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The Five eLearning Components
There are five eLearning Components that are essential for all successful online courses. Understanding these components will help you design and develop a course that meets computer-based training objectives. The diagram above illustrates how these components are connected. Each elearning component plays an important role in designing an online course. Among all of the components, none plays a larger role than the Audience.
From concept to implementation, the audience is a critical factor in the process of developing online courses. Everything designed and developed should be done with the audience in mind. One of the first steps in the ADDIE process is to conduct an audience analysis. This analysis will help you to determine the basic structure of the other four elearning components. As you begin to develop an online course you should always consider the following about your audience:
- Expectations: You need to know the expected outcomes of the training or course that you develop. What will be required of the learner after completing the course or training? What skill level is require to be certified or qualified upon completing the course or training? Knowing these expectations will help you in determining the structure, content, and format of the course or training you develop.
- Learning abilities (prerequisites): Before you can design or develop a online course, you need to know about the audience's learning abilities and if there are prerequisite topics required for the course or training. For example, if you are creating a course on how to build a car, the learner should have some mechanical aptitude or knowledge of how a car functions first before learning how to build a car. Thus, a prerequisite for this course might require the learner to know the fundamentals of engines before completing a course on how to build a car.
- Available hardware/software: An important part of knowing your audience is understanding the capabilities of the learner to access and view your course. For example, if you intend to include audio in your course, it is important to know if your audience has the appropriate hardware and software to hear the audio.
- Learning Environment: Another critical part of the analysis phase is to identify the environment of your audience. Where will the audience complete the training or course? Will it be in a classroom setting or at their workstation or desk? Answers to these questions help you to design activities that best meet the environment requirements. For example, the learner may be in a location that inhibits his or her learning experience due to noise or other distractions. The leaner may also be restricted to certain times of the day or limited to an amount of time to use a computer for training. Understanding these obstacles or challenges will better help you in designing a course.
- Job Responsibilities: As an instructional designer, and especially as an elearning developer, you must know the job responsibilities of your audience. Remember, required skills of the learner minus current skills of the learner equals course objectives. Knowing what the learner is responsible for on the job will assist you in meeting the expectations and objectives of your customers. Also, this knowledge will help you to create effective online exercises and games to help the learner grasp the subject presented.
- Preferences: This is one of the most overlooked areas when learning about your audience. Your audience will always have a preference in how they learn. Some are more prone to learn from video and audio exercises, while others need more simulated, hands-on exercises to learn. Knowing the learning styles will help you to design a course that is interactive and achieve results.
Course structure refers to how a course is designed for elearning. The structure of a course plays a critical role in how your audience learns the material. During the Design phase of ADDIE you brainstormed how the course should be organized and structured. For elearning the same principles apply. Storyboarding is a great way to build your course structure. Consider the following items when structuring your course:
- Group content into logical modules: Identify the flow of the course and then determine how to modulate the information. Structuring the information into small "chunks" will make it easier for your audience to follow and learn the materials. Most people can retain a lot of information. However, the information must be organized and grouped into small segments to ensure a greater retention percentage of the information.
- Avoid creating modules that exceed 8-10 pages: Most people need to feel like they are accomplishing something and need those mental check points that indicate that they are progressing. Keeping your modules to 8-10 pages will help the learner feel a sense of progress. Also, modules that tend to be long cause the learner to loose interest and thus, the learning process becomes a drudgery.
- Incorporate interactive concepts: Your course structure should also include interactive concepts strategically placed throughout the course. Too much interactivity can cause the learner to either forget why they are completing the course or simply loose interest. A good rule of thumb is to include an exercise or activity every third page with one major activity per module. This will establish a good balance between exchaning information and sustaining the interest of the learner.
- Use pictures/graphics to help explain ideas, concepts, or statements: It is always a good practice to include images whenever possible. Many times, instructional designers will insert an image just for the sake of inserting a picture. Each image should have a purpose and should represent the subject presented on the page. By using images to emphasize certain points of the page, you will draw the learner into the subject and he or she will be able to better relate to the concepts presented.
Like the importance of charm and charisma of the classroom instructor, the page design of an online course is critical to the learning process. How a page is designed can have a huge impact on the learning experience of your audience. Consider some of the following tips when formatting your course:
- Navigation must be intuitive. Make navigation simple and easy to follow. The easier it is to navigate, the more engaging the course will be for the learner.
- Appearance must not hinder the learning process. Remember, the purpose of the course is to instruct the learner. The layout of the course should not be laborious for the learner to understand what he or she must do on the page. If a page is confusing or frustrating for the learner, they will lose interest and you will not achieve the learning objectives.
