4 Keys to Effectively Evaluating you E-Learning Initiatives
The other day I had the chance to sit down for a bit with an old colleague. We spent some time reminiscing about the old days and I was excited to hear that he is still with the company and enjoying what he does. Then came the fun part.
He asked about what I was doing now. What was I up to after all this time?
My friends let me tell you, I love getting this question!I jumped in with both feet. Talking about eLearning and developing content. Delivering strategic solutions and creating unique products designed to fit the customer needs. In short, all my favorite thing! He listened with interest and seemed genuinely intrigued by how each course comes together. Then, he asked the “big” question. The one I was waiting for.
How do you know if what you’re doing is working? How can you tell if they are actually learning the material?
It was honestly one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time! Because, he’s right! When we talk about eLearning we tend to go on and on about what we do. But, what we seem to gloss over, especially to the layman, is how do we know it works?
As a professional, it is crucial that you know whether or not your courses are effective. Do they achieve their stated goals? Do they meet their targeted objectives? These questions are more than just valid, they are firmly at the heart of what we do each and everyday. Because if something works, we want and need to replicate that effect. If it doesn’t, well then we need to move on to something else.
How do you know if your courses are effective? You have to dig in and evaluate. And not just the course as a whole, but the individual parts. So today that is exactly what we are going to talk about. I’m going to share my own personal best practices in terms of effective evaluation and give you the tools you need to create content that is both successful and engaging.
1. Does the course meet its stated objectives?
One of the first steps to building an eLearning course is to create a list of targeted objectives. These are the goals for the course. Effective evaluation means ensuring you have met your stated goals. It means that you take an honest and objective look at what you have created while being willing to improve on what you find.
Now, there are several ways to accomplish this step, but as with most types of evaluation, you should make a point to reach out to your end user. They are the unbiased third party who has engaged with the product as it was meant to be used. If their experience fell short of your expectations, then it is time to make some changes!
2. Is the material engaging?
Engaging material leads to retention. It’s just that simple. It does not matter how well planned and written your course is if the participants are not engaged. It may sound like a small thing, but this detail plays a huge role in the big picture. So, once your course is finished reach out for feedback from those around you. Ask about the look and feel of the course. How does it flow? Is the text easy to read and understand? Do they find themselves watching the clock or did they move through without thinking about time? In short, how engaged were they with the material?
How can you increase engagement? One easy way is to make sure that your layout is visually stimulating. Long paragraphs of full text lining the screen can be hard to follow, so break it up! Add pictures and diagrams. Make the course as interactive as possible and give real world examples to make your point. You don’t want to tip the scales to distracting but finding that balance can be the difference between a successful course and one that is banished after a single use.
3. Is the content memorable?
The other day as I was talking to my friend he shared a story about a recent safety training he attended with his team. It was the same old boring material they had sat through a dozen times
but this particular facilitator did something different that grabbed everyone’s attention and left them talking for weeks. Instead of just talking about the different ways to lift and the long term danger to your back from lifting incorrectly, he brought visual aids.
Gummy Bears – To show how the cartilage between the vertebra responds in a young healthy back.
Marshmallows – To show how that same cartilage can keep its resiliency with age.
Crab Meat! – To show what poor lifting habits can do to your spine.
He showed these items to the participants right from the very beginning. Then, as the class moved forward and people began to interact, he would toss out a small pack of gummy bears or marshmallows or crab meat for right answers.
Guess what? This worked! How do I know it worked? Because my friend remembered it so well that he shared it with me several weeks after the fact! It was that memorable!
So when we evaluate our courses we need to be asking ourselves, is this memorable? Is this something that will stand out to my participants and stick with them over time? Will they remember this, even tomorrow, and want to share what they learned with someone else? Or, is this just another boring assignment for them to get through? It doesn’t have to be a gimmick, but if they can make safety training fun and memorable, then we can make anything fun and memorable!
4. Does the course “work”?
When you are building an eLearning course, there is always a technical aspect to what you are doing. It is the nature of what we do. With that technical aspect comes the responsibility, and the challenge, of ensuring that everything works before it ever gets sent to your participants. It can be frustrating, but I feel that this is actually one of the easiest forms of evaluation because you can do it yourself for the most part.
Once you have finished your course and finalized the content make a point to access the material the same way your participants will. Then, work your way through the course, page by page. It is important to complete this task from several different devices and from a variety of locations. That way you have the best chance of finding the bugs and eliminating them before your participants log on for the first time.
In eLearning, building the content is only half the battle. If we want to be great. If we want to be one of those designers who have our participants coming back for more time and time again, then we must be willing to improve on our work and evaluate what we are doing from every angle. Because doing so will make our materials stronger and our courses more effective right from the very beginning.
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