7 Things About eLearning Your CEO/Executive Director Wants to Know

eLearnining Executive DirectorYou’ve decided that it’s time to move your courses online. Membership numbers seem stagnant and renewals are decreasing. As an Education Director, you see the writing on the wall, and have decided that eLearning is the answer your association’s needs. But wait…How will you explain eLearning to your Executive Director?

If you’re part of a corporation, maybe you’ve decided that training and employee development would be more efficient if it were all online. It’d save time and resources, and you could standardize training, but how do you explain eLearning to the CEO?

We all have a boss and even our best ideas require an explanation, so before you get an LMS, start designing courses, and tracking learner progress, you’ll need to get his or her approval. Here are 7 things about eLearning your CEO/Executive Director will want to know.

1: How much will it cost?

The first question out of the boss’s mouth is going to be “how much?” Don’t show up unprepared. Make sure you’ve submitted an RFP (request for proposal) to a few LMS providers that offer the features your specific association or organization needs. Cheaper isn’t always better. When considering cost, make sure you take into account the costs of training and implementation, branding, marketing, and integrations. You can do this cheaply and spend more long term because the bargain brand didn’t give you what you needed, or you can make sure you have everything you need. While you might pay more upfront, over time you’ll actually spend less. You’ll want to create a cost-benefits analysis that clearly outlines expenditure vs expected return.

 2: What will we need?

Will we need an LMS? An LCMS? Will we need course creation software? How about an instructional designer? Will we need subject matter experts? You will need some sort of portal to put your courses into, which is commonly referred to as a Learning Management System or LMS.  If your LMS does not come with built in course creator tools or you’d like advanced features for designing courses, you might need a content authoring tool such as Storyline. If you’re thinking about repurposing an old PowerPoint presentation with tons of text (there was a lot of information to cover), you might want to consider hiring an instructional designer. An instructional designer knows how to present information in a way that makes sense to your learners.  If you cannot afford an instructional designer or feel certain you can create courses yourself, consider seeking additional information on course design. Our instructional designers recommend the book The Accidental Instructional Designer by Cammy Bean. You will probably require subject matter experts (SMEs) that can provide information necessary to build instructional courses. These people know your particular field or specialty and are critical pieces of the puzzle. Like the corner pieces. Those are important.

3: What is the projected ROI?

Seems simple enough. What can the association or organization expect to see in financial returns? If you’re not sure how to project your ROI, try using an ROI calculator. Plug in different scenarios and see what you can expect as a result.

4. Will we need to hire staff?

You will need to know how much help you need to implement this task and whether or not you have the man or woman power to maintain its operations. Will you need additional technical support staff or will your LMS provider handle support? Will the education department need additional administrative help uploading courses or creating them and managing users? Will you need additional help marketing these courses? Inquiring bosses want to know.

5. Who are we marketing this to?

Is there a demand for online education at your association or organization? Are you marketing these courses to members and nonmembers? Will there be a pricing difference for members and nonmembers? Will that difference still make your offerings competitive? Will you provide CE credits? Are your learners in need of continuing education to maintain certification? You have to know who you’re marketing to, what they need and want from your association, what’s important to them, what their reasons are for being a member, and whether or not they  have an interest in what you’re offering. Do your homework to prove there is a need you’ll be filling by offering eLearning, and you’ll be that much closer to gaining approval.

If you’re part of a corporation, decide who your learners will be. Will they be new hires? Will you use this as a development tool? Will you train managers to become leaders? Who will benefit, and how will you show that this method will engage your learners better than traditional training methods and courses? If you can show employee buy-in and clearly demonstrate who will benefit from eLearning and how their benefit is the company’s benefit, your CEO will be more inclined to approve your eLearning initiative.

6. Will people actually learn anything?

There’s this silly little rumor floating around that eLearning doesn’t work as well as tradition courses taken in person. So here are some facts to take to the boss:

  • A 2014 MIT study proved that eLearning is just as effective as traditional learning
  • According to the US Department of Education’s studies on online education published in 2009 and revised in 2010, “on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
  • A 2003 paper published by the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning states that “in two thirds of the cases, students taking courses by distance education outperformed their student counterparts enrolled in traditionally instructed courses.”

Clearly, eLearning works, and we’re not just saying that because we’re biased.

7. Who’s going to run the program?

The answer to this question is probably “I am.” But just in case, know who is doing what, what the chain of command for this project is going to be, and who reports to whom. Your education department or HR department should control this initiative, and your Education Director should lead. Make sure these details are clearly outlined so the boss knows who to go to for status reports and who to hold accountable for the initiative’s successes and failures.

Now get out there and give that CEO/Executive Director some knowledge!

