I’m starting to think one of the reasons there’s so much dull eLearning out there is that the industry can’t agree on a definition of quality. What if we turned to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for guidance on how to define quality, a necessary first step before establishing quality standards? According to the ISO, quality refers to “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.” This definition explains, in part, why quality eLearning can be elusive: when an organization’s stated or implied needs are not balanced with those of learners, one side or the other is not satisfied.
With the ISO in mind, here’s a checklist for improving the quality of eLearning. Seven of the suggestions apply to eLearning and organizational needs, and seven apply to eLearning and employee needs. Note that these assume that each eLearning solution is error-free in its functionality and content.
eLearning and organizational needs
It’s reasonable for organizations to expect—and require—that their eLearning, whether developed in-house or by an external vendor, be:
- Technically compatible. The eLearning solution must be developed using courseware and/or software that is compatible with employees’ workplace or personal computers, tablets, mobile phones, software, and browsers.
- Accessible across devices. The solution should meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA accessibility standards, and provide learners with alternate versions of the information to facilitate both screen-reader and post-training access. It should also be responsive to different devices and screen sizes, thereby widening learners’ access to the information.
- SCORM-compliant. The solution should be coded to “play well” with the organization’s learning management system.
- Careful with corporate branding. The eLearning should adhere to corporate branding standards, deviating only when and where appropriate.
- Not too long, not too short. Gone are the days of three-hour eLearning modules; 20 – 30 minutes seems to be the maximum tolerated for separate learning objects today. Of course, short learning objects (aka microlearning) can be bundled together in a larger program, but learners should be able to finish an eLearning course in the time it takes to go for a walk.
- Measurable. The organization must be able to measure whether the eLearning course contributed to the desired behavior, and met learners’ expectations for effective training. Thankfully, we have years of Dr. Will Thalheimer’s work to guide us in conducting better evaluations.
- Designed and developed within a reasonable timeframe and for a reasonable cost. L&D senior managers: please do us all a favor and set reasonable parameters for the amount of time and money it should take to develop explainer videos, 20-minute eLearning, 15-minute podcasts, 10-page eBooks, etc. Some eLearning designers and developers are not given enough time or resources to do a quality job, while other organizations tolerate six-month schedules for 30-minute storyboards.
eLearning and employee needs
It’s also reasonable for learners, aka employees, to expect that their digital training be effective (see Dr. Will Thalheimer’s “The Decisive Dozen”), but also:
- Appealing and interesting. If a topic is important, then it’s worth taking the time to create a learning experience that resonates with employees. If it’s boring and/or dull, their attention will rightfully wander.
- Intuitive. Figuring out how to navigate through an online course should not interfere with actual learning. In fact, eLearning courses should include the same level of navigational instructions that an organization’s website offers, i.e. little to none. If you need to add pages of instructions for navigating the interface, redo the interface. Intuitive designs do not need instructions.
- Diverse and inclusive. Our workplaces are diverse; our eLearning courses must reflect our workforces in a way that tells them that they belong and are valued. eLearning standards must include the same commitment to online diversity and inclusivity that most organizations uphold in person. Courses must stop reinforcing unconscious bias and perpetuating old ways of thinking about gender. For example, can we agree to lose references to “he/she” and use “they” instead? When was the last time you saw a French manicure on that ubiquitous image of a handshake?
- Readable. eLearning should talk with employees in the same way mentors do in person. Quality standards should include a Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score of 60 – 70, which is considered acceptable for online content.
- Respectful. As I’ve mentioned before, employees assume they will be spoken to and treated respectfully in the workplace, and that expectation extends to eLearning. The tone of voice in eLearning can easily become dogmatic, authoritarian, impersonal, punitive, and/or dull if this simple feature is not spelled out in eLearning standards.
- Memorable. We remember training when it surprises, enlightens, challenges, engages, and/or delights us. We expect these qualities in our classroom instructors; is it not reasonable to require them in our eLearning as well?
- Motivating. When an organization needs employees to change their behavior, sharpen their skills, or adjust their attitude, they need to do more than provide information—they need to motivate their employees with thoughtful training that shares the “why” and “what’s in it for me,” right up front.