With the great boom that the online training industry has seen over the last few years, more and more traditional face-to-face training businesses have been encouraged to move online (and as a result the sector’s global worth is projected to reach $325 billion by 2025; see Chernev, 2021). However, creating an online training programme is not as simple as turning an in-person workshop into an hour-long webinar.
When first entering the online learning field, you have to consider major issues, such as what business model would suit you best, ways not to lose focus on the learner or how to create a sufficient course library. Fortunately, the answers to these and many other questions can be found in part 1 of this blog post series – Moving Your Face-to-Face Training Online: Challenges and Good Practices.
In part 2, How to Plan Your Online Learning Programme, we outlined the steps you need to take and the points you need to consider when moving a course from face-to-face to online delivery, such as which programme should you prioritise, how to develop its framework, how to assess its effectiveness, whether you should go mobile, desktop or blended and much more.
Now the time has come to get down to the nitty-gritty and see what learning objects would work best for your online training programme and what principles you should always keep in mind when creating your content.
It’s worth remembering that if all of this sounds a bit overwhelming and you don’t believe your organisation can cope on its own or if you just need extra help to get you started, there are external specialists out there, such as Learnium, who can review any learning content you may already have (or want to have) and turn it into a coherent, online-native training course, saving you time and money.
Before you start writing, create a pool of resources
When creating the content for your learning course, you should always research what resources are already available out there.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as there are plenty of credible, good assets you can turn to, such as:
- Reference books like the For Dummies series
- Relevant blog posts from respectable authors
- Peer-reviewed research
It’s essential you:
- Review them
- Assess their credibility (fact-check)
- In a separate document, extract only the content you may need, and
- Adapt it so it fits your target audience’s needs.
Make note! Anytime you cite someone else’s work, give them credit by mentioning who came up with it and where you found it. By doing this, you become more trustworthy yourself.
Use diverse teaching methods to keep learners engaged
When producing content, it’s not enough just to cover a topic in a series of explainer slides and consider the job done. You need to give the learners a chance to put that knowledge into different contexts so they can interact with your content and ultimately discover its applicational value.
Here are some examples of teaching methods you can employ:
- Overview of what you will cover: Summarise for your learners what modules you will cover and why those are important, so they understand the context.
- Reference to pre-existing knowledge: If what you are teaching is something your learners may already have some entry-level knowledge about, build on that and, as a first activity, ask them to answer any relevant questions.
- Tutorials: In a short video or a text presentation with images, explain to learners the hows and whys of the process.
- Myth-busting: Maybe have a drag-and-drop exercise where the learner needs to sort common conceptions about the topic into two categories: true or false; and after making their choice, explain to them what the correct answer is and why it is correct.
- Discovery activities: Allow the learners the chance to take ownership of their learning by asking them to conduct Internet research on their own and then to summarise their findings.
- Practice activities: Working in a group (synchronously) or alone (asynchronously), ask the learners to put into practice what they have learnt.
- Feedback: After the practice activity is completed, point out the proper way to do the task and why (if the learner is doing the activity asynchronously, you can automate the feedback depending on their submission).
- Real-life examples: Show the learners good and bad examples of how other people have done the same thing.
- Sharing of personal experience: Ask the learner to submit a text entry describing how they have applied or used something in real life.
- Assessment: At the end and/or mid-course, have a quiz or any other relevant type of assessment to test learners’ knowledge and skills but, throughout the course, add some short exercises whose purpose would be to reinforce learning. For assessment ideas, refer to part 2 of our blog post series.
Every piece of content you create needs to show the learner how they can apply it in a real-life situation or give an answer to a real-world problem they may have.
Break content into 2–3-minute-long modules
As we said, simply copying and pasting your face-to-face training materials into your online learning platform is not going to cut it. Unlike face-to-face training which is instructor-led and delivered in a much more controlled environment, with no instructor and more distractions, online training needs to be as engaging as possible.
Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms that are now an integral part of our daily life have drastically minimised our ability to concentrate. For example, the average viewed length of a single internet video is now estimated to be 2.7 minutes (as reported by Hayes, 2022).
When approaching a large course, you should chunk down your content into short modules (no more than 2–3-minute-long) so learners can study on the go, anytime and anywhere they want.
A module covers one topic and often includes:
- A short video or post that takes no longer than a minute or two to consume. Boil down the subject matter to its very essence, as the learner is likely to forget even major details if not continuously reinforced
- A short and snappy exercise (for example, 2 quick multiple-choice questions or one short test entry). The purpose of that exercise would not be to assess the learner’s knowledge or understanding of the subject but rather to reinforce the main points they need to learn, to put them into practice (or any other relevant context).
Mobile-only learners (in other words, people who learn on their smartphone) now outnumber desktop-only learners. Furthermore, mobile learning results in a 72% increase in user engagement, as reported by Parmley (2022), Gutierrez (2022) and others.
Below, find our advice on how you can make your content mobile-friendly:
Aim for bite-size
Industry research shows that the average time a learner spends in a learning session is between 10 and 15 minutes. And as we just mentioned, that shouldn’t be a single 10–15-minute-long monotonous lesson but rather 1 chapter of your course that consists of 3 to 5 3-minute-long modules.
Minimise the number of clicks
The fewer clicks the better. It’s fine that some of your pages will become a bit longer and the learner will have to scroll down. As long as on that page you focus only on what’s most important.
Consider different screen sizes
Your training programme should perform similarly well on bigger screens as well as on smaller ones. What you don’t want is people who may be taking the course on a smaller device not to be able to tap or scroll or take the action you want them to take.
Developing an online training programme with mobiles in mind will inevitably have an impact on what types of exercise you include. For example, a drag-and-drop activity may work well on a desktop when using a mouse but on a touch screen can quickly become a source of frustration.
According to StatCounter Global Stats, the 6 most commonly used screen resolutions across mobile, desktop and tablet as of December 2021 are:
- 1920×1080 (9.23%)
- 1366×768 (7.4%)
- 360×800 (4.96%)
- 414×896 (4.41%)
- 360×640 (4.21%)
- 1536×864 (4.1%)
(Screen Resolution Stats Worldwide, n.d.)
Make sure your learning objects are mobile-compatible
Just because the course-authoring tool you are using displays well on your computer screen, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will perform just as well on a smartphone screen. Test it across different devices. All of your videos, SCORM, HTML5 or xAPI objects have to be optimised for mobile devices.
Lemo is a good example of a mobile app specifically designed to deliver a comprehensive learning experience.
Let’s now have an overview of the most common online learning objects and see how and when you can use them:
Probably the most popular teaching format to date, a video is a good way to communicate a message or subject.
- Include recorded narration.
- Use some quiet, lift-type background music, and maybe consider sound effects when appropriate.
- Add captions (a simple font that, firstly, doesn’t take much space and, secondly, is easy to read, for example, one that clearly distinguishes between lower-case “l” and upper-case “I”). Avoid all-caps.
- In the captions, highlight your keywords using different colours. A good combination is a darker regular text colour with lighter-coloured keywords.
- If you are producing a screencast, embed your webcam wisely, maybe keep it down only to the introduction and conclusion part and hide it elsewhere (to avoid distracting the learner).
A good way to replace the traditional textbook, a digital article is shorter and more focused on a bite-size topic.
Articles may often contain links to other reference materials. However, you may want to minimise the time learners spend outside your platform during training. For that reason, you better reduce the number of external links in your article.
- Use visualisation (a stock image for a header and a few more relevant images throughout). Cut down on the GIFs as the constant repetition of the video can make it hard to focus on the text.
- Keep your message down only to its essence.
- Keep your paragraphs short.
- For easier reading, bolden or italicise the keywords in every paragraph.
- Use bullet points to outline related items (5 is a good number of bullet points).