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If the User Experience Annoys, Fix It.

UX AnnoysI had a bad user experience (UX) at a dollar store a while back. I’m not talking about customer service, but actual UX design. I swiped my card into the card reader to pay. A prompt told me to click “Enter,” with an arrow pointing at one of the buttons. It’s a good thing I stopped, because the button the arrow pointed to wasn’t the enter button. It was on the other end of the keypad.

In a nutshell, UX is how someone interacts with something, usually technology. This doesn’t include the content, it’s just about “how it works.” For instance, the UX of reading a book includes opening the cover to get to the text, turning the pages to see more text, and closing the cover when you’re done reading. This is true of all books, regardless of what each book is about. Good UX design hardly ever gets mentioned because it’s not meant to attract attention.

So when something doesn’t work the way we expect it to, it’s annoying and we tend to not like the product or service in question. That’s definitely not the feeling any association wants its learners to have when they’re taking eLearning. If your learners do notice the UX of a course, that’s probably not a good thing. Their “noticing” probably comes in the form of complaints.
Let’s take a look at some best practices you can use to keep your eLearning user-friendly.

Keep Navigation in the Same Place

If the navigation buttons, links to the menu, and so on are not in the same place on each screen the learner has to go looking for them. This is frustrating and wastes time.

Make the learner aware of any navigation changes that do take place. If a course has multiple sections and they each handle navigation differently, for example, you should let the learner know.

Give the Learner Cues When They Need to Interact

If the course expects the learner to do something, but the learner doesn’t know that, there’s a problem. Use prompts, highlights, checklists, hints, and tooltips to point them in the right direction. Having a hand cursor appear over interactive objects and underlining text to indicate links is also helpful.

Show Them Their Progress

If a learner doesn’t know how well they’re doing or how much of the course is left they’ll probably get discouraged. Sometimes an overall progress indicator, like percent complete, is enough. Other times, it’s better to have something more detailed like a topic structure so the learner can see where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going.

Test for Quality, Then Revise if Needed

If you roll out the best eLearning your association has ever had but it doesn’t work correctly it won’t do anyone any good. Have someone who wasn’t involved with the project “play through” the course. They’ll probably find things like typos, broken links, and confusing parts that didn’t stand out to the project team. This is normal. Spell check isn’t perfect and a new set of eyes will always see things differently. You should test the course on multiple web browsers and, if it’s mobile, on multiple types of devices. Revise as necessary and then confirm that the fixes work before releasing the course.

Provide Support Options

If a learner gets stuck they’re going to have questions. Consider providing a support e-mail address or phone number. Or you may want to add a “Help” or “FAQ” screen to the course itself.

Giving your learners a streamlined UX is important, regardless of the content you’re teaching. If the “how it works” annoys them they probably aren’t going to stick around. So, it’s up to you and your association to think about the UX when you’re developing eLearning. Do you have any (un)fun UX stories to share? They don’t have to be restricted to eLearning, feel free to include things like the mislabeled card reader I ran into.

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Learning Myths: Debunked

Learning MythsPerhaps the most pervasive myth about education is the ubiquitous “learning styles” myth. A quick Google search will bring up millions of hits. Many of those hits are, tellingly, for websites trying to sell you their “learning styles” program. One of the main reasons the myth is so widespread is because, on the surface, it seems very intuitive. As teachers change up the ways they teach subjects, learners who were previously confused seem to now understand the material. Some people are naturally good at sports; therefore it stands to reason that if we can explain other subjects to them kinesthetically they will grasp the concepts quicker. Unfortunately, as simple and as eloquent a solution this seems to be, the science just isn’t there to back it up.

Rigorous scientific studies have been conducted to determine the efficacy of learning styles, and they all come to the same conclusion: using a student’s preferred “learning style” does not improve learning in any reliable way. The evidence against the myth is so substantial, there is even a cash reward ($5000 at the time of the writing) offered for anyone who can provide proof that preparing lessons while taking learning styles into account can produce meaningful learning benefits. The bounty is still unclaimed after nearly ten years in existence. Anecdotal evidence most certainly exists, but under scientific scrutiny none of it holds up.

Now, this is not to say that differences don’t exist between learners that should be taken into account. Things like baseline knowledge and skill at learning, as well as disabilities such as deafness or blindness, should all affect the type of lesson plans that are written. But these are not “learning styles” as such and should be treated with more respect.

For more detailed debunking of learning styles take a look at these resources:

 

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ASAE Annual Conference 2015

Join us at ASAE Annual With less than 2 weeks remaining until the year’s most highly anticipated gathering of association and nonprofit professionals, Digitec Interactive has some exciting news! We’ll be unveiling our newest version of the Knowledge Direct Learning Management System, Knowledge Direct 7 Beta, at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition.

