The 10-step Blueprint for Creating Successful Digital Learning Content

The 10-step blueprint for creating successful digital learning contentWhether you are producing online How-To guides for corporate clients, DIY Instructional content as a freelancer, eLearning courses for adult learners or other digital educational media for your employer, your objective is likely the same: To successfully engage, educate, and enlighten your audience. And to do that, you need to produce equally engaging and informative content. If learners don’t find your content appealing, they’ll likely tune-out within the first few minutes of the course.  

So, how does one create successful digital learning content and eLearning courses? Read on to discover a 10-point blueprint to doing it right.

The 10-Step Blueprint

In digital learning terms, success is about learners consuming your content, and whether they (eLearners and digital content consumers) accomplish their learning objectives as a result. If you meet those two criteria with your content, your audience, clients and other stakeholders will deem your courses a success.

Use the following checklist as a blueprint to producing successful digital learning content that your clients will love:

STEP 1: CONDUCT A NEEDS ANALYSIS:

Who your learners are, and what do they want to learn. This is where you define the eLearning problem and digital learning content development challenge your stakeholders/clients want to address. How? Conduct as many interviews and brainstorming sessions with stakeholders. Evaluate the current level of performance. Agree on the desired level of performance. Identify gaps – that’s the need your content must address.

Useful Tools and Resources

Miro Mind Mapping software

SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)

 

STEP 2: DO YOUR RESEARCH:

This step is analysis-based but is different from a Needs Analysis. This is where you deep-dive into the subject matter and arm yourself with potential content/resources for the course. Maybe even gather intel on similar competitor’s courses so you “learn” from them.

How? The best practice is to start researching initially with broad sets of parameters and then narrow your research to identify the sub-set of those resources. Classify and categories resources appropriately for later use (Situational, Practical, Facts, Opinions, etc.)

Useful Tools and Resources:

Mendeley and Papers – So you can compile, curate, cross-reference and organize your research online

Google Scholar

Trello – Trello’s boards are great for prioritizing ideas and content online for later use

 

STEP 3: DEFINE LEARNING OBJECTIVES:

The best practice is to make them S.M.A.R.T. So, how would you build such objectives? Make them:

  • Specific – significant, simple and sensible
  • Measurable – motivational and meaningful
  • Achievable – reasonable, agreed upon and attainable
  • Relevant – results based and related to the learning objective
  • Time-bound – accomplished within the timeline set for a learning segment, module or course

Useful Tools and Resources:

University of California SMART Goals How-To Guide

A New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (2000)

Great writing tool

 

STEP 4: BUILD YOUR INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN PLAN:

Keeping your problem/challenge in mind, and the SMART goals you wish to achieve, you now need to decide on an instructional design strategy that meets those objectives. There are several approaches that learning content designers can choose from. However, best practices for successful digital content development suggest you choose an instructional design plan that you are comfortable with, and which best meets the objectives of your audience.

And, to assure success, you must decide early on which ID model you wish to follow. One that’s very popular and easy to follow is Marzano’s Taxonomy.

Useful Tools and Resources:

Socio-cultural learning theory

Situated Cognition theory

ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate)

Bloom’s Taxonomy

 

STEP 5: IDENTIFY THE TECHNOLOGY YOU’LL USE:

Because this content is for digital learning and eLearning applications, you’ll need appropriate technologies to support your efforts. Considerations to keep in mind include: Hosting solutions, development/authoring tools, Learning Management Systems (LMS), choice of delivery – i.e. how learners consume your content (desktops, mobile devices, etc.).

Useful Tools and Resources: 

Articulate Storyline 360

Articulate Rise

Adobe Captive

360Learning LMS

ShareKnowledge

Video creation and hosting tools like Vimeo and Magisto

 

STEP 6: STORYBOARD YOUR COURSE:

Consider features/limitations of the technology and start building a strawman/outline of your course. How to go about implementing this phase? The best approach is to first gather all relevant content from step#2); then organize it into segments and modules. Next, map your content to each of the course objectives (step#3).

Best practice dictates that, where possible, use predefined templates for your storyboard. This will not only speed up the storyboarding process but will bring consistency to your digital learning assets.

Useful Tools and Resources: 

Articulate storyboarding templates

Articulate Storyline360

Studiobinder storyboard templates

Printable paper storyboard templates

 

STEP 7: AGREE ON SUPPORTING CONTENT:

The storyboard gives you a high-level visual roadmap of the course. It’s time to reach into your research (step#2) and select existing or create new learning assets to support each of the components in the storyboard.

The best practice is to support the main content with a host of multimedia content, including Visuals (slides), Audio files, Infographics, PDF documents, External links, Simulation exercises,   Supplementary quizzes, and Assessments.

And how do you decide which resources to use to support your core content? Comb through your research, that you compiled during step#2, for relevant supporting assets. The research tools recommended allow you to tag, reference, query and search your content. Only use credible/authoritative sources that are directly related to the core topics.

 

STEP 8: BRING YOUR LEARNING DEVELOPMENT TEAM TOGETHER:

Plan the project team and bring them together. Authors, Illustrators and graphic designers, SMEs, tech/IT, Instructional Designers, eLearning specialists. During the kick-off meeting, set out timelines, goals, and objectives for each.

Decide on collaboration tools, project management software, communication guidelines, meeting schedules, etc. Best practice: Don’t meet too frequently. Communicate often. Plan meetings that include only all relevant stakeholders

Useful Tools and Resources:

Asana project tracking

Trello team collaboration tools

Articulate PM tools and templates

Microsoft Office project planning & tracking templates

 

STEP 9: TEST THE COURSE BEFORE LAUNCH:

It’s best practice to conduct various levels of testing throughout the development cycle. Segment-level, Module-level, and Course-level. Make sure you test on various consumption platforms (different devices, various operating systems). Finally, it’s important that you select the test audience that mimic the end consumers. To do that, refer to your findings from step#1 above.

Key testing focus areas must include: Navigation; Standardization; Design considerations (fonts, colors, branding, backgrounds); Branching; Missing or broken links; Audio and video quality, text resolutions; Load time; Spellings and grammar; Assessments and assignments as well as answers and feedback.

 

STEP 10: TWO-WAY FEEDBACK:

Include opportunities for learners to offer feedback on the course, as well as instructors to give feedback to learners (on performance). Best practice: Allow for both negative and positive feedback

Other General Best Practices

Here are some additional best practices to help you implement this 10-step blueprint to success:

  • Combine graphics with audio and text. Consider John Keller’s ARCS model – Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction (ARCS) – when making content decisions
  • Be consistent in your style and structure
  • Divvy-up content into bite-sized deliverables. Use Richard Mayer’s Segmentation Principle as a guide
  • Offer additional (optional) resources and links to support your main content so learners can pursue supplemental learning if they wish to do so
  • Where possible, choose active over passive voice to create engaging and interesting content. In line with Malcolm Knowles theory (Knowles’ theory), your content must motivate eLearners to want to learn, and active voice presentations help stir up that yearning
  • Include plenty of Module-level and end-of-course tests and assessments. Make sure assessment criteria are simple, well documented and understood
  • Allow ease of navigation. Enable learners to re-take tests and quizzes or even repeat lessons within a module
  • Don’t forget about accessibility as a core design principle

When interwoven with the 10-steps discussed earlier, these generic best practices will result in the creation of successful eLearning courses and other digital learning assets.

 

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