E-learning Dos and Don'ts

E-learning Dos and Don'ts

. 6 min read

There are hundreds of ways to enhance your training with just a couple of clicks. Psychological tricks, animations, and videos are just a few elements that e-learning developers use to draw learners’ attention to their courses. Although these elements often increase engagement rates, sometimes they may act as undesirable distractors from the essential content. Worry this might be the case with your training? Then devote 5 minutes to this article where we list all the Dos and Don’ts of e-learning!

Think about your audience

If you have ever wondered what makes a difference between good and exceptional training, we are about to reveal to you the secret of successful e-learning agencies. Outstanding trainings are always tailored to their audience.

Almost any training has to be presented to a uniform group of people who share something in common. Are you looking to improve soft-skills among your middle-aged managers? Or are you creating training for inexperienced interns of a call center? Ignoring important characteristics of your audience, such as professional background, level of expertise, or working experience leads to lack of motivation from the learner, which results in lower course effectiveness.

The level of expertise of your audience requires special attention. You should approach training for an expert and a novice in completely different ways.

For young, inexperienced workers, you may consider incorporating more real-life examples and visual elements to better showcase new information; whereas for their colleagues with vast knowledge on the subject these additions will be distracting – it’s a lot better to give them problem-solving tasks and to increase the number of interactions that would keep them engaged.

Don’t overuse animations

Animation is one of the interactive multimedia tools which is commonly overused by tech companies in their e-learning courses. The reason is quite simple: animations are trendy and can easily grab the attention of users. The truth is, several studies have shown that animation-based learning can lead to cognitive overload.

Our working memory has limited capacity, holding four to five elements of new information at a time. Thus, it’s easy to overwhelm learners by topping up content that is already complicated with distracting animations. Moreover, disappearing information can’t be fully processed in the working memory, meaning it will be hard for employees to recall it when needed.

Why do organizations decide to use these elements? Animation is good for illustrating hands-on procedures, circulatory systems, or complex mechanisms, and it works well as an interpretative graphic, e.g. a time-lapse video of seed germination. For instance, illustrating a loan lifecycle has proved to be advantageous for the learners. The training created by INTEA focused on various loan types, so it was essential to find an easy and understandable way to show each step of the loan-taking in a particular sequence.

Keep your audio short and simple

Researchers present considerable evidence that audio narration helps learners remember information.

People learn better when two sources of information are combined, such as visual elements and speech.

But nobody enjoys boring, monotonous lecturers who repeat what is said on the slides! So, make sure your audio is short, simple, and contains unique information complementing the text. And don’t forget that audio narration should also be directly related to the text shown on the slide: don’t include audio just to add some examples or discuss a vaguely related matter.

Companies that train specialists in customer service can benefit from audio. One of INTEA clients, Bioeffect, needed to teach shop assistants and product ambassadors to identify various skin types in order to accurately match clients with the necessary beauty products. We decided to introduce a block where a picture of a face was accompanied by a 2-minute audio track describing the unique characteristics of each skin type.

Include diagrams

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is also true for learning. Researchers Mayer and Clark showed that learners who visualize information using graphs and diagrams have 68% improvement on test scores as opposed to those who make textual notes.

There are a few rules for making your graphs effective. First, text labels on diagrams should be integrated into the picture, not placed above or below it. If you do the latter, it will require twice as much mental effort for the learner to read and understand the graph, leading to cognitive overload and decreased concentration. Second, don’t duplicate the information you have already shown on the diagram by adding text right next to it. Finally, there are no benefits from a picture added for the sake of entertainment or dramatic entrance. It distracts learners by drawing their attention to something unimportant.

Create learning agents

E-training can feature a learning agent, a character that assists learners with task completion, congratulates them on passing tests, and navigates within the training. The question in place is whether these agents have any real impact? According to the research, students who learn through an interaction with a learning agent get 20-30% higher scores than those who learn on their own. Imitation of social interaction engages people, which leads to a better learning outcome.

What makes a good learning agent? First and foremost, a learning agent needs to have a distinct role that corresponds to the purpose of the training. It can be a friendly robot that helps users with technical problems or a shop manager praising learners for their achievements – regardless of how you visualize this digital helper, its appearance and actions should be related to the function it performs.

Age, gender, look, attire, profession — all this is important because learners have to believe this character is an expert in the field.

When INTEA developed a training for Fresenius medical company, we came up with three learning agents with different roles: a doctor who delivers learning content, a patient who provides real-life examples, and a nutritionist who supports the patient.  While users rated both the doctor and the patient highly, they had trouble trusting the nutritionist, simply because in the initial design this specialist was presented with a phonendoscope, which turned out to be an incorrect representation. Once this issue was corrected, all three agents were perceived as important and engaging helpers.

Use tests when necessary

Although there is a constant debate on whether tests are needed or not, testing is part of the learning process. It’s important to check if you fully understand what you have just read. The best way to do so is by adding small questionnaires consisting of multiple choice or True/False questions at the end of each learning module that serve as “bridges” to the next topic.

These tests are especially effective for teaching certain behaviors, since they may be used to introduce additional examples and to see whether all is understood correctly, e.g. in an ethics course or a module on customer service.

When it comes to complex formal tests at the end of the course, the situation is more complicated. On the one hand, these tests can realistically show the employer how well employees are prepared for their work. On the other hand, the research proves that formal testing of behaviors and “soft” skills may demotivate employees to take the training, as they will be focusing on remembering as much as possible to pass the exam, while not deeply understanding the behavioral patterns. Therefore, if you feel the need for such a test, make sure all questions are on point and are directly related to the daily job of the learners. Don’t include any questions about statistics or names of the researchers to check how carefully people have read the training materials.

Learn to give feedback

We grow up getting punished for mistakes. Even schoolteachers highlight wrong answers in red ink. Surprisingly, mistakes improve our learning process, but on one condition: when they are explained and the right answer is given.

Imagine a learner who receives feedback that is based on real-life measures, such as customer satisfaction or sales closure. Will it encourage your employee to learn from his/her own mistakes? Is it more effective than just telling learners the correct answer? The answer is – absolutely. So, don’t just put “right” or “wrong” symbols after each test question – include some feedback to motivate learners’ search for the correct answer.

If you want to maximize the effectiveness of feedback, introduce “delayed” explanation. According to the e-learning researcher Will Thalheimer, students who receive delayed feedback perform better during assessment by 10% - 25%.

The key idea is to delay” right answers by posing a follow-up question which asks learners to justify the reason they chose a different response. Try this to improve your training!

It’s undeniable that engagement is the most important characteristic of any learning course. However, simply adding as many elements as you can think of will never assist your learners in acquiring new information. Study your audience and create training with the learner in mind. Use animations in moderation, complement complex diagrams with audio tracks, include self-assessment modules, and give your employees feedback on their performance. Remember these simple rules, and your colleagues will thank you for the amazing training!