- Balance between text and graphics is critical. Avoid over powering the text with graphics or images. Graphics are a powerful resource for instructional designers. Using graphics wisely to stress a concept is a great way to help the learner comprehend a complex topic. However, if the graphic becomes too dominate and over shadows the intent of the topic or concept on the page, the learner can become distracted and lose interest in the course. Also, too much text with little to no images can also have an affect on learner. Similar to images, too much text on a page can appear to laborious for the learner and can psychologically impact the learner in not reading the information. Thus, balance of images and text must be considered when designing a page.
- White space is good. Some people like to use every bit of real estate on a screen. This makes the page look cluttered and unorganized. Having a lot of white space is actually a good practice to incorporate into your training. Using white space effectively can promote a positive learning environment for the learner as he or she will not see the page as labor intensive to complete.
- Consistency is golden (includes fonts, layouts, and pop-ups). Being consistent throughout your course will improve the learning experience of your audience. Keeping objects and fonts consistent throughout your course helps the learner to become less frustrated in navigating through the training.
- Ease of scanning information is imperative. Most people like to scan through a page. Making the page user-friendly by organizing information using bullets or numbers can greatly improve the learning experience. Organizing concepts and topics using bullets or numbers ensure a greater retention percentage for the learner. It also helps the learner to quickly find key points or facts to assist in comprehending critical topics.
- Chunking information is crucial. As mentioned before, chunking information into small bits of information will help your audience retain the information presented in the training. As mentioned, most people can retain vast amounts of information if the information is presented in a well organized fashion. Segmenting topics by steps, phases, or concepts will help the learner to remember and understand information within the course. It will also help you in designing an effective training course.
Because e-learning is a self-study medium, interacting with the learner becomes more important than most types of training forums. Content engagement refers to how the learner interacts with content of the course. Because studies have shown that the learning experience is greatly enhanced when exercises or activities are incorporated into the learning process, content engagement is critical.
Engaging exercises or events within elearning can compensate for the lack of an instructor who can add that human touch through personality and rhetorical interactions. Similar to classroom training there must be a balance in applying engaging content. Too much engagement and you risk over shadowing the learning objectives. Too little engagement and you risk losing the learner's interest in the topic. Consider the following when attempting to engage the learner in an elearning environment.
- Use hyperlinks for additional concepts, explanations, or definitions. The advantage of online learning is that it provides the learner with additional resources and information with just a click of the mouse. Linking to additional references can greatly improve the learning experience and offer added value to the content of the topic.
- Incorporate interactive graphics such as animations or simulations. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then interactive graphics should be worth 2,000 words. Creating interactive images help the learner to experience a hands-on learning process that accelerates the learning. For example, information graphics provide a visual comprehension of the concept presented. If the learner had to click on portions of the information graphic, the learning experience would be more impactful to the learner. Simulations and other animations also provide that same objective.
- Provide additional options/choices for the learner. In today's world, people love the ability to choose various options. This is important when it comes to learning because everyone learns differently, including various learning style preferences. For example, most people learn visually. However, there are some people that learn better via audio. By incorporating both the visual and the audio aspects into your training, you allow the learner to choose an option that best meets his or her learning needs.
- Incorporate quizzes, tests, skill assessments. Another way to engage the learner is to test them on the things that they learned within the course. This allows both the learner to verify that they understood the content while at the same time the instructional designer can verify that the materials achieved the training objectives. This also helps to establish check points for the learner to know if they can move on within the course or return to previous topics to review the information again.
- Create fun activities such as games or other educational methods of interactive learning. When learning is fun, people can maintain their interest longer in the topic. As you incorporate activities into your training, remember to make it fun. Use games or other methods that help increase the learning experience. However, use caution in creating the games so as not to allow the games to over shadow the intent of the topic. Remember, the intent of these activities is to provide context around the explanation of the topic.
- Keep activities focused on the course objective. Always ensure that no matter what you do to engage the learner, the concepts must compliment the training objectives or topics. The temptation for many is to become so engrossed in interactive concepts that the reason for the training is often forgotten.
- Avoid letting the technology overshadow the course objectives. Similar to the previous bullet, never allow technology to become the main focus of the training. Technology is a tool and should be used as such in order to help people learn the training objectives. When technology become the center of attention within an online course, the learner will often fall short in achieving the course objectives.
Many creative ideas are discarded because they do not work. Likewise, a well organized elearning course can be ill-received if it does not function properly. Usability refers to the testing of elearning content and applications.
Once you have built your online course, you should always test it in the same environment that the learner will complete the course. Consider the following when you conduct your usability analysis.
- Verify that all links work properly
- Ensure that activities function as designed
- Inspect content to ensure that grammar and spelling are correct
- Ensure that graphics are visible
- Verify that the course works appropriately in all applicable server environments
- Verify that screen resolution works for the intended audience (e.g., 800X600, 1024X768)
- Verify that course objectives and expectations are met
Knowing and understanding these 5 major elearning components will help you build instructionally sound and successful online programs.