Training is a key component of an organization’s HSE and Compliance program and is usually the primary, or only, touch point audiences will have with these programs. Most organizations have a number of training classes and eLearning modules that are mandatory for employees to complete.
The decision to add a training class or eLearning module to a program shouldn’t be done lightly. The learners in the organization typically have a significant obligation to complete training on an annual basis. Increasing the burden (in some cases) on the audience has to be thought through carefully.
Unfortunately, eLearning can be ineffective due to a combination of weak objectives, information overload and lack of instructional and visual design.
It doesn’t have to be like that, though.
eLearning needs to be a balance of honed content and visual design, underpinned by function and technology. For eLearning to be effective – whether online or in the classroom – it needs to be tailored to the audience and supported by a foundation that allows for global delivery and tracking of improvements.
Where to start
So how does one build effective eLearning? It starts by answering a few key questions.
What problem, issue, or challenge is being tackled?
Knowing the answer to this question starts to shed light on who the audience is and allows key objectives to be identified so they can be met with the eLearning.
How does this fit with the overall program?
If the training is part of an existing subject or discipline, ascertain whether any additional resources exist to support the training such as intranet sites, posters and FAQs, guidelines, or standards. If not, determine whether they will be available when the training launches.
Has the topic been rolled out before? Or Is it new with little understanding?
If the content is just a rehash of existing material, then the audience base may ignore it or feel subject fatigue. The challenge is to make the topic interesting regardless of previous rollouts so as to engage and excite the audience.
What has led to this need for developing eLearning?
If the need for this eLearning has arisen from the need to meet an internal objective or benchmark, proactive risk assessments, data analysis of reports, or in response to a particular incident, then this driver will have a bearing on the content and other key aspects of the eLearning. It will also require evaluation of whether or not the material is mitigating the effect of the driver and/or risk.
How far into the organization does this need to penetrate?
Although eLearning can reach practically anywhere, not everyone who needs the training, and by extension the support materials, will have access to it. Technology, language barriers, and other obstacles must be considered early in the development process.
An appreciation of these questions shapes the objectives for the eLearning.
Objectives and metrics are used to manage a program, and effective eLearning requires the same. Simply measuring completion rates is not enough. The objectives have to be written in a way that allows them to be evaluated and tested against and for metrics to be setup for tracking understanding, retention, and effectiveness.
Clear objectives make development of the material simpler. Some programs fall into the trap of only looking inwardly at what the program needs (or customers and regulations dictate). However, equal consideration must be given to the audience’s requirements.
It is important to consider whether the eLearning objectives can be tied back to a broader business objective. This allows for demonstration of return on investment and allows for evaluation of effectiveness and performance improvement at a later date.
Content must be honed to the audience and starts with asking, “What does the audience need to know to fulfill the objectives?” This question must be followed by, “Why?” This is critical to start with and be clear on before design and functionality are addressed, as it saves time, money, and resources as the project progresses.
The next question is, “What does my audience already know?” Assumption of knowledge can cause as many problems as too much information. Subject matter experts can often provide thorough and detailed information on the subject, but it tends to be technical, too detailed and in-depth to the point that it can confuse an audience.
The purpose of instructional design, an element of eLearning development, is to ensure that content is presented in a way that builds on prior knowledge and structures the eLearning to ensure the audience understands the presented material – essentially the building blocks of knowledge for the audience to understand.
Visual design should make the content engaging and should not be used to mask ineffective or poorly thought through content. The visual design must respect corporate branding and visual identity guidelines and leverage them wherever possible. Just because it is training doesn’t exempt it from the brand guidelines.
For eLearning, functionally means that it must simply work, and where necessary, be accessible on multiple devices and in multiple languages. Avoid using a deliverable or technology-centric driven approach, and ensure the deliverable is in line with the objectives.
Having a structured development process in place ensures on-time delivery and keeps the project within budget. A review process that allows all stakeholders (subject matter experts, program or training manager and management) to approve and contribute to the project at multiple points in development maintains accountability throughout the project’s lifecycle.
If the goal is to reach a global audience, considerations need to be made regarding translation and localization. For measurements of effectiveness to be valid, this is critical and also requires the possible use of multiple mediums (online, classroom, stand down, or toolbox meetings) to deliver the eLearning. Identifying these needs early in development and creating a plan to overcome any limitations with an organization’s technology and channels is essential to ensuring all audiences are trained.
Part of the project lifecycle is a documented plan for updating and improving the material within a minimum of two years. Rolling out the eLearning and not touching it for the better part of a decade will erode its effectiveness within your audience.
Effective eLearning takes an investment in time, money, and resources. If it does not achieve its purpose, then lives and reputations are at stake.