November 29, 2023

Much of online training is content that is created using an e-learning authoring tool and placed as e-learning courses. However, these courses are not necessarily the best at getting people to learn. I know there are some in our industry who will stand on their soapboxes and tell everyone that this isn’t real e-learning in the first place. They can do it, but they are wrong.

It’s real e-learning, it just doesn’t have to be full e-learning. It all depends on the objectives of the course.

Content is part of the learning experience

When it comes to content, I see no difference between a PDF, a PowerPoint, a website or an “e-learning course”. It’s just content wrapped in different media. And content is part of the learning experience. If anything, an “e-learning course” can add a level of interactivity and novelty that other media cannot.

The key point here is that content is part of the learning experience, but it is not THE learning experience. And that’s where the criticism comes in. Content needs a context that emphasizes its importance to the learner.

If you only create a content-focused course and the course has performance expectations, you need to consider two things for the learner:

  • How do they train content usage?
  • How can they demonstrate their understanding?

Creating superficial interactivity and simple multiple choice quiz questions is not enough.

Build your practice and prove yourself outside of the e-learning course

When you boil it down, you can build the practice and proof activities in the e-learning course, or you can build them outside of the course. Keep in mind that a multiple choice quiz is not an activity that can be proven.

The e-learning course is part of the overall goal of the training. If the course is mostly content, you will need to build practice and prove it outside of the course.

Here is an example of how I did it on a previous project.

We have trained machine operators. Initially they were trained in production. But the training they received was not consistent, which proved to be a bit challenging for new hires. So we created e-learning courses that dealt with machines, their operation, maintenance and production workflow. This gave the students a good understanding of the process and what was happening on the floor. Because of this, they entered the production environment with confidence and some context.

We created a working laboratory in the production environment. Machines were slowed down and focused on individual tasks rather than the entire process. This allowed them to practice applying what they had learned in the e-learning courses. And we assigned a peer coach to monitor their work. At some point in the process, we put them on a live machine and they could show off their new skills.

In this example, e-learning courses were used to present content consistently and at a pace that was comfortable for students. And the interactive learning happened outside of the course in the workshop.

Build practice and prove yourself as part of an e-learning course

The construction practice activities in the course require a bit of a step back from the content. Instead of focusing on the content that is in the course, you need to focus on the decisions one must make and then what content supports those decisions.

In general, content intensive courses follow a linear process from start to finish. However, a performance-based course focuses on how to use the content to make appropriate decisions. To create a performance-based course, you need clear and measurable goals. And then you create an environment that is relevant and meaningful to the learning experience.

When it comes to getting them to practice, I always say, “Let’s throw them in the pool!” Put them in situations where they have to make a decision or do something as if they were doing it in the real world.

For example, a typical content-based course explains a company’s sexual harassment policy and then concludes with a simple quiz. But a performance-based course puts the student in a position to deal with sexual harassment issues. And then they make decisions (practices) that hopefully meet the company’s policies. They receive relevant content and feedback based on their decision-making. And at some point in the process, they can demonstrate an adequate level of understanding.

The key point in all of this is that if you have performance requirements, but your courses are mostly expository (which is typical), then you need to consider how the student can practice doing the things they should be able to do outside of the course. . And that requires a blended solution where they go through proven activities to demonstrate their ability in the areas of goals and expectations.

Another option is to build meaningful decision-making activities into the course where they can practice decision-making and ultimately demonstrate their competence.

So those click and read content based courses are fine. However, if you expect performance and the practice and proof activities are not part of the online course, they will need to be built outside of it.

When you look at the courses you have to create, what percentage would you say is explanatory content versus performance-based content?


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