Converting school curriculum into eLearning: Considerations for designing eLearning for kids

When school administrators and instructors first embark upon a project to embrace eLearning, the immediate temptation is to “scan everything and put it online!”. While “pure digitization” might be a quick way to introduce online learning to kids, it’s not always the best way to engage kids through eLearning.   

Key design and conversion considerations 

Unlocking the power of eLearning for kids is not just a matter of digitizing content from the existing curriculum. Kids today are extremely tech-savvy, and when they stare at an electronic version of their textbooks, it’s likely to spur immediate disengagement. ELearning designers must therefore go way beyond scanning and uploading paper content to pique kids’ interest.

Here are five design considerations that should help you decide whether you should design from scratch, or convert or port school curricula into eLearning courses:

  1. Enhance your content

ELearning provides you an opportunity to go above and beyond what existing curricula limits you to teaching. When converting your existing Astronomy 101 course into an eLearning module, for instance, don’t just restrict yourself to what the text says about stars and planets.

By simply adding links to NASA’s solar system topics, you’ll give kids a much broader perspective of your course, and also stimulate their interest at the same time. Other knowledge sources, like related educational videos on YouTube and specialist sites, should also be considered to enhance and expand the scope of existing school curricula.

  1. Foster interpersonal skills

When converting school curriculum into eLearning courses, it’s easy for designers to sometimes forget that the aim is do more than just “teach” kids about a particular subject – be it Math, Physics or Literature. ELearning can be such an immersive experience, that kids dive into their digital world, and never learn how to apply those lessons learned to their real world.

When creating eLearning content for kids therefore, pay close attention to also building their interpersonal skills. Be sure to design content that, for example, forces groups of students to interact and collaborate with each other – and not just in Chat Rooms or Social Media sites – and discuss key concepts being taught.

  1. Leverage simulations

Typically, “digitized” content is static in nature, and doesn’t leave much room for kids to think beyond what a web page or scanned image tells them. When transforming school curriculum into eLearning content, you need to leverage simulations and gaming, wherever possible, so that it:

  • Helps kids develop a deeper understanding of complex concepts and theories
  • Encourages their “inner child” to question “…what would happen IF…?” some other variable is introduced into the mix
  • Fosters a spirit of competition among students

These are elements needed to stimulate higher levels of cognitive performance, that “static” eLearning content just can’t deliver.

  1. User interfaces considerations

Nothing will kill a kid’s interest in eLearning, like a poorly designed user interface will! Kids today have past the stage where point-and-click interfaces fascinate them. When planning to convert your school curriculum into eLearning modules, think about:

  • Adding color and bells and whistles into the design
  • Using a mix of images, buttons, drop-down boxes and menus to interact with the child
  • …however, don’t go overboard – or you’ll get the child fixated solely on the bells and whistles!
  • Standardizing on your approach: For instance, “Did You Know?” pop-up boxes will always appear on the right upper corner of the screen
  • Catering for all kids. You may have kids requiring special considerations, so make sure you are designing for accessibility. Use the US government’s Section508 compliance resources to guide your design considerations

The user interface should be intuitive and friendly enough so they start learning quickly. The idea is to ensure that the kids don’t need to keep on guessing how to proceed to the next step, or what’s expected of them to complete a course/lesson/segment.

  1. Introduce multiple check-points

The best part of eLearning is that you can gauge a child’s comprehension of the subject almost instantaneously.  Move away from the traditional end-of-lesson tests, and design multiple quizzes, tests and assessments along the way to pulse whether kids understand what’s been taught thus far.

Some considerations in this respect:

  • Find the right balance of quizzes and assessments. Too many of them will kill the child’s “learning spirit”
  • Use each check-point as a teaching opportunity by itself. So, if a child answers one of your pop-up quiz questions incorrectly, don’t just admonish him/her for the lapse. Instead, provide an explanation why the response is incorrect, along with the correct answer.
  • Be supportive in your critique. Because young eLearners might not have the “human touch” available to cushion criticism, you should design your critique in positive ways – “No…that’s incorrect – but don’t worry, others guessed that incorrectly too!”

The idea of using multiple assessment points is not to keep score on how well or poorly kids are doing on a test. Rather, use it as an eLearning tool for early assessment and timely remediation.

Pre and post launch considerations

While you may be anxious to go live with your newly created eLearning curriculum, consider holding off – just for a bit longer!

Make sure you’ve tested and validated each and every screen, module and course thoroughly. Unlike adult eLearners, who will easily discern and forgive a typo or error, kids are more impressionable, and poor quality might do more harm to young learners.

Additionally, once they complete a course, it is a good idea to get kids’ views about how they think the course was designed, and how they feel about its overall content. Adults, who design these courses, will be amazed to learn how knowledgeable kids these days are about learning online. And asking for and evaluating such feedback could go a long way in refining future iterations of the school’s eLearning curriculum.

A final word of caution. When designing eLearning curricula for kids, you need to exercise just that extra bit of diligence (more so than when developing content for adult eLearners) to ensure the sanctity of external resources being used. Most schools will have policies in place that allow kids to “branch out” to certain sites from the school intranet. As part of your design quality checks, make sure your eLearning content is fully compliant with such policies.

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