Providing services in instructional design, virtual training, and human performance improvement.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Interactive ELearning Course on a Budget

Isn’t this the dream of designers and clients alike? To build a highly interactive, engaging, and effective eLearning course on a tight budget. And by tight budget I refer to both time and resources: delivering a completed course quickly and at low cost with few needed resources.

Well, just in case the above paragraph and title of this entry has you excited, let me stop and clarify that this article will NOT provide a recipe for creating a highly interactive and effective eLearning course on a small budget.

I know – bummer, right?

I recently met with a prospective client who expressed the desire for 63 hours of completed web-based training (WBT) at a level 3 interactivity (meaning inclusion of video, audio, branching scenarios, customized feedback, and complex interactions). However the budget was only $5,000-$10,000. Even applying development metrics for a level 1 WBT, it would be extremely difficult to pull that off.

While this request may be extreme, it does highlight an important issue that arises frequently in the instructional design field. Clients want quick courses, at a cheap price, and they want them to be great. Not just great, but so great every learner magically knows everything they are supposed to know. And if you aren’t willing to produce such a course, then someone will bid lower than you to take that work.

The end result? More and more courses are created that, in my opinion, are nowhere near the caliber they could have been in terms of effectiveness and quality. More and more courses perpetuate the eLearning stereotype of glorified PowerPoints with next buttons that adhere to the mantra “let’s cram as much information as we can, throw it all at the learner in a series of slides, and hope that knowledge miraculously sticks and our performance/revenue/morale increases.”

For both the client and designer alike, it is frustrating.

So what did I do with the client who wanted a massive, interactive, effective WBT for a tiny dollar amount? We had a long, informative conversation over very good coffee during which I tried to stress a few key pieces of knowledge.

Change will likely not occur by throwing facts at learners.

bored learner at computerCan we create lengthy rows of PowerPoint slides and fill them with all the content you would ever want your employees to know? Sure. Will your employees actually learn any of what is presented in those slides? Probably not.

This is because learning involves change. And change requires motivation and engagement. A good instructional designer can advise you on the best way to motivate and engage your learners. If they suggest a series of slides with text on them, find a new designer.

Just because you can make a course doesn’t mean you should.

We are often requested to design courseware for clients who want to jazz up their compliance training. Complaints are high in an area of business ethics, equal employment opportunity, IT security, or harassment. They want us to design a WBT that will solve this. But does the organization actually know that training is the solution? Is it a lack of knowledge on their employee’s part? There are so many other potential causes of performance gaps (e.g. lack of motivation, unclear expectations, process breakdowns, poor attitudes, unproductive working beliefs). Find an instructional design team that can perform a comprehensive analysis of the situation and advise you on the best path forward to get the change you desire.

Interaction is not the same as multi-media.

While the use of graphics, audio, and video can enhance your courseware, the inclusion of multi-media does not generate automatic learner engagement. My health insurance company recently released a series of “interactive” videos that were supposed to assist me in making plan selections during open enrollment. Although the video included my name on the title screen, I was not engaged nor was it interactive.

Interactivity involves context and challenging activities. Find an instructional design team that can create meaningful interactions for your content.

five individuals gathered around a computer with shocked facial expressions
Trust your instructional designer.

Did this message come across already? If you are confident that you hired a knowledgeable and experienced instructional designer or instructional design team, then trust their advice and opinions. While you may not choose to take all of the advice, know that your designer has the best interest of your learners at heart and wants to see your company and your project to success.

Kelly Novic is an instructional designer with Victor 12. She has over 12 years' experience designing and developing web-based, virtual, and face-to-face training for a variety of clients and settings, including higher education, non-profit, corporate, and government.