Back to Basics: The Essential Elements of Effective eLearning
As a piece of long-form content, a lot of work must go into the creation of a well-designed eLearning course. Today there are many theories, strategies, tools and applications that suggest us new ways to develop our courses. So today, let's focus on design. How do you design a course that is learner-friendly, engaging, and at the same time supports your training goals?
The general rule is: the more you know about your learners and how they learn, the higher the levels of engagement and retention you can get. Understanding how the mindworks during learning is basic. More than anything, building eLearning courses requires the ability to be effective, generating courses that engages your audiences and motivates them to take action.
Whether you're an eLearning developer or a HR Manager or Trainer, knowing the building blocks of eLearning design is a must. Let's discuss the 5 essential elements that make up an effective eLearning course design:
The Importance of How Adults Learn
First, a note about the importance of knowing how our brain works and how humans (adults) learn to build your eLearning strategy.
Our memory is composed of a working memory and long term memory. And for learning to happen both are necessary. Learning takes places when we take the new information in your working memory into your long-term memory.
Working memory is divided into two storage areas: visual (which operates on mental pictures) and phonetic (which operates sounds, speech or any verbal form). If both zones are used, we can expand the capacity of the working memory.
Information in the working memory is temporary and has a very short duration (10-15 seconds). Therefore, once this new information is in the working memory it must be encoded in the long-term memory in order to make sense out of new content. If it isn’t, we will forget what we just learned.
This process may seem complex and you are probably wondering how you will get your students to learn effectively. In this blogpost we will show you how simple it is!
Element 1: Add Graphics to Words to Improve Learning
So if we know that people will most definitely be judging your course by their visual appearance, you'll want to make sure you create one that is both visually appealing and coincides with your company’s brand style guide.
Never underestimate the power of high quality visuals. If you present information with text and images that are consistent with each other, content will move from working memory to long term memory in a more efficient way. According to some studies, this technique can increase retention levels up to 89%, compared to using only text. Truth is we remember images, we forget words. Why? 50-80% of our brain’s natural processing power is devoted to processing sight, (Impressive huh?). Additionally, including visuals in your courses adds meaning to content, enhances motivation and provides aesthetic appeal.
For example: If your content is a process, use an image or animation showing the steps or stages that make up that process. In addition to photographs and illustrations, remember you can create diagrams and charts.
Element 2: Align Text Near Relevant Graphics
Another element you might want to consider in your eLearning courses is to align images and related text near each other on the screen, particularly if you have multiple images in a same slide or module.
By placing text and related images together, learners use less working memory to relate them. With this practice you can easily improve retention of information by a 68%.
Just make sure you’re including graphics that are relevant to the text. It’s proven there’s a learning gain of over 80% in courses that use graphics that are relevant to the content.
Element 3: Explain Graphics with Audio
Definitely using text along with graphics or animations seems like a great strategy to present information to students. Nevertheless, audio is also an important element in eLearning. Including audio to your courses may increase the effectiveness of the learning experience up to 80%.
Remember that our working memory has a visual area and a phonetic one, so we can increase its capacity by using both zones. By using text and graphics we are only using the visual area…so let’s add audio too to achieve effectiveness!
Embrace audio especially when you need to narrate complicated graphics, instead of using text to explain the image (sometimes it can be too overwhelming). The tone and style used is also very important. For example, by employing a conversational tone and/or speaking in first and second person you enhance learning.
Element 4: Keep the Human Side
While eLearning has a technological foundation, we must not forget that our goal and main focus are human beings: students.
Dumping information and stats on audiences isn’t a good practice. Neuroscience has proven that everything the brain learns is filtered through emotions. Therefore, how we appeal emotions through a course determines learning’s success.
Learning is a social activity and eLearning or online learning is not any different. People tend to use with their computers or mobile devices the same guidelines they use to connect face-face. Given this situation, we suggest writing content in a conversational tone or style. In addition, using learning agents or avatars gives a more human touch to the course in process, as well makes the training more personal, thus improving the learning experience. (Click here to see other ways to give a touch of realism to your eLearning courses).
Element 5: Avoid Distracting Visuals, Audio and Text
A common strategy to increase student’s interest in a course is to include graphics, animations, videos, sounds and even stories or real situations. But how can we be sure all these shine and earn their place without distracting? We recognize that in some specific cases these combination of resources reaches its goal, however, an excessive use of these can also distract students and reduce the effectiveness of the course indeed. When designing an eLearning course it’s necessary to keep the difference between education and entertainment.
There needs to be a balance! Including no graphics at all, or just a few decorative ones here and there isn’t a good eLearning practice. On the other hand, putting together excessive amount of graphics and media everywhere can become very distracting. An excessive combination of visuals, audio and text can distract students from the key message, prioritize irrelevant content
Avoiding a visual overload is essential. For example if an image explains by itself, don’t add text to the screen or if you use an animation that shows a process perfectly, don’t support it with text.
What did you think? Is not as complicated as it looks, right? Creating effective eLearning is possible and easy! Are you considering using and following these essential elements when designing your courses?