Back in the early stages of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, at our trade association we began creating a framework to use in converting, updating, and developing webinars and instructor-led sessions for our member organizations. Our aim was to maximize user experience and minimize learner burnout. With stay-at-home orders in place and learners acclimatizing to a surplus of screen time, we started to notice webinar fatigue in our learners. We needed to refresh our traditional offerings, as we found a modality that had once been effective was no longer working as well as it formerly did.
What we developed
Using our framework, we have categorized the content we were developing into one of three digital models, with a recommended learning treatment for each:
- Digital model 1 is used to convert instructor-led learning into self-based learning
- Digital model 2 is used to convert learning materials into a combination of self-directed and facilitated instruction
- Digital model 3 is used to convert learning materials into a combination of self-directed and facilitated instruction, with an emphasis on new or more complex concepts and skills that require the learner to discuss or apply what they have learned
The goal of our framework is to:
- Simplify the conversion process and make it easy to apply
- Ensure foundational material was converted to a self-directed format when possible
- Streamline live interactions to make them more meaningful
- Keep learning fun and engaging
We have had a year to apply our framework and learning treatments to our digital models. In this article, in addition to updating the framework, we highlight what we did proactively to mitigate real and potential challenges—as well as outline some of the items that we overlooked or didn’t do as well—and how we plan on changing our practices moving forward.
What we did
In this conversion process, here are some of the things that we did proactively to mitigate some of the challenges we faced and that worked well for us:
- We watched live sessions or recordings. By being the learner, we were able to determine what worked or didn’t work and which interactivities would be naturally suited to the material that needed to be converted. Parsing down dense material (such as an accompanying textbook) was made easier by reviewing the instructor-led session. Observing where learners asked questions and where the instructor spent more time helped to highlight the concepts that needed knowledge checks, infographics, or scenarios.
- We linked back. Written media are suited to repetition and circling back to key concepts, but eLearning is not. We simplified content by adding glossaries, handouts, or links in such a way as to keep material top-of-mind but also clean, concise, and organized. We reduced learner fatigue by simplifying complex concepts and important information into digestible portions of content.
- We simplified. Where we could, we distilled paragraphs of information into infographics, and transformed financial statements into interactive content and reduced repetition.
- We were upfront with our facilitators when it came to changes in course structure. Across the board, when it came to moving material out of webinars and into self-directed learning, we experienced pushback from our facilitators. They felt they were losing valuable instruction time. We found that being immediately upfront with our facilitators around the structural changes of the course helped to answer their questions and dispel their anxiety. Here’s how we explained our reasons for restructuring content and how we garnered facilitator buy-in:
- Shifting foundational material out of the instructor-led portion and into self-directed eLearning would level-set the learners prior to their first instructor-led session
- Shifting content would free up time during instructor-led sessions to focus on deeper and more meaningful discussions or case analyses with learners
- Spending less time using virtual meeting applications meant less learner webinar-fatigue.
What we learned
We didn’t anticipate all the challenges we would face around converting our content, and here’s where we ran into problems:
- We weren’t clear enough in our instructions. When our learners moved from an instructor-led webinar into self-taught learning, we found that some of our instructions missed the mark or confused the learner as they progressed through the course. For future courses, we plan to mitigate this by including a select batch of learners in the development process. We will let them try out the course material, engage with the setup and structure, and read through the instructions to see if they are clear and make sense.
- Structure is important. One of our applied courses required participants to complete the eLearning portion of the course prior to the facilitated portions. While we were hoping this would help level-set the knowledge base of the participants and allow for more meaningful and engaged participation in the live sessions, what we found is that some learners were confused by the schedule and what exactly they were required to complete prior to the first session. To mitigate this, we plan on introducing a kick-off call to courses that contain various modalities. This will introduce the learners to the course and the expectations, and provide them with a front-end bracket that will define a start date for their eLearning portion of the course. A secondary benefit around this is dispelling facilitator anxiety around participants completing their pre-work in advance of the first live session by allowing them to communicate with learners from the outset.
Tips, tricks, and best practices
Having worked with our framework for a year now, here are some of our tips, tricks and best practices:
- Be the learner. Attend sessions; determine what works and what doesn’t. Add knowledge checks, interactivities, and resources.
- Engage your stakeholders. Connect with your learners, SMEs, and facilitators throughout the process. Implement kickoffs or focus groups, and validate your observations or recommendations and gain buy-in. This is where your qualitative data analysis will pack the most punch.
- Get creative. Online learning doesn’t need to be all webinars or eLearning. Make use of infographics, videos, job aids, on-the-job activities, and discussion boards.
- Set expectations and provide instructions. This goes for facilitators, SMEs, and learners. A different approach will be required for all three groups. Being upfront when restructuring a course will allow for a more seamless transition to a new model of learning.
- Test-run your course. Conducting paraphrase testing using a component from your course (instructions, an assignment or course content) to find out what your learners think the piece of writing means and what they are supposed to do after reading it will help uncover technical issues that may impact how your learners engage with your course and complete tasks.
- Follow up. Send out surveys, meet with your facilitators, ask for feedback. Then revise as required.
Implementing our new digital models and easy-to-follow framework has simplified our development process. The learning treatments outlined in our framework are easy to apply and have vastly improved our learner experience. We learned some great tips and tricks, which we have shared here, but we also encountered some unexpected obstacles. Our hope is that by sharing these experiences, other developers will take away practical lessons learned that they can apply to their own projects.