Developing an e-Learning project isn't just about using the latest technology and tools or designing extravagant interactions. An effective e-Learning program incorporates proven instructional design principles to help students meet learning objectives. In fact, it can be a bit like conducting an orchestra, in which many players, tools, and instruments must work together harmoniously. What really matters is the final product. Is it music to your ears? Or is it just a lot of noise that doesn't deliver on its promises?

While e-Learning courses must incorporate elements of entertainment, you must also build them around clearly defined learning objectives. The aim of any learning tool should be to make the objectives attainable for every student.

Project managers play an essential role

A good project manager knows how to keep the team focused and in tune. In addition to monitoring budgets, schedules, and objectives, the project manager ensures that the selected technology solutions help the team meet their goals.

"Authoring tools all have advantages and disadvantages," says Aaron Reid, manager of interactive media at nSight. "We use a variety of tools based on each client's needs and technology requirements. As long as the content is presented in such a way that students can learn from it, and that keeps their attention, we have done our jobs."

Whether delivering an XML- or HTML-based storyboarding solution to a client for implementation, or executing a start-to-finish course design in a solution such as Lectora, Blackboard, WebCT, eCollege, Moodle, Angel Learning, or Adobe Captivate, team members need to stay focused on the learning goals. That's important whether converting existing text into an online course or creating material from scratch.

Creating harmonious teams

E-Learning teams may include instructional designers, technical writers, graphic designers, technical editors, proofreaders, developers, coders, and subject matter experts. If there are gaps in the original text — say someone made a new scientific discovery — subject matter experts can write supplemental content to update the e-Learning course. When the content is developed from the ground up specifically for e-Learning, the team may take an entirely different approach when developing interactions and learning modules. The e-Learning team should also be able to create the interactions and course materials needed for specific training modules in areas such as regulatory compliance, certification, risk management, or customer relations.

Creating various e-Learning courses

"The biggest difference between a classroom-based course and an e-Learning course is the need for the content to be entertaining," says Rozanne Whalen, nSight instructional designer. "In a classroom, the instructor can use humor and anecdotes to keep students' attention, but with e-Learning, we must build it into the content with interactions." E-Learning interactions might include video, clickable areas, polls, and narrations.

Synchronous e-Learning courses often incorporate a virtual classroom environment in which students can have online discussions using such tools as bulletin boards, forums, and chat rooms. These courses may also include ways to share files, view folders, comment on one another's work, and give feedback or hold breakout sessions.

When e-Learning is part of a blended learning program, it may have very different requirements. Ensuring that the program design, from the ground up, meets its objectives requires a team of professionals who understand and can work with a variety of technologies, methodologies, and pedagogical styles.

The flexibility to add subject matter experts and programmers as needed for each project makes it possible to design an e-Learning course around essential learning goals and to effectively employ whatever technologies are selected, rather than have the team's skills or available technologies dictate how the course is developed.

E-Learning tips

Keep these best practices in mind when you create your next e-Learning course:

  • Get input from IT at the outset to ensure that the technology and formats you plan to use are compatible.
  • Know what features your authoring tool supports before you begin (such as narration, Flash, or video).
  • Create a template that estimates word counts (especially for reveals).
  • "Chunk" content to keep it short, simple, and flexible.
  • Avoid excessive use of clicks and scrolling.
  • Remember to entertain and to encourage interactivity.