10 Ways to Occupy eLearning

eLearning is getting a bad reputation. Learners, instructional designers and developers are frustrated. It’s time for us to stand up and occupy eLearning. It means pushing back, thinking broadly, and innovating. Here are 10 ways we can do this. Add your ideas below.

1. Question eLearning

Is a full-blown eLearning course really the solution to your problem? Will it actually improve performance or does the issue lie elsewhere? What about fixing poorly made software or making processes more efficient? Will mentoring new employees or job aids work?

Sometimes organizations think one approach will solve all problems. One way to help clients identify what they really need is to use the Five Moments of Need model by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson.

2. Push Back

You’re the learning expert, so don’t blindly accept every request, suggestion or demand you get from course sponsors. Instead, help them think it through in terms of the learners and the goal. Will adding two more hours of extraneous content really help employees be more effective? Will this extra material clarify or confuse students?

3. Know Your Theory

It’s hard to convince and persuade without a good foundation. Study learning theory and cognitive psychology. Then you’ll have solid reasons for making choices. It’s amazing how much easier it is to convince SMEs to prune content when you tell them about the limits of working memory. (It’s like a sieve.)

 4. Engage in Design Thinking

It’s not easy to be creative on demand, but it’s easier when you use Design Thinking strategies. This is one paradigm missing from the ADDIE model. Design Thinking will help you innovate and create more engaging experiences. See Is design thinking missing from ADDIE? for some techniques.

5. Visualize Everything

Visual thinking opens up new pathways. It’s one of the best ways to communicate, because more resources are devoted to the visual sense than to any other. Help people learn with graphs, diagrams, illustrations, timelines and maps. There are hundreds of different approaches. You can even make up new ones. Ask learners to visualize and sketch.

6. Get Out of Your Design Rut

Instructional content often needs to be linear to build a foundation. But eLearning courses often go beyond this to make things overly lock-step. Try mixing it up by giving learners more options. Go beyond linear eLearning with interactive branching and learner-selected paths. Or go wildly different and use Thiagi’s Four-door Model, which has separate components that learners can try out in any order.

Give learners context and improve learning transfer with stories and scenarios. Improve motivation through games. Use social media for discussions and knowledge sharing.

7. Make Prototypes to Communicate

Have you noticed how difficult it is for people to visualize what you mean just by talking? If you make prototypes showing the look, feel and interactions your dreaming up, decision-makers will be more likely to accept innovation.

8. Learn From Other Fields

Although at times it seems that instructional design is it’s own universe, the cognitive psychology on which it’s based overlaps with many fields. Check out user experience design, information design, user interface design, content marketing and information architecture, to name a few. Then apply new strategies you’ve learned elsewhere to your eLearning.

9. Think Beyond SCORM

There’s a wonderfully flexible standard for learning management coming to your neighborhood. It will help us all design and develop in a more flexible universe, across devices, through all types of learning and meeting 21st century needs. Check out Thoughts on Tin Can and the Tin Can API for more on this.

10. Your Idea Goes Here

Scroll down to the Comments section to see all the ideas that have been added. Then share your idea.

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  1. Colleen says

    Think Universal by Design

    Create engaging and usable e-learning for everyone, regardless of their age, ability, learning style or hardware. The universal by design movement in architecture and products have taught us much about how accessibility and use can be embedded in thoughtful, aesthetic design. Apply it to your eLearning.

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Thanks, Colleen! Good to know about the universal design framework. Pedro may also have been talking about whether there is an occupy eLearning movement. Not sure. Pedro?

  3. David Glow says

    Analytics- use them. Know how users use your resources to produce results. Leverage the data to improve the experience. Get feedback loops from performance data to see where painpoints are in execution: offer solutions. Use the rich data available to understand your users and guide your actions.

  4. Clark Quinn says

    Be Emotional: consider the learners’ anxieties, motivations, confidence and more, and design appropriately. Hook ’em viscerally, make ’em laugh, make ’em *care*!

  5. Holly MacDonald (@sparkandco) says

    Connie, I love this post.

    I’d add – “get personal” – to me this has two facets:
    1. when you focus on the “learner” you have the opportunity to humanize your design process and hopefully your product
    2. getting personal also means you put the learner in control of what they want to learn and how.

    Thanks for giving us the opportunity to participate.

  6. Karl Kapp says

    I suggest thinking about Gamification–Adding elements like story, challenge, continual feedback, curiosity and freedom to fail and other elements to courses. Not just online or elearning but classroom…bring interactivity back to learning.

  7. Guy W. Wallace says

    And let’s not forget about Analysis of the terminal Performance Capability desired for the Future State and a authentic Gap Analysis of the Current State (or other jargon-y language to the same affect) – and help clients clearly see that perhaps K/Ss have nothing to do with the Gap – or are only part of the Solution-set required. And that maybe a Job Aid is all that is required to get to the desired end state. Or a session with sufficient, authentic practice with feedback – after the e-learning module. And spaced learning after all of that.

  8. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Karl,
    I love this. Gamification is so much more than a challenge and what you suggest shows what a wide and varied world gamification encompasses. Thanks!

  9. Judy Unrein says

    This is inherent in many of the things above (both in your #1-9 and your readers’ #10s, but…

    Obsess over your learners. Figure out who they are in the ways that matter. Not just demographically, but in motivations, needs, and how they’re using your content. To me, this is the heart of the “research” (as opposed to analysis) that you’ve written about, Connie.

  10. Connie Malamed says

    Great addition, Judy. It’s true, we often think in terms of education level-type of attributes. But it’s the deeper stuff that matters. I also like to find out what makes them laugh :-)

  11. David Gibson says

    Some great ideas here Connie. I’d like to add:
    If you cannot test it on-line, you cannot teach it on-line. When designing for learning outcomes, think about how you’ll know if learners get-it. If you cannot test this, then eLearning is not the correct approach.

  12. Connie Malamed says

    Excellent, David. It’s possible some approximation of the task can be done online, but we probably settle for too wide of a gap. For example, when someone really needs to learn a procedure, we test factual knowledge instead. So we need to really tighten this gap.

  13. Slavica says

    That is the main reason why I created Attractitude, a new way to approach Elearning since all the training is done live.
    thank you for your article.

  14. Nicolas says

    Almost all the statements that’ve made the success of Edu-Performance are very well detailed in this post, we share the same vision of E-learning

  15. Suzie Altpeter says

    #10 Activate Prior Knowledge
    Think about what your learners already know and find a way to connect to it! Learners need to have a framework to connect new learning to, and it is our job to help them activate the connection, or build the bridge, if you will. Without being able to pull that knowledge out, make sense of the new things that are being seen, and tie it all together, the learner will not retain the new concepts that are being presented to them.


  1. […] the profession of eLearning in any environment. The article “10 Ways to Occupy ELearning” at  http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/10-ways-to-occupy-elearning/ defines ten things that instructional designers and trainers can do to make training more effective […]

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