There are so many qualities associated with “good” eLearning, it can be hard for organizations (and L&D practitioners) to know if their first eLearning offerings are effective. The learning (experience/instructional) design has to be sound and targeted; the UX design clear and intuitive; the graphic design appealing and helpful; and the functionality seamless and glitch-free. In some organizations, like my workplace, we have dedicated learning experience (LX) specialists with expertise in each of these areas; together, we’ve amassed decades of experience in what to look for when checking our work.
But what happens in organizations that are new to eLearning or have very small L&D teams (let alone a single L&D practitioner)? If only there were a guiding principle they could apply throughout their quality assurance (QA) process to ensure that each learning solution is effective and contributes to performance improvement.
In my workplace, we’ve settled on one question that guides us throughout the phases of (thorough) analysis, (successive) design, and (rapid) development: Is ___ appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners? Our team members ask this question each time we review the hundreds of elements, functions, and features that combine to make effective eLearning, training videos, and digital performance support.
Here’s an abridged version of our QA checklist, centered around that one simple but revealing question. (Note that none of these questions focus on typos, errors, or glitches—that’s another kind of equally important quality-control check.)
Are the performance objectives appropriate for the organization and learners?
- Do the performance objectives map to the organization’s key performance indicators? Clients often tell us that there are no KPIs for the topic at hand, which is not the case. If training is required, there is always an associated KPI somewhere: fewer safety incidents; higher customer satisfaction; faster response rate; change in organizational culture; fewer reports of discrimination or harassment; higher sales revenues, etc.
- Word to the wise: If any of your performance objectives begin with understand, your organization and learners don’t need training—they need information. Training provides practice learning and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes in a safe environment so that employees can return to work after the learning solution, ready to improve their performance.
Is the duration of the learning solution appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners?
- Often, the duration of a learning solution is decided by how long that type of course has typically taken, not the amount of information about the topic an employee can typically process in one sitting. If it’s the first time employees are learning about a topic, the learning solution should be shorter, not longer; start with 20 minutes or less for the broad strokes, then follow up with more detailed information and practice in a separate offering.
- Word to the wise: Cramming more words on each screen or page does not help! It’s not the number of screens/pages that determine duration, it’s word count. In my workplace, we use an average of 200 words per minute for reading and 140 words per minute for narration. Keeping a very close tab on word count throughout the process also helps control scope creep.
Is the LX strategy appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners?
- It’s very tempting to want to gamify a course with badges, heads-up displays, timed activities, and points awarded; but it’s equally important to ask whether that gamification element occurs on the job. For example, clicking an on-screen “colleague” for a tip should not subtract points from learners who are collecting them. Since most learning is done on our own or with colleagues, that gamification element would actually discourage employees from asking for help.
- Word to the wise: When considering how to share information and provide practice in a safe environment, ask yourself: Does this strategy mirror what happens on the job? If so, it is appropriate. If not, find a more suitable strategy to engage your learners.
Are the user interface and graphic design appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners?
- Just as each learning solution should ask learners to do or consider something differently, the UX design should also follow MAYA principle in that it appears both new and familiar. The graphic design should also align with or complement the organization’s standards, and reflect the topic appropriately. For example, we ensure that all of the dementia-care training programs we develop feature photographs. When the goal of that training is to remind caregivers that people with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, it would be inappropriate to use cartoons or custom-illustrated renditions, which reduce the person to someone else’s interpretation of their being.
- Word to the wise: In my workplace, we often ask ourselves: What would the CEO of the organization have to say about this style or image? I’m not suggesting that your CEO needs to approve the UX and graphic design and illustrations, but rather, for example, what would she say about those images of unsmiling employees? Does the learning solution visually depict more of the undesirable behavior (thereby reinforcing it) than the desired behavior?
Are the tone and language appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners?
- Yes, you can and should use friendly and conversational language in your learning solutions. It can be difficult to interpret and simplify complex information intended for larger audiences, but that is the work worth doing. If the tone is preachy, people tune out; if it is too casual, they don’t take it seriously.
- More importantly, is the language respectful and inclusive of all current and future employees? Are scenarios written and depicted with an appropriate balance for age, gender, experience, ability, race, and other dimensions of diversity?
- Word to the wise: Read the storyboard, script, or self-study guide out loud. If you wouldn’t say those things in person to a colleague, change the language until you would.
Is the sequencing appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners?
- Too many people think that making learners click on everything on the page ensures that they read everything on that page. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best and only way to “make sure” that people read anything is to make sure that it is relevant, interesting, and useful.
- Word to the wise: If employees have to follow a set process for a specific task, it makes sense to present that information in order. If, on the other hand, the topics are equally important, offer open navigation and allow employees to start, continue, and complete the learning solution as they see fit. Adult learning principles wouldn’t have it any other way.
Of course, these six questions are not the only ones you should be applying the appropriate lens to: learning activities, case studies, feedback, supporting images, narration scripts, sound effects, and animations, to name just a few more, also need to be reviewed for these considerations.
What’s important is that everyone involved in eLearning consider other perspectives than their own when reviewing an eLearning solution in progress. Asking yourself, Is ___ appropriate for the organization, performance objectives, and learners? is a simple and effective reminder of other higher-order considerations that can be lost when we are in the midst of working on one specific aspect of a new project.
It’s not easy to get everything right: Each eLearning solution, after all, tries to meet the needs of hundreds or thousands of people. But when we QA our new eLearning solutions with a lens of “appropriate,” we’re more likely to ensure that they are in fact memorable and effective.