Best practices Opinion

6 tips for creating great e-learning content


Whether you are creating e-learning content for an educational institution, an organization, internet users or an enterprise, you’re still essentially being an educator. The emphasis in e-learning should always be placed in “learning”.

1. Think like a teacher

To successfully reach your users, you have to think like a teacher (and them and your students). As a teacher, there’s a vast array of pedagogical best practices and techniques you should be aware of and benefit from (and we’ll get to some of those in a future post).

As a teacher, you are someone who has a deep understanding of the subject matter, and whose job is to help others (who might be starting from scratch) ease into it and learn it. Merely pouring your knowledge on your students is not enough; you’ll have to break it down and present it to them in a way that they can easily understand and digest it.

Try to write your e-learning content in a way that’s accessible to someone who doesn’t already have a wider understanding of the subject. Even things that you believe are “basic common knowledge” might not be so for your students. So don’t just give them facts and figures; teach. Your job is not to dump your knowledge into the e-learning material, but to help your students learn.

2. Think like a student

To be a successful e-learning content writer, thinking like a teacher is not enough. You will also have to think like a student.

That is, you’ll need to empathize with those you’re writing for, and not only tailor your content to their needs and skills, but also consider their capacity, their patience and their enjoyment of the course. Boredom can be the greatest demotivational force in learning. Find ways to make your courses more fun for your students (and yes, even 40-something enterprise employees need some fun in their e-learning).

It helps to know your students. Conventional, in-person, teachers have that easy. You’ll have to work on it more.

If your students are other employees in your enterprise or organization (e.g., if you’re doing personnel training), you can try and talk to some of them directly, check their skill levels, the time they have available for studying your course, what they hope to get out of it, etc.
If your students are remotely using your e-learning service, you can still get to know them: have a forum in your website where you can talk with them or use a online questionnaire. Heck, even a basic email address where they can send ideas and comments will help.

3. Think like a graphic designer

You might or might not be the one responsible for designing the look of your e-learning material.

If you are, we have a whole series of previous posts to can help you visually present your content in a way that makes it more accessible and professional looking.

If you aren’t, you’ll still want to think a little like a graphic designer. And you’ll also want to collaborate with the person responsible for the job ― not to tell him what to do design-wise or what colors to use, but to help explain the courses to him, so that he can better present them.

It will help if, while writing your e-learning content, you keep short notes for the graphic designer. What each type of content is and whether it should be presented in a specific way (e.g regular course copy, aside, important note, bibliography, footnote, quiz), what kind of graphics you think will best illustrate your content, etc. Check the designer’s early mockups and guide him towards the best presentation of the course material.

4. Think like a web designer

Again, you might or might not be the one responsible for doing the web programming for your e-learning material. With a modern LMS low-level web programming will be minimal anyway, but there’s still work like setting up the e-learning template, configuring tests and contents, as well as lots of customization options for the presentation of the content.

In any case, whether there’s someone’s programming your e-learning system from scratch or someone customizing an existing capable LMS system, it helps to think about their contribution as you’re writing the content.

Write your course so that it can take advantage of new technologies that modern web browsers offer (like rich interactivity, vector and bitmap graphics, programmatic sound and video, etc). Of course, your LMS might not offer all of them, so ask your web designer what is and what isn’t possible.

Keep notes as you write your e-learning material for stuff that can be presented interactively. Organize assets like pictures, videos, and test questions in a systematic way, so your web designer can easily incorporate them in the LMS.

And, as with the graphic design part, check the web designer’s early mockups and guide him towards the best presentation of the course material.

5. Think business

You might be creating e-learning content for an educational institution. Or you might be creating your content for internal employee training in an enterprise. Whatever the business case is for creating your courses, you’ll have to have it in mind.

Your content will have to serve the business needs it was created for. If, for example, your mission is to train enterprise employees, don’t strive for academic completeness ― just emphasize the skills they need to get their job done. In the same vein, if you’re catering to busy people that opted for e-learning so they can pick up some new skills in their spare time, try not to overwhelm them.

Last, but not least, keep costs in your mind. You’re most likely working on a budget. Don’t overshoot it to create what you consider is the “perfect course”, but also don’t deliver something less that your budget’s worth.

6. Think outside the box

Writing, be it a novel or an e-learning course, is a creative endeavor.

You’ll inevitably face some problems no one prepared you for, problems that cannot be tackled by a cookie-cutter approach. Problems in the presentation of a particularly difficult subject, in illustrating some point, in presenting your material in a way that your LMS doesn’t offer a built-in solution for, etc. Don’t give up – think outside the box, and find a creative solution for the issue. It might not be the perfect solution but in most cases it doesn’t have to be.

Even when you’re not faced with a specific problem, it’s still OK to think outside the box and challenge the “status quo”. For example, if something has been taught in a certain way for ages, you might still be able to come up with a novel, more effective, way of teaching it. You don’t have to blindly follow the prevalent educational resources on your subject; if you believe you can improve upon them, go ahead and add your own touch.

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