E-Learning Course Fundamentals: 5 Features You Should Factor in

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to e-Learning courses. As technology sprawls and audiences anticipate more engaging content, instructional designers are faced with a difficult challenge. On the one hand, you have to know the ins and outs of your area and think of a consistent message to deliver. On the other hand, you must find the right way to structure the course into succinct discourse and bring value to the audience. All authors have their special tricks, yet the building blocks of making solid educational content replicate widely across the e-Learning field. In this article, I’ll try to put together the select fundamentals of a successful course as I see them.

1. Navigation

First and foremost, think of your course not only as real-time instruction but also as reference material. For that matter, every course should provide convenient navigation. This may include menus, links or other paths so your learners can process the course linearly or choose different scenarios, i.e. jump to and fro for better understanding.

When building your navigation system, keep these questions in mind:

  • Are your ideas featured in the correct logical order?
  • Are there any back links available for review?
  • Are your navigation infographics clear and sufficient?
  • Have you added captions for all multimedia elements associated with the basic content?
  • Have you added text to all non-textual elements by way of description?

2. Multimedia

Every time you ask for instructional design tips on the web, all you hear about video is pure praise.

Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words, and text-based content is becoming boring. Yet you always need to understand the goals of embedding a video into your course and the expected outcome.

Needless to say, multimedia is a great way to bring home your key points in an engaging manner. Depending on the objectives, you may want to give your material a professional ‘academic’ look and feel, or keep it informal and lively to motivate a younger audience.

For a comprehensive user experience, try a mix of media elements in the right proportion and see how it works for your learners.

Audio narrations can be used as the baseline method of content delivery, or as excerpts and quotations to highlight a specific point. The role of animations is hard to overestimate – it’s one of the best options to illustrate processes and logical sequences in a multitude of educational and business disciplines. Naturally, your course will look lifeless without relevant photos, imagery and diagrams, so make sure you throw a little bit of everything into the mix.

Check a few important things before you publish the course:

  • Are all your pictures/videos legally owned?
  • Is it still easy to play your content on an average PC/mobile device, given the volume of multimedia content involved?
  • Are your multimedia items of good quality? Do they match each other by dimensions and definition?
  • Are you sure the audio and video can be managed by the learner, i.e. paused, muted, etc.?
  • Can the viewer speed up the video playback if they wish?

3. Interactions

Capture your learners’ attention by introducing interactions. Modern authoring tools provide a plethora of options in this field, including live characters, animations, social elements and even games.

“Live” human characters are just fun. They help to emphasize the key concepts and add a certain undertone to your narrative, based on their personal patterns and voices. Make sure your course goes hand in hand with the latest trends and sync up the material with social networks. Provide links to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. so your content can go viral. Flash animations are easy to implement and extremely efficient – this is true for various ages and learner groups. Unravelling your mysteries in animated form is a witty way for your course to pick up good karma.

Conservatives will probably frown at this, but games are also a great e-Learning motivator. Hot stuff to include in your training material, games not only entertain but help the students understand key objectives, roles and structures associated with your particular field of studies.

My personal checklist on interactions:

  • Are the animations in line with your general style?
  • Is the chosen live character suitable for the audience you are addressing?
  • Does each interactive element have an easy-to-formulate objective? If not, don’t hesitate to wipe out the redundant bells and whistles.

4. Tests and assessments

Intersperse your course with quick tests to measure the audience’s performance and see if you are heading the right way. Authoring tools allow you to use versatile question types such as true/false, multiple choice, fill the blank, drag and drop, essay, etc. By way of formative assessment, you may throw in short quizzes in the middle of your course and gauge interim results. For knowledge summaries, add a slide or two at the end of the material.

Before you move on to some other course module, check if everything is right:

  • Are the tests coherent with the layout?
  • Are all questions clear and logical?
  • Do you have you have robust assessment metrics in mind?
  • Do the quizzes include familiar subjects only, or go beyond the studied agenda?
  • Is it easy to provide feedback on the course?

5. Tracking

Though not part of the course itself, tracking is of utmost importance to instructional designers. Sending your message into a black box just won’t fly. You need meaningful insights into your course performance, and the more criteria the better. Picking up on certain learner behaviors and defining obscure notions and bottlenecks in your narrative, you can eventually target the content to specific student groups and foresee and cater to their particular needs.

See to it that you have the right data handy:

  • What’s the share of learners who completed the course?
  • How did they respond to triggers and animations, what was the hit ratio?
  • What time did it take the students to go through this e-Learning material? Are they progressing at a comfortable pace?

In conclusion

No doubt, there may be much more to the question. My Top 5 is just a basic checklist that will help you come up with a holistic narrative and motivate your students. Once you’re done with the main part, put the final touches on the course and sum up the ideas, either as bullet points or using infographics – whatever fits your content best. Aside from recapping the essence, don’t forget to leave contact information, so the learners can reach you with follow-up questions.

Finally, test the entire course thoroughly and eliminate errors and inconsistencies. If you use embedded multimedia, make sure your videos play without a hitch from start to end. This way, you ensure the integrity of internal and external references and content structure.

Now, go break a leg! Share the course with your target audience, sit back in your chair and wait for valuable feedback!

Scott Winstead

2 thoughts on “E-Learning Course Fundamentals: 5 Features You Should Factor in”

  1. Good article, thanks! However, I believe you are actually missing out on the key block – text. I know a multitude of e-Learning courses that overuse multimedia and neglect the power of concise coherent text. Somebody might argue it goes without saying but good text remains the key fundamental no matter what.

    • Thanks, Bert! A statement that’s hard to quarrel with. There is a number of aspects to it – brevity, coherence, sufficiency, etc. Hopefully, we are past the good old times when educators tried to squeeze their lecture notes into slides as-is. Text is, indeed, the cornerstone, and converting complex ideas into concise formulas is an art where we all have a thing or two to learn.


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