As eLearning course writers, many of us may think we have a “routine” to create highly effective courses down pat. However, over time, we tend to take some of the basics of efficient course writing for granted. In due course, we may even prefer short-cuts, like diving directly into Storyboarding – instead of doing some analysis and planning upfront.
Here are four proven secrets (more like best practices, actually!) for writing highly effective eLearning courses. Newcomers to the field will especially benefit from these tips because not only will they aid in producing engaging content, but will also bring efficiency into the course writing process:
Secret#1 – Storyboarding: Your course blueprint
Storyboards are critical elements of the design process for the eLearning project. They form the building blocks over which instructional designers create the detailed structure of the course. So, why use templates? Because they…:
- simplify the process of course design
- add an element of standardization into the design process
- drastically reduce the amount of time needed to outline an idea or a thought
- provide designers, at a very early stage, a macro-level view of the course before investing too much time and effort in developing more detailed elements of the content
- deliver clear, unambiguous context for various roles on the course development team, including scriptwriters, illustrators, graphic designers and coders
- serve as excellent documentation resources throughout the design, build and update process
One powerful tool to use is Storyboard templates. Most eLearning software vendors provide templates to go with storyboarding features of their tools. For instance, eLearning software, like Articulate Storyline, offers storyboarding templates that course designers can use with popular tools such as PowerPoint, Word and GoogleDocs/Sheets.
TIP: Before building your storyboard in Storyline, it helps to do some analysis and writing in a document processor (Word, GoogleDocs) upfront. Once your client has done a preliminary review of your “strawman”, you can move blocks of text into Storyline slides
Secret#2 – Graphics and images: Bringing content to life
As course writers, we all love to dazzle and wow our audience with fun facts and trivia about the topic at hand. However, the oft-cited refrain “a picture paints a thousand words” is very true in the context of writing effective eLearning content. Bring your courses to life by inserting graphics, images, and video to supplement your words:
- Don’t over-do the imagery
- Make them relevant
- Be mindful about image sizes (to facilitate downloads on mobile devices)
Your eLearning software vendor’s website might be a good place to start your search for images and other supplemental content. Articulate 3860s content library contains over 5-million plus images, photos, icons, videos, characters and customizable resources free of cost to users of its tools.
TIP: Course writers may find it convenient to focus on content (first), before adding other elements to the course. To make the process more efficient, you build your storyboard, consider adding descriptive notes in the slides about the various imagery and animation features you want to include. This will help you search the Articulate 360 content library later for appropriate resources
Secret#3 – Make course writing more efficient: Choose your tools wisely
Some eLearning writers prefer to stick with a toolbox that contains multi-vendor solutions. For instance, you may use Microsoft Word or Google Docs to create various aspects of your course. You may then use tools like Grammarly to check grammar, spellings, and punctuation, and 3rd party storyboarding tools to build your course outlines. You could then use PowerPoint or Prezi to create your slides.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach if you are well versed with each of those tools and constantly have access to the latest versions of each software. A more effective way, however, to bring efficiency to the course writing process is by using an integrated suite of eLearning software from a single vendor.
A software, such as Articulate 360, includes a suite of authoring apps and tools to help writers create courses more effectively. Writers can use their Storyline 360 suite to build multi-device compatible, customized, interactive courses. And if you are producing responsive course content to be delivered via a web browser, then you may want to consider Articulate’s Rise 360 set of tools.
TIP: Resist the temptation to write multiple versions of your course to support different hardware platforms and operating systems. Instead, look for course authoring tools that support the “create once…use multiple times” philosophy. With tools like Storyline or Rise, you can develop a single set of content that’ll run seamlessly and transparently on Desktops, Tablets, Laptops, and Smartphones supporting Windows, iOS, Android and other popular operating environments
Secret#4 – Prototyping: Giving stakeholders a better look-and-feel
When pressed for time or faced with a tight deadline, some eLearning course writers favor prototyping as an approach for efficient course creation. Like Storyboarding (see Sectet#1 above) prototyping gives stakeholders a visual look into how the course unfolds. In fact, some eLearning software has storyboarding tools that support advanced features that elevate storyboards to the next level and make them function like prototypes of the course.
Since what’s developed (the Storyboard) is likely re-used in downstream development processes, this approach requires course writers to be more diligent in content QA. Dot your content Is and cross your Ts. Settle on fonts and background effects, and spell-check everything before moving it to the development environment.
TIP: When building Articulate Storyline storyboards, consider building features like functional navigation, click-paths and content links into your eLearning storyboards. Not only will this save you time later, by doing a “Save as” of the storyboard to start development immediately, but it will give reviewers and approvers (clients and other stakeholders) and SMEs an enhanced sense of how the course will flow and what to expect from the finished product.