For the last 3 years we’ve been vetting technology, surveying the analysts, and asking the learning community, “How can we transform learning? What does the future of online member education look like to you?”

We’d like to show you what the future of learning looks like to us, based on the feedback we’ve received from you. Using mobile-first design and offering WCAG 2.0 compliance, social learning, and scalability, we’ve completely redesigned the LMS, creating a platform that offers transformative learning experiences for Everyone – Anywhere, Anytime.

We invite you to stop by our booth for a demo and share your thoughts on the future of learning via Twitter using the hashtags: #thefutureoflearning and #asae2015. We will be monitoring your comments and feedback for continued enhancements and additions to Knowledge Direct 7.

In addition, Digitec is offering an exciting giveaway for ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition attendees. One lucky winner will receive an iPad mini! To enter, attendees must visit the Digitec Interactive team in booth #508 and obtain an official “digitec-ie” ribbon to be worn on their conference badge. The winner will be selected at random and an announcement will be made on the final day of the expo in the Digitec Interactive booth.

This year’s conference will take place at the Cobo Center in Detroit, MI, August 8-11 and is expected to be the largest Annual Meeting on record, with more than 5,000 ASAE members in attendance.

Learn more about the conference and register to attend by visiting the official ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition 2015 website.

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The Benefits of SaaS: Hosted LMS

SaaS-CloudSaaS stands for Software as a Service. It means software that is hosted on the provider’s servers instead of servers in-house. So, when an LMS provider say they have a SaaS LMS, they’re really saying we offer a cloud LMS.  Cloud meaning accessed through the internet, available on demand, anytime, anywhere.

How does it work?

The client subscribes to the software rather than licensing it outright and running it on their own servers. They then pay a fee, either by subscriber or by monthly usage to the provider who maintains the software program and provides technical support to the client. The provider runs back-ups, does server maintenance and security upgrades, and provides IT services that support the clients usage of the software, while the client runs their organization.

What are the benefits?

In addition to being able to say you’re “on the cloud,” there are other benefits to SaaS (Cloud) LMSs including:

• Lower initial costs and reduced in-house support

Because you aren’t purchasing hardware and hiring IT support staff to go along with your software solution, your up-front costs are lower than they would be if you simply purchased an LMS that was not hosted elsewhere.

• Faster deployment

Because the SaaS provider has an entire team of IT professionals, your deployment time is vastly reduced. Even with customizations, the provider has the advantage of having more techs available with specialized skills and full training on how the LMS works, what’s needed to implement customizations, and how to get your SaaS LMS up and running. Taking this on by yourself could be a hassle, as you first have to find skilled IT staff, and then they have to learn the LMS. Once they know the software, then they have to figure out how to customize it for you. Do they know how to integrate your AMS with your LMS? How long will it take them to learn? Software as a Service skips those hassles and makes deployment a breeze.

• An ability to focus on the organization’s core business, instead of spending resources to support yet another system

Because you’re not spending your time and resources on managing and implementing the LMS, you’re free to expand your association membership or organization’s learning objectives. You have time to focus on creating the right learning content and developing marketing strategies to build your eLearning programs.

Need to know more about Software as a Service (SaaS) Cloud Learning Management Systems (LMS)? Ask us your questions or request a demo.

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Dense eLearning Isn’t Smart

Content Density“It was too much all at once. I was overwhelmed.” That’s not something you want to see in the feedback for your association’s eLearning. Luckily, there are ways to make eLearning more digestible, regardless of the subject matter. Managing content density is the key.

What is Density?

In essence, density is how much “stuff” is packed into a given space. A higher density means there’s more “stuff” and the object is harder. For example, water is less dense than concrete. Think of your eLearning as a pool. You want your learners to swim from one side to the other. It takes energy to get there, but it’s a reasonable goal. What happens if you ask them to swim through the concrete pool wall instead of the water? That doesn’t seem reasonable anymore, and they’ll know it. When you pack too much content into a course and make it too dense it’s suddenly a lot harder.

What Adds to Content Density?

Everything a learner sees, hears, or interacts with adds to the density. You want to strike the right balance by providing what the learner needs without overwhelming them. A ten screen course may sound inviting, but if each screen has five minutes of audio narration and extensive on-screen text with images you may be looking at fifty screens of content crammed into ten. That’s like trying to swim through the pool wall. It leads to frustration and fewer completions.