How should you decide which piece of content would lend itself best to an explainer video, and which to an article format? Find our suggestions below:
Types of content that work better as a video:
- A welcome video of the instructor greeting the audience and outlining the learning outcomes. Such a video also introduces an element of human interaction.
- A well-done video after completing a chapter. Again, a talking heads format.
- An explainer video (often an animation) using visualisation and relatable examples.
- A screencast of an instructor explaining a process in detail.
- An acted-out scenario, suited for when you want to present the trainee with a real-life situation they need to resolve.
Types of content that work better as an article:
- Any type of information that doesn’t require substantial visualisation and can be easily boiled down just to key points.
- A summary of the most important points you have made in a preceding video, for example, what should the learner take away from your screencast.
- Any how-to guide the learner can quickly go back to without having to watch a whole video again. For example, if you are developing training materials for kitchen chefs, that will be the recipe they need to follow at work.
- Displaying reference information, such as contact details.
Our tip: Diversify!
When presenting content to the learner, don’t just have one or the other, either all video or all text. Have both. As they say, too much of a good thing… One module you can turn into a short explainer animation, the next one – into a text presentation, and finish all of it with a talking head video to give it a personal feel.
A quick and easy way to share manuals, step-by-step guides, case studies and so on, you can turn the Word documents or PDFs you may have into e-books.
Looking and feeling like a PowerPoint presentation, they are as simple as they sound – to consume the content, the learners just have to view a series of slides (with or without an interactive element or narration). However quick and easy to put together, you need to be aware that such a form of presentation is often regarded by learners as inadequate or boring.
You can test learners’ comprehension with a specially designed online game. For example, if you teach entrepreneurship, your educational game could be a version of snakes and ladders where the snakes represent myths and poor practices and the ladders represent good practices and strategies.
Every move the learner makes, all their correct or incorrect decisions are recorded by your LMS for you to review.
There are two types of assessment:
- Formative assessment – it has low stakes and isn’t usually graded. It’s used throughout the training programme to reinforce knowledge. An example of formative assessment is asking the peers to evaluate each other’s work or to complete an impromptu quiz after a new lesson. You can use the answers to provide feedback and a deeper understanding of the subject.
- Summative assessment – its goal is to evaluate student learning at the end of the chapter or the whole programme.
We already covered the most prominent assessment forms in our previous blog post, How to Plan Your Online Learning Programme, under Step 5: Pick Evaluation Criteria and Method.
Place anything important in the corners or the centre
Before getting into the details of the piece of text we are reading, people tend to scan it first. In a rectangular canvas, the four corners and the centre naturally draw our attention. Below, find 3 examples of common reading patterns (for languages that read left to right).
The red and blue arrows follow our eye movement through the page and what we focus on. Your most important elements should be placed either in the corners or in the centre of your canvas. The rest you could spread in between.
Allow social learning
At Learnium, we believe that social interaction is absolutely essential and needs to be encouraged even in the online environment. The simple fact of the matter is that, as humans, we learn by observing one another. As social beings, from each other, we learn how to behave properly and improperly, and also what practices we should adopt or avoid not only in school or among friends but also at work.
Social interaction and social learning may look quite hard to replicate online but by using a combination of different teaching methods and digital tools, they are absolutely achievable.
Here is our advice:
Instead of an online-only training programme, whenever possible, schedule an instructor- or peer-led face-to-face session where the learners can shadow the instructor, ask questions or share ideas. This approach is known as blended learning, a combination of online and in-person training.
For an idea on how to use blended learning in your programme, go back to part 2 of our blog post series.
Organise virtual meetings
It won’t be possible with every online training programme but if you can’t meet with your learners face-to-face, the next best thing would be to arrange with them an online meeting and use it to discuss their progress with the course.
You can also split your learners into discussion groups that are peer-led. Quite often, students will even self-select a leader but you can also appoint a leader who is more familiar with the content.
We would recommend such a session to take place at least once at the beginning and once at the end of the programme. If you are delivering longer courses over many weeks, you can have one or more mid-course sessions as well.
