Today, we’re going to examine the major components found in an effective E-Learning course — a course that will actually improve on-the-job performance and increase retention.

“Optional Word-for-Word Audio Capability” is the first essential quality specifically necessary for effective E-Learning.

You want your people to learn, retain, and apply the information you present. You already know that 40% of your workforce is not reading-fluent (typically, a fourth grade reading level, or below). And yet, you should also realize that all of your people are capable and want to learn.

They’ve grown up with television so they more readily learn by watching full-motion video accompanied by spoken language. Optional word-for-word audio gives everyone the same opportunity that, traditionally, only the reading-proficient had.

Everyone needs to have the same access to all the information and learning you choose to offer. All need to have the same opportunity for improved retention and efficient application of the principles and techniques they encounter in the programs you present. So, why not level the playing field for everyone? Good training should be inclusive — not exclusive.

Yet, we do not want to slow down or bore the reading-proficient. And, that’s where the “optional” button comes into play. In a well-designed E-Learning course, the word-for-word audio can be turned “off” or “on” depending on the learning culture and desires of the individual.

The second essential quality for truly effective E-Learning is a “User-designed Interface” that has been created for ease of navigation.

For the individuals who will be taking your E-Learning courses, much of their initial motivation will be blunted if they have to spend excessive time paging down or up in order to get the information they are seeking.

In fact, one of the most important instructional design elements for any E-Learning program is the creation of the menu page. It is not uncommon for that original design to take a knowledgeable instructional designer as long, or longer, to create than the actual learning pages within each lesson.

That menu page needs to have instantly accessible links to the topic-content segments, glossary, pre-test, post-test, practice exercises, optional audio button, and all the help features. One click should take the learner anywhere she chooses.

The third essential quality for truly effective E-Learning is “Meaningful and Individually Interactive Instruction.” Far too many E-Learning courses are designed today by individuals who know very little about either the audience they are designing for — nor do they really have the knowledge to separate the “have-to-knows” from the “nice-to-knows” in their design.

The interactivity should be meaningful to the user and not just clicking for its own sake. The learners should be challenged before they click ahead. (It’s actually insulting when a learner is asked to continually click away for no educational reason at all.)

The fourth essential quality for truly effective E-Learning is a training course that is knowledgeably divided into “Short Modular Lessons.”

We all want to see the people we train master the training materials presented. With well-designed E-Learning, 100% test scores are readily attainable. That is because, with short teaching segments, information is easily reviewed and repetition is seamlessly possible. With short teaching segments, the learner is in control of his learning. A single learning objective should be the focus of each short (3-5 seat-time minutes) learning segment.

Therefore, when examining E-Learning courseware, the length of the course (average seat time required) will tell you a lot. It will indicate the knowledge that the Instructional Designer possesses regarding the ideal fit between the computer screen, the courseware, and the learner.

The fifth essential quality for truly effective E-Learning is a course design that exhibits “Effective Use of Every Screen.”

If retention is the ultimate aim of any training program, the emphasis on individual teaching screens should be on the visuals used. These visuals should include full-motion video, photographs, graphics, charts, and diagrams. We do not want our learners to concentrate on lengthy text screens, which have proven to be less effective in meeting retention goals.

Short sentences or short “bullet” screens describing a single information point or theory becomes the aim of good instructional design. The learner who can read quickly and well can then focus on the visual teaching of the screen, just as the individual who prefers to listen can quickly move on to the real teaching focus of the screen.

The sixth essential quality for truly effective E-Learning is a course design that is “Capable of Doubling as a ‘Help Desk’.”

Research has shown that nearly 70% of information learned in initial formal training is forgotten by the time the worker actually needs it. When unique on-the-job conditions arise those workers need a quick and easy way to get refresher training.

E-Learning is singularly qualified to meet these requirements. Sometimes this is called “just in time” training and sometimes it is referred to as “help desk” training. The effect is the same. E-Learning saves much time (and, therefore, dollars) when it can be seamlessly used to call up nuggets of instruction at any time and from any place.

The next time you are evaluating an E-Learning course, apply these “essential qualities.” You’ll find them — or, you won’t. If they are present, the course will do its job. If some are missing, the course will fail your trainees. That’s why they are all essential.

More on Thursday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning