnecessary. Are there any learning outcomes that aren’t addressed in the current course? Conversely, is there anything in the course that doesn’t contribute to the learning outcomes? And is the sequence of the topics logical and clear?

If you notice anything that’s not quite right during this review, it’s easy enough to move things around and re-sequence the screens. This is something that requires a bit of thought rather than any particular technical skill, and it’s well worth taking the time to do that thinking.

  • Insert clear signposts and smooth transitions

It’s probably around lunchtime now and you’re comfortable with the flow of content in your course. Now we need to make sure the learner will also be comfortable with that flow – we’re switching from a designer viewpoint to a learner viewpoint, and zooming in from the headline topics to the detail.

Work through the course from end to end, putting yourself in the shoes of the learner. Do you always know where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going next? Are there clear and helpful introductions and recaps around topics? As well as these high level signposts, take a look at the transitions between each slide or sub-topic. This is all about making the learner journey as smooth as possible.

(I gave another webinar on structure and signposting for the IITT a little while ago, and a related post is in the pipeline.)

  • Break the content into shorter units

I’m not sure that, with our various constraints, we’ll be able to create separate ‘mini-courses’ from your original course, but one thing we can do is create smaller chunks within the course itself. We’re trying to move away from a small number of 15- or 20- minute units and towards bite-sized sections. Take another look at your topic list from this morning: are there any units that contain five or six topics that might be better structured as two shorter units, for example?

Likewise, take a look at how content is divided across screens. If your screens tend to be very full or text-heavy, it’s worth considering whether any would be better broken down into two separate screens. I think it’s better to have a larger number of manageable screens than to have fewer overloaded screens. I was interested to see that Craig Taylor made a similar point in relation to Plain English recently, pointing out that sometimes the version which is easier to read is also slightly longer.

One other thing to look at this afternoon in relation to breaking down the content in your course is whether there’s any content that, although relevant to the learning outcomes, doesn’t strictly need to be in the course itself. Are there any elements that might be better placed on the intranet or produced as a job aid, for example?

Okay, that’s it for today – we’ve focused on reviewing and improving the learning outcomes, structure and flow of your course. Now, go and take a break and I’ll see you again tomorrow!

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One thought on “Better e-learning – Day 1: Learning outcomes and structure

  1. Pingback: Five days to better e-learning: recap | Good To Great

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