The types of screens in a course make a difference too. Activities and assessment questions are a good example. An easy multi-choice question will seem less dense than a more difficult one, even if they have the same amount of text or other content. What’s going on here? Remember, density includes anything the learner interacts with. If the learner needs to think about something they’re interacting with it intellectually. Activities should be more involved. After all, you want learners thinking about and applying what they’re learning, and that takes mental effort.

How Dense is “Too Dense”?

It’s not an exact science, but any time a learner reacts to a screen with something like, “Wow, that’s a lot” or “How long is this?” you should consider addressing the density. You can have a focus group go through the course before roll out so you can gather their feedback and address any issues. If that’s not an option, find someone who wasn’t involved in creating the course and ask them to do the same thing.

Ways to Manage Density

  • Only include essential content in your eLearning
  • Provide directions and/or links to “nice to know” information
  • Make a series of short eLearning offerings rather than one big one
  • Focus on having one main idea per screen
  • Use more, less-dense screens rather than a few dense ones
  • Only use animations when it’s appropriate, not whenever “because they’re fun”
    • Use them to draw attention to key information and “build” visual content a little bit at a time
  • Leave some “breathing room” or white space on screen, it doesn’t need to be filled
  • Avoid screens with long narration as best as you can, especially if a screen is static
  • Make questions and activities thought provoking

Give your learners room to “swim” to success by managing your eLearning’s density. Everything that is seen, heard, or interacted with in a course contributes to content density. In most cases less density is better, but activities and assessments are often a key exception. Interact with this content intellectually by leaving a comment below.

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What Copywriting Can Teach Us About Writing for an Audience

Copywriting and eLearning Copywriting is the practice of using written content, both online and in print to market, advertise, raise brand awareness and communicate core brand values.

The beauty of copywriting is that it’s written in such a way as to speak to almost any level reader, taking complex products, services, features and benefits, and breaking them down in such a manner they become understandable to everyone. The copy becomes relevant to the reader because it’s written for the reader.

How might that help you in writing your content? Anything that helps you break down information and transform it into something useful for your reader, whether it’s an association member or an employee taking training, is valuable. Here are some tips to do just that.

Write at an 8th Grade Level or Less

Being able to communicate as a layman to a wide audience is critical when you need to reach a large body of people. While most folks probably won’t understand content written that’s written at a college level, they usually will understand something written at an 8th grade level.

There are some publications that write below that, even as low as a 5th grade level. This is done not to dumb down the material, but to improve reading comprehension of the information being given.

Think short, easy to understand words as opposed to that newest zinger you yourself first had to use a dictionary to look up. A good rule of thumb is the less syllables per word the better. Shoot for short sentences as well, and keep your paragraphs limited to 5 or 6 lines. Yes you may have to break a few grammatical rules, but if your audience can’t understand what you mean, the information you’re giving them is useless.

Consider the Art of Storytelling

Copywriters are great at using the art of storytelling to resonate with a reader. Why? Because stories sell. They connect with people, they draw a reader in, they invest them in the information. When done right, the reader wants to keep reading to find out the end to the story.

This technique can be used when creating lessons and courses as well. A learner is much more likely to become engaged in the material when they can relate to it, and centering the material around a story helps that information become relatable.

Just make sure your stories are relevant and support the lesson, and include elements of all good stories. Good characters, great conflict, words that paint a mental picture… these are important to telling a good story.

You also want to watch your length, and stick to what’s important. If the story doesn’t support your material and serve a purpose, it’s time to rethink your story.

Don’t Forget You’re Talking to Your Reader

Readers like to feel as though you are speaking directly to them. Doesn’t it feel good when you know I’m speaking to you? If most of your content is heavy with “we, us, and I” you may need to revise it, or risk losing your connection. People don’t want to be talked at they want to be talked to.

Keeping your content “you” driven, speaking directly to your reader helps you connect with them, investing them in what you have to say. A good way to do this is to make up someone you write your content to. Be specific, and only write to that one person. Keep the tone conversational, friendly, and direct. It sounds simple, but it works.

And finally…

Formatting and Organization is Your Friend

Many readers begin something first by scanning it to see if it’s relevant to them and let’s be honest… to get the highlights. Using things like subheads, bullet points, and making sure to organize your information in the order you want your reader to consume it is a powerful way to help your content sink in and take root.

Not only that, but when something is neatly formatted and readable, it makes it more enjoyable to consume. Plenty of white space, relevant subheads that give an idea of what each section is about, bullets that help nail a point home… all these things serve to make for a more enjoyable reading experience.

Remember that not everyone is a naturally gifted reader. Some people struggle with reading, and for still others, it’s downright painful. Do your best to make your content easy to consume, engaging, and useful, and you will stand a much better chance of that content doing it’s job and educating your reader. We all like to learn new things when the learning is enjoyable.

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