Writing Effective eLearning Narration: Making It Easy to Read, Say, and Comprehend

voiceoverMany courses rely upon voiceover to help connect with their learners. This is a solid approach and, when used well, can make for great learning experiences. But what I have found is that the narrated portion of courses is often written like something you would find in a textbook. The problem here is that all people, regardless of age or experience with digital media, generally expect the narration to be conversational. Reading straight from a book, of course, is not conversational.

Instructional designers and subject matter experts (SMEs) mean well; they want to share and teach all the content needed to understand and master a topic. But this can lead to “content fatigue,” where they try to cram in every last tidbit of information on a given subject. But longer narration can tend to cause the learner to tune it out.

Clearly, this is not what you want to have happen with your eLearning! So what can be done to combat this? Here are a few suggestions, taken from my experience with writing, recording, and directing audio narration:

  • Communicate each idea concisely and quickly, in bite-sized chunks. One idea per screen is ideal. Put the highlights of an idea, the “bullet points,” in the onscreen text. Explain them a little more fully in the narration, but don’t belabor them.
  • Keep all narration as short, to the point, and easy to say as possible. Even with closed-captioned (CC) text to follow along and re-read, longer narrated sentences tend to get tuned out. If the sentence takes up 3 or more lines in a paragraph, it’s too long. Also, if the narration is unnecessarily complex and long, it’s harder for the voiceover talent to say. That gets in the way of clear communication. Keep it simple!
  • Read your narration aloud. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference this makes. If, while you’re reading the copy aloud, if you feel as though it’s unclear… you’re probably right. Trim it down or rewrite it as needed.
  • Commas are good. You’ll discover this if you read your work aloud and start running out of breath during or towards the end of a sentence. Commas allow the narrator to catch a breath, give the learner a visual checkpoint while they’re scanning the CC text, and keep the ideas small enough so that the learner can keep up with and understand the concepts as they’re being presented.

Remember, your goal is to communicate with the learner in a conversational way. Obviously, you don’t want to use too much jargon or cut your ideas down so much that the meaning is lost, but you do need to “talk” in a way the learner can relate to. Learners often feel like they’re being talked at. If they feel like they’re engaged in a conversation of sorts, and the narration is easy to understand, learners may comprehend the material better.

If you can minimize your narration while maximizing the information you convey in it, your eLearning will be that much more effective. Try it!

read more

The Fact and Fiction of Online Training

online training You’ve probably heard some of the things people say about online courses:

“The courses are a lot easier than ‘regular’ courses, so you don’t learn as much.”

“You lose that ‘personal’ connection that you get in the classroom.”

“Employers don’t count online courses as actual training.”

Online courses employ a variety of methods to deliver instruction and assessments. I’ve taken numerous courses as degree requirements and for certification. Online learning offered me convenience and exposed me to a variety of delivery approaches including synchronous and asynchronous instruction, live meetings in virtual classrooms, web conferencing with learners in China, social interaction, and various eLearning applications. Overall, I’ve had very positive experiences and have found the courses both rigorous and engaging. Despite personal experiences from people like me and research that shows the efficacy of online courses, many misconceptions remain. Let’s take a look at a few.

Fiction: “Online courses are easier than face-to-face courses.”
Fact: Online courses can be just as challenging as traditional face-to-face courses.           

Online and classroom training seek the same fundamental learning outcomes. Course objectives, instructional strategies, materials, individual and group work, and assessments should be designed in such a way that the learner’s physical location shouldn’t matter. Most online courses provide specific guidelines and time commitments for learners (e.g. “Expect to spend 10-15 hours a week per module”). These guidelines are meant to be followed and learners still need to “show up” to be successful.

Fiction: “Learners will lose the ability to interact and connect with classmates and instructors.”
Fact: Any well-developed training includes unique ways to engage and create meaningful interactions for their learners.

I have developed numerous lasting, collegial relationships with classmates and instructors without ever meeting face-to-face. Many of these relationships began during group projects or through discussion threads. Interaction was encouraged and enhanced through tools like text messaging, Skype, Adobe Connect, Second Life, and that old faithful standby, the telephone. Regardless of delivery mode, it’s important to incorporate opportunities for both instructors and participants to share their backgrounds, interests, and expectations to create personal connections.

“Learners won’t participate as much in an online class.”
More introverted learners may be more inclined to participate in an online course.

Honestly, not everyone does backflips when it’s time to break out into group project work or stand up in front of their peers to recap three important things they learned from the reading materials. Online classes can afford these learners time to think and plan what they want to say, making it easier to share and contribute in a “safe environment.” Online courses can help build both engagement and confidence, enhancing the learning experience.

Fiction: “Employers don’t see online training as ‘real’ training.”
Fact: Accredited programs from respected professional organizations do carry weight with employers.

