In my workplace, we’ve been having conversations with an increasing number of smaller organizations that are considering getting their feet wet in the big sea of eLearning. Most have the same questions: Where do we start; How do we get going; and What should we keep in mind as we gain traction?

Here my responses to those (and a few other frequently asked questions) for eLearning newbies.

Where do we start?

Start with your audience. Ask what works for them.

If you’re just starting out on your eLearning journey, do your best to incorporate user-centered design into your process. One of the most common factors in ineffective training is the lack of consultation with end users (aka learners) before, during, and after an eLearning course is launched.

For instance, if you already have content and learning objectives developed, validate them with your target audience. You’d be surprised at how many assumptions are made by L&D teams about older audiences, teenagers, blue-collar workers, Millennials, senior executives, and everyone in between. Although training is all about sharing information and supporting performance, many L&D teams skip the step of consulting their users before they begin work on a training solution because, in words I’ve heard too often, “We know what they need.”

I disagree with that presumption, and I’m willing to bet that your end users will as well. Mitigate your risks up front and early by validating your instructional design strategy, creative concept, and development tools with your audience. It’s easier to tweak things in the beginning in response to user feedback than to rehaul a fully developed solution.

How do we get going?

Start small and build on lessons learned.

It’s tempting to want to start building your eLearning library with a one-hour module because so many of us have taken one-hour modules over the years—or because you have so much information to share with an audience that is hungry for it.

Here’s the thing about one-hour modules ... no one wants them because they’re about 45 minutes too long, and they’re costly to design and develop.

Instead, consider starting with a short training video, or 10-15 minute microlearning solution. Less content to develop means shorter development schedules, which means that you can get something out to your audience faster.

When you use your first learning solution as a prototype, you can and should ask your audience for feedback (see Dr. Will Thalheimer’s work on how to do that), and then build any lessons learned into your next eLearning installment.

What should we keep in mind as we gain traction?

Invest in good storytelling, not bells and whistles.

Start small and start simple. Again, don’t be tempted to combine a bunch of eLearning trends into your first foray. Simple does not mean simplistic; rather, like all good design, it means paring down the information, graphics, and interactions to the bare minimum.

Unlike education, training is intended for busy, competent adults who want us to cut to the chase in an interesting, relevant way. The easiest way to lose their attention is to add information, activities, and other bells and whistles (AR and VR anyone?) they don’t need for the task at hand.

Just like we tell our kids when we’re teaching them about spending their own money: be clear about things you need versus things you’d like to have. It’s easier, less expensive, and less risky to start with information in a format that your audience needs, rather than add features they may not want.

Do we need to test people?

Track, but don’t test folks.

Too many organizations assume that they have to test people as part of an eLearning solution. Life gives us too many tests already… eLearning should not add to those. Instead, aim to provide an opportunity to practice new skills or decision-making in a safe environment—without tracking people’s answers.

That doesn’t mean avoiding questions; it just means that you don’t have to create a “test” to see if people “understood” the information. It’s far better to sprinkle opportunities to confirm understanding throughout the solution, or challenge people to change their behavior or attitudes back in the workplace. You don’t want your first eLearning solution to be the one that people remember as “the course with the test at the end”.

Do I need an LMS?

Skip the LMS…for now.

People often assume that they need an LMS for their new course. You don’t. Only organizations that offer many courses to many employees need a learning management system to host, assign, and track completion; but for those who are new to eLearning, you can easily use your organization’s website or a simple open-source content management system like Wordpress to offer your new course internally or externally. Google Analytics can give you the traffic stats you need for now (until you have so many courses that you need the tracking capabilities of a more sophisticated and expensive system).

How can we stay current?

Future-proof your investment.

Do some research into eLearning and IT trends and consult eLearning specialists to ensure that your learning solution doesn’t look outdated or become unusable before its time. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that.

As you would with any other large purchase or investment, do your homework. Start with your target audience, of course, and then consult eLearning specialists—whether individuals or companies—for advice on how to proceed.

Any other advice?

Keep reading. The many other talented and experienced columnists here in the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions will help you turn your first eLearning initiative into the first of many.

Note from the editor

If you are new to eLearning or just want to freshen up on the basics, register for eLearning Foundations, an online conference offered by The eLearning Guild December 11 & 12.