You can ask your learners to evaluate each other’s work. After they have submitted their work, everyone is randomly assigned a peer whose submission they need to review. For that process to work, you need to provide clear and simple assessment criteria which they all have to follow.
Such an activity not only provides a feeling of social learning but is also a good learning opportunity as your students will have to reflect on what they’ve learned and provide structured feedback to their peers.
When students are taking online classes, it is easy to feel isolated from human contact. Soon enough, the facts on the screen can start to blend together.
To avoid this from happening and keep your training programme human-led, you can do some of the following:
Include messages from the instructors
At the start, greet your learners in a talking head video, explain to them what you will cover and how they will be able to apply their new-found knowledge and skills in real life; at the end, in another video message, congratulate them for successfully completing the course.
Throughout the programme, push notifications or add pop-ups to tell them well done after completing a particularly challenging task.
Introduce a mascot
It doesn’t even have to be human (studies show that cute and cuddly animal characters work just as well), a mascot that acts as a guide throughout the programme contributes not only to decrease the feeling of isolation in the learner but also have a positive impact on engagement and retention (Bennett and Thompson, 2016). And a well-picked mascot can reinforce your brand.
Use elements of storytelling
Through storytelling, you can give your learners the human contact they may be missing.
You can turn your mascot into the protagonist of a story you tell with your course – for example, if you are creating a training programme on digital marketing, you can frame every task the learner needs to complete as a new challenge the protagonist needs to overcome to achieve their goal – winning a fictional prize for marketing.
Choose online learning platform
An online learning platform is the web portal where you make your content available to your learners so they can take courses, access resources and meet and chat with each other. An online learning platform also allows you to monitor student progress.
There are different types of online learning platforms. Just two examples below:
- A Learning Destination Site (LDS) is a website where different course creators can offer their courses so the learner can sign up for and, in their own time, complete whichever course they like.
- A Learning Management System (LMS) is the software universities, schools and other institutions use to host and monitor their students’ learning. Courses could be either internally created within the LMS or imported from external sources.
There are other types of learning platforms out there but those two may suit your needs if you’re just starting off.
How to choose the right LMS for my business?
Essentially, all LMSs now have a core of standard features which include, among other things:
- Assignment submission
- Discussion forum
- File upload/download capacity
- Instant messages
- Online calendar
- Online news and announcement (institution and course level)
- Online quiz
and so on.
Since they are so much alike, when choosing an LMS, you should factor in:
- What the cost is
- How easy it is to use and whether it offers an intuitive interface
- How responsive it is: can you and your learners access it and use it on different devices
- Whether it offers easy and effective administration and reporting
- If it is scalable and can respond to your current and future needs
- How well established the LMS is (look into what your colleagues and competition are using)
- Whether it’s able to integrate with existing Student Information Systems (SIS)/Education Information Management Systems (EMIS)
- Whether it allows you to create, host or update courses, is it compatible with SCORM and xAPI (we will discuss what they are in a minute)
- Whether it allows you to schedule and automate the learner journey
- Whether it accommodates collaboration and social learning
Our two tips
Keep your training in one place if possible. Avoid involving too many tools or platforms the learner needs to sign in to or download to conduct the programme.
Make sure you prepare your audience beforehand. If there is a piece of software they need to install, you need to give them clear and simple instructions on how to do it before you start.
Choose course authoring tool
Your LMS may come with some build-in abilities for you to create courses but the chances are that – if you decide not to use the services of external specialists, such as Learnium, who can create your courses for you and instead you do it yourself – for more complexed and engaging training activities, you would need to use a course authoring tool.
A course authoring tool is a piece of software that enables you to create digital learning objects, such as articles, videos, PowerPoints, educational games and so on.
You can share the objects you create by exporting them into formats many LMSs will recognise. Examples of standardised formats include SCORM (1.2, 2004), xAPI (also known as TinCan), HTML5, AICC, cmi5 and LTI.
