6 mistakes to avoid when creating an online learning program

6 Mistakes To Avoid

When people are creating a new learning experience, whether it be an online or virtual experience, whether it be conversion of face to face into online, or the creation of something new, we see that there’s often a number of key common mistakes that are made. These are mistakes that actually have a negative impact on the learning experience.

The six key mistakes are:

  1. Kitchen sink syndrome
  2. Audience ignorance
  3. Build it and they will come
  4. Dull design
  5. Content over context
  6. Technology first
1. Kitchen Sink Syndrome

Subject matter experts are sitting on a mountain of intellectual property but struggle to unpack it. The mistake is thinking that they must provide the learners with a heap of content. The result is this huge course full of information and the learners become overwhelmed. The learners start suffering from cognitive overload and they end up not remembering the key points that we need them to remember. We also find that they start to disengage.

The solution:
  • Start with the end in mind and work out the behaviours that you want the learner to demonstrate at the end of the training, and then work from there. 
  • Work out the activities that they need to do to be able to apply the behaviours. 
  • Work out the key knowledge that they need to complete those activities. 

Through this approach we find that this mountain of learning becomes a molehill. The learners are retaining the information we need them to know and they are more engaged.

2. Audience ignorance

A critical mistake is building a course without consideration of the audience. The problem this creates is that the user experience is off. The design of the learning experience is not user focused. The users end up engaging with content they already know or that doesn’t solve their problem. It may also mean they are forced to view content through systems and methods that’s difficult for them to access.

The solution:

Determine who the audience is. Develop a persona (or personas) of the audience. Consider:

  • Profile – what is their age, gender, occupation and other demographics?
  • Empathise with the audience – what do they think, feel, see, hear and do?
  • Reasons – what are their motivations and goals related to the problem your course is solving?
  • Skills/Knowledge/Experience – what skills, knowledge and experiences do they have?
  • Obstacles – what challenges/frustrations might they be experiencing, do they have any road blocks to learning?
  • Needs – what are their rational and emotional needs?
  • Access to technology – how do they access information and what is their proficiency with technology?
3.Build it and they will come

Often we see this underlying expectation that just because they’ve built a course, people are going to find it and enrol in it. They seem to forget about the marketing aspects of it.

One of the questions that we quite often commonly get asked when we are talking to people about our services of design and delivery of content is “do we help with marketing?” Our answer is yes, because we believe that there’s no point building a course, and having this build and they will come attitude, because chances are they won’t come, because they don’t know the course exists. This is something that I have experienced firsthand, a simple but costly mistake I have made in the past. So there’s a real critical need to make sure that you undertake some quality marketing and promotion of your course.

The solution:
  • Undertake traditional modern marketing with ads through social media, building lead pages etc.
  • Determine the assets that can be used in the course, but could also be used as part of the ongoing marketing campaign – these could include little tasters such as videos, articles, or infographics.
4. Dull design

One of the big mistakes we see, is this concept of dull design. We see this happening in several ways. It’s partly due to too much content and you end up with this massive wall of text issue, where it’s just text after text after text. When this design is put together, it’s just quite dull.

Another issue we see with dull design is the building of just one way of delivery. We see a lot with some other online course development companies, often touting the building of really quick courses that are made up of a large sequence of videos. Video lesson after lesson after lesson. Now, video is a great medium for engaging with people. But unless you’re the most charismatic person, at some point, people are going to get bored with what you’re saying and they’re going to switch off.

The solution:
  • Use an appropriate length of content so people don’t become disengaged.
  • Use learning design principles that engage the ‘lizard brain’ and use both left and right hemispheres of the brain.
  • Use quality visuals.
  • Use other media, such as edumercials as a way of making some of that dry content a bit more engaging.
  • Use an appropriate mix of media to help engage people and avoid that dull design.
5. Content over context

What do I mean by the issue of content over context? Obviously, content is important and some may say that content is king, but in my opinion, context is the new king. People need to have some relevance; they need to be able to see where the content is relevant to them. The only way they can do that is if there is some context around the materials. Relevance is needed for both engagement in the learning resources but also in the retention of the information.

The solution:
  • Build context into the course through the use of stories, so people will retain the information easier.
  • Make sure people understand the WIIFM “what’s in it for me”.
6. Technology first

One of the big mistakes we see when people are putting their content online is that they start with the technology. They select a learning platform and then create the learning experiences and learning assets to fit with the platform. Having this learning first approach limits the learning experience that you could create. You are restricted to the tools and functionality afforded to you by the learning platform. If the learning platform is limited in the asset types it can host, then you are limited in the choices of assets you can design and develop to engage your learners. For example, if the platform does not allow for the uploading of SCORM or xAPI content (created in an external authoring tool) then the interactivity and functionality will be limited. If the platform does not provide badges, points or other gamification elements, again your learning experience will be limited.

The solution:
  • Design the experience first, without any consideration of the technology.

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The modern entrepreneur is shifting to become an ‘edupreneur’ – providing an educational and entrepreneurial income generating business, driven by visibility, scalability and profitability. With more edupreneurs delivering online learning programs than ever before, the online education market is expected to reach $325 billion by 2025.

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