The term “e-learning” refers to a very broad range of educational opportunities within the electronic world – from “live” classrooms online to self-paced study through a website or a computer program, to courses delivered via email. The various delivery methods serve different purposes for the learner, and learners may do better using a particular method over another. For example, someone who has a high level of self-discipline, coupled with a strong desire to learn may do well in a self-paced study program. Other learners may do better with live interaction through chat groups, message boards, or regular instructor communication to maintain motivation and provide a “real world” feel to e-learning.
Since the term e-Learning is used inconsistently, let’s start with a basic definition. For the purposes of
this discussion, e-Learning is content and instructional methods delivered on a computer (whether on CD-ROM, the Internet, or an intranet), and designed to build knowledge and skills related to individual or organizational goals.
Unlike classroom training, e-Learning is very visible. While much of the classroom experience is packaged in the instructor, and in fact varies from class to class, you can easily see and hear all elements of e-Learning. Everything from screen color to content accuracy to the types of practices is readily available for scrutiny.
With the advancement of technology and increasing availability of high-speed Internet access, it is now possible to earn a degree entirely online or for businesses to provide company-wide training through e-learning. Here are some of the basic questions to ask yourself when designing an e-learning course.
Keep the User Interface Simple
Obviously, e-learning requires an interface between the learner and the technology to facilitate learning. The usability of any e learning initiative can be determined by the ease with which learners can learn their chosen subject without being lost in the confusion of how to use the technology. This is determined by the interface design of the e learning process. The usability and interface design of an e-learning course, therefore, can make or break its success.
Make Learning Interactive
Because e-learning often takes place alone rather than in a classroom, learners will do best if there is some type of interaction. Not only does this make the instruction more interesting, it also promotes learning. Interaction can occur many ways, such as through scheduled chats or interactive lessons. If participants are asked to simply read or listen and regurgitate, the learning experience will not be as successful. Furthermore, because e-learning provides unique interactive experiences, quality programs will take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible.
When you are in a conversation with someone you are expected to listen and respond in a meaningful
way. This requires you to invest attention in what the person is saying, to process it and to generate a
meaningful response. A similar model seems to apply when learners see the e-learning as an engagement
with a social partner – even an inanimate one.
Provide Feedback to the Learner
Learners need to know how they are progressing, and regular feedback informs participants on both their areas of weakness and areas of strength. This allows participants to focus on those areas that need improvement or practice. Again, the delivery method of feedback can vary greatly, from self-testing at regular intervals or direct feedback from an instructor. The key is that feedback needs to be ongoing and consistent. Limiting feedback to a final test or review does not provide the learner with opportunities to individualize learning throughout the program.
Make it Learner-Based
The very nature of e-learning is that it is flexible and is geared toward the needs of the learner – when it is done well, that is. E-learning opportunities need to be flexible in that the learner can access and use the technology at his or her convenience. While interaction with the instructor or other participants may need to be scheduled, the majority of the learning experience should be available at any time.
The technology used also needs to be appropriate for the targeted audience and not too difficult to use. If learners are spending more time trying to learn the delivery method rather that the subject, it is not time well spent. If possible, find a program that allows users to review a demonstration of the delivery prior to signing up for the course.
Learning is based on engagement of the learner with the content of the instruction. Even though learners
know that computers are inanimate, the use of conversational language in the program seems to stimulate very ingrained unconscious social conventions that lead to deeper learning.
Use Audio and Graphics To Engage the Learner
A human being’s working memory has two sub-storage areas — one for visual information and one for phonetic information. One way to stretch the capacity of working memory is to utilize both of these storage
By graphics, I refer to a variety of illustrations including still graphics such as screenshots, line drawings, charts and photographs, and motion graphics such as animation and video. Research has shown that graphics can improve learning. The trick is to use illustrations that are congruent with the instructional message. Images added for entertainment or dramatic can actually depress the learning process!
Audio should be used in situations where overload is likely. For example, if you are watching an animated
demonstration of maybe five or six steps to use a software application, you need to focus your visual resources on the animation. If you have to read text and at the same time watch the animation, overload is
more likely than when you can hear the animation being narrated.
This does not mean that text should never be used. Any words that are needed as reference should be presented in text. Providing a possibility for the learner to print handouts (or read them online) for later reference is a great bonus.