There are many course authoring tools available: some you would need to download to use, others are cloud-based, some very basic, some incredibly complex, all offering different sets of features, all coming at different costs.
Here is our suggestion of what you should pay attention to when choosing the right course authoring software for yourself:
- First and foremost, does it support a standard shareable format your LMS will recognise (such as SCORM and TinCan)?
- Does it offer a responsive design where the look of the course will adapt depending on the screen size of the learner’s device? (That’s especially important you are designing a course for mobile.)
- Is it able to track the user answers and performance analytics you need?
- How much space would it take on your device to install and use it? (If you don’t want to install, there are some cloud-based tools too, although the activities you can create on them could be somehow limited.)
- How fast and efficient is the tool?
- If it’s important for you to be able to work on that project with colleagues, does it allow collaboration? (Many cloud-based tools do.)
- Does it take training before you start or is it a simple tool to use?
- How complex can your creations be? Basic only (such as multiple-choice quizzes and Fill-in the Gap activities) or advanced (such as the snakes-and-ladders educational game from before)?
- How easy is it to reuse, update and scale your online learning object?
- Does it offer built-in customisable templates? What about an asset library you can borrow images, videos and music from?
- If you are targeting foreign markets, does it have translation/localisation capabilities?
Revise your programme
After you convert your face-to-face training and before publishing it, you need to test it first.
Ask specialists in the field to review and assess the programme.
Ask a sample of your target audience to go through the course and review whether it’s useful, effective and interesting and also make a note of its design and navigation.
Based on their constructive feedback, you can make any necessary changes.
Learners don’t have to take a whole course in one go.
Make sure your platform makes a digital bookmark when learners take a break and reminds them to pick up where they left off.
Crucial for understanding whether your training programme achieves the results you intended is collecting the right analytics and looking at them from the right perspective. What those analytics are and how to use them we will discuss in the last part of this blog series: How to Measure the Success of Your Online Learning Programme.
To sum it all up
For your online training programme to be successful, you should:
- Be responsive to the different learning needs your students have. Also, don’t forget their emotions
- Focus on bite-size content
- Use diverse content formats
- Consider how learners will interact with the content
- Allow opportunities for human contact and social learning
- Pick the right delivery platform and course authoring tool
To be continued…
This piece is the third part of an extended series of blog posts in which we are discussing what practical steps you can take to create not only an efficient online learning programme but a whole new engaging learning experience.
The series includes:
Thank you for reading and until next time!
- Bennett, D. and Thompson, P., 2016. Use of Anthropomorphic Brand Mascots for Student Motivation and Engagement: A Promotional Case Study With Pablo the Penguin at the University of Portsmouth Library. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 22(2-3), pp.225-237.
- Chernev, B., 2021. 29 Astonishing E-learning Statistics For 2021. [online] TechJury. Available at: <https://techjury.net/blog/elearning-statistics/#gref> [Accessed 16 December 2021].
- Gutierrez, K., 2022. Mobile Learning Stats that Will Make You Rethink Your Training Strategy. [online] Shiftelearning.com. Available at: <https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/331987/mobile-learning-stats-that-will-make-you-rethink-your-training-strategy> [Accessed 6 January 2022].
- Hayes, A., 2022. The Human Attention Span [INFOGRAPHIC]. [online] Wyzowl.com. Available at: <https://www.wyzowl.com/human-attention-span/#:~:text=According%20to%20research%2C%20our%20attention,or%20object%20for%209%20seconds.> [Accessed 6 January 2022].
- Parmley, L., 2022. 18 Mobile Learning Trends and Statistics. [online] Course Method. Available at: <https://coursemethod.com/mobile-learning-trends-statistics.html> [Accessed 6 January 2022].
- StatCounter Global Stats. n.d. Screen Resolution Stats Worldwide. [online] Available at: <https://gs.statcounter.com/screen-resolution-stats> [Accessed 6 January 2022].