The Achilles Heel for Developing Online Courses

The Achilles Heel for Developing Online Courses

Many elearning developers have lost their jobs or assignments by developing online courses that fail to deliver the most important factor in the elearning equation — RESULTS. Let’s tackle the number one reason for this phenomenon, abysmal completion rates.

Consider this quote from two well respected elearning developers.

“Unless mandated, completion rates for asynchronous e-Learning tend to be dismal; usually due to lack of engagement — and retention levels remain poor when the training fails to capture the imagination and interest of the student.” ~ Jeanne Bonzon, Sr. Program Manager, Center for LifeLong Learning and Robert Church, Sr. Program Manager, Center for LifeLong Learning, BJC HealthCare.

In fact, according to most reports, trainees and students complete elearning courses at about half the rate of classroom courses. And yet elearning is booming. Such is the power of the elearning promise.

Developing online courses or having them custom designed need not be doomed to failure right from the beginning, but many such journeys don’t have a chance to succeed. The initial problem is neither the content nor the testing or the quizzes. The culprit is the mindset of the developer(s). Why? Because they plan their approach without either a clear view of what the end result should be or without the conviction to make that result happen. Instead they focus on the near term dynamics, things like this year’s budget and the desired time frame for delivery. Not to unduly minimize those issues, but they are at the heart of the problem.

The best elearning courses will likely change over time.

While mentioning budget implications it is also imperative that the online course budget not just focus on this year’s budget. The best elearning courses will likely change over time. When developing online courses don’t just focus on the dollars required to author the course(s) but also consider the cost to support the program in subsequent years.

Then again don’t forget the cost of the supporting LMS; make sure it is flexible enough to handle change. For instance, think about those developers that did not choose SCORM compliance at the outset and then later made the decision to be SCORM compliant — that means not just the original cost to build but significant cost to redo the course in subsequent years. In other words, consider the entire development and delivery platform from the beginning.

Listen carefully for jobs and/or client relationships are at stake. There is only one thing that matters with developing online courses, and that is return or shall we say results on investment. Focus on the right result (there are only three possibilities) and the developer has a great chance to achieve high levels of success with their online courses.

Indeed then, what exactly do you focus on at the outset? What do you wish to accomplish by offering the online course? Is it

  • Knowledge transfer
  • Skill transfer
  • Or both?

If the purpose of the course is strictly academic then knowledge transfer alone will probably suffice. On the other hand, if the course is for an employee, why bother unless you are trying to instill skill internalization, typically including at least some knowledge transfer as the foundation for the skills you wish to transfer? One goal is to improve the individual’s performance so that the organization enjoys higher revenue and/or lower expenses than it otherwise would have without the online course. But don’t forget the more personal goal, the one that is probably most precious to the person in charge of the project.

The developer’s personal goal is to keep his or her job, to gain a promotion, to retain a client for not just a quarter but for years to come.That person simply will not achieve against that goal if the initial mindset is quick-easy-cheap as the quick-easy-cheap approach is guaranteed to develop courses that do not get completed.

Quick-easy-cheap gets people fired and terminates consulting contracts.

Why? Because it is seductive and deceptive but doesn’t engage the trainee enough to cause them to complete the course.

Internal developers for organizations as well as independent subject matter experts are all too often given budgets that cannot possibly create quality courses. These people embark on research, googling elearning developers, watching demos that don’t even show examples of courses developed and then focusing on the pricing page of the provider’s website. If that website/provider can convince the prospect that their solution fits the near-term requirements of quick and easy, it frequently wins largely because quick and easy is what you get from those that promote price as a big reason why they should be selected. The problem with most quick and easy elearning course building solutions is that months after the quick-easy-cheap is delivered, when the student completion rate is deemed totally unacceptable, management will not say “yes but isn’t it great that we developed these courses for just a thousand dollars”; instead they will say, “who created this junk?!” And bullets will fly.

Courses that get completed have the following characteristics.

  • They are highly interactive, and this does not mean they simply answer a true-false question or that they are required to hit a key on their keyboard. This means their quiz ,test answers, and other choices throughout the course have consequences that cause cognitive interaction, that right answers or choices are reinforced and that wrong answers take them to information that explains why their answer was wrong. Feedback looping is a must to generate acceptable levels of interaction.
  • They are engaging, truly holding the trainee’s attention throughout the course. When thinking this through consider that many of today’s trainees have been playing highly engaging arcade and/or online games for many years. Give them something boring and they will disengage somewhere approaching the speed of light. There are numerous ways to do this, multimedia, interactive branching, and scenarios being an option of choice for most successful elearning courses.

If quality online training development is important to you take a look at this custom e-learning developers:

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