Recent studies show that employers recognize skill gaps in both job candidates and new hires that traditional college courses have not addressed. Accredited online programs serve an important role in helping learners close these skill gaps. As more learners successfully complete online courses and apply new skills on the job, employers’ are recognizing online training’s ability to supplement existing qualifications.

The Final Verdict: Online learning is rapidly becoming a practical option for learners and organizations alike.  No, online courses don’t have the four walls of a traditional classroom or the physical presence of an instructor or peers, but these facts do not diminish the effectiveness of a well-designed, instructionally sound online course. Now the question has become, “Is your organization ready to get online?”

read more

Go Mobile or Go Home

mlearningAccording to Statista.com, “As of 2013, worldwide mobile phone internet user penetration was 73.4%. In 2017, figures suggest that more than 90% of internet users will access online content through their phones.” While many organizations struggle to choose an LMS, then race to assemble eLearning courses so learners can take training and CE courses online, few have mastered the mobile revolution. Yet, learners are expecting access to content via mobile devices.  So, you think to yourself, “it’s okay, our content is viewable on a phone. I mean I have to do that pinch thing, but it’s viewable.” Yes, but is it mobile responsive?

Recently, Google has introduced a new algorithm that penalizes websites for not being mobile responsive. This means that every website that doesn’t conform to various screen sizes takes a hit in ranking. To test your website, visit this link.

So what does this really mean?

Mobile responsive (responsive web design)- “Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)”-Wikipedia

So a mobile responsive website or mobile responsive LMS is one that adapts to various screens, like an iPad or an android phone. Links are clear and usable, text is readable (without that pinch thing), and you can see whole images without having to scroll.

Why does it matter?

Whether you’re marketing your association to new members or marketing continuing education, there are some compelling reasons to upgrade your organization’s website and your LMS to a mobile responsive layout such as these reasons from Google Analytics:

  • 48% of users say they feel frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that’s not mobile-friendly
  • 36% said they felt like they’ve wasted their time by visiting those sites
  • 52% of users said that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with an organization
  • 48% said that if a site didn’t work well on their smartphones, it made them feel like the organization didn’t care about their business
  • 67% of users say that when they visit a mobile-friendly site, they’re more likely to buy.

eLearning Industry offers further reasons to implement responsive design such as providing a level of comfort for the user, citing the bring your own device (BYOD) movement for training used at major corporations such as Intel. Their article also states that “By accessing learning material on mobile devices, leaners are also able to interact with faculty and peers using social interactions in the environment the learner is already engaged in.” They also believe that the mobile platform provides a natural environment for gamification, which has gained popularity recently among online education providers.

How do I get started?

Depending on how in-depth your website is, many mobile responsive templates already exist to make the switch over from web-based to mobile easier. With regard to delivering your online learning in a mobile responsive format, find an LMS provider that offers a mobile responsive or mobile first platform.

The future of eLearning and online member education is mobile access for all learners anytime, anywhere, on any device. Will you be ready?

read more

Creative: You Asked For It, But Now It’s Terrifying

halloweenIt was a bright and glowing computer screen. The reviewer stared at it with wide eyes, frozen in terror. The association had asked for something creative, but this… Cold sweat formed on the reviewer’s brow as their muscles tightened. The deadline for this eLearning was coming up fast and there was no way it could be released to the members like this. It worked just fine but the presentation style was- it just didn’t fit. Maybe there was enough time to put the content in one of the old templates.

With Halloween in sight I thought I’d address something that seems to excite people when they’re talking about it but can be frightening once they see it. I’m talking about innovative, creative, or “different” eLearning. Let’s follow our petrified reviewer and see what’s got them so shaken up.

Be Able to Explain What “Creative” Means to You

The course was about preventing food poisoning, like it was supposed to be. But it was from the perspective of a Salmonella bacterium who was complaining about all the different things humans do to try killing him.

It’s critical that you and your course developer (whether it’s an external vendor or someone in your association) have the same creative vision. If you just tell them to “build a creative course about ___” what you get back may be very different from the loose idea you may have had in mind but never told anyone about. The alternate course could be incredibly effective and engaging, but if you’re not expecting it it’ll probably come as quite a shock. Specific descriptions, sample images or courses, and frequent communication are a must to keep everyone on the same page. Don’t forget, you always have the option of asking your developer for their recommendation. Keep an open mind and see what they have to say. It may open up a whole new set of possibilities.

See What Your Learners Think

No one was going to take this seriously. Talking bacteria? It was like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon, even if what it said was all technically correct. This didn’t come across as professional at all.

One person’s reaction isn’t necessarily going to be the same as the next person’s. Since your association’s eLearning is for the members letting them weigh in is a good way to find out what’s acceptable to them. They may surprise you. You certainly don’t have to wait until after a course is built though. You could present them with brief, 2-3 sentence descriptions of course ideas and have them vote for their favorites. Then the winning idea could be the one you pass on to the developer. I don’t recommend having prospective learners go through storyboards though, that can be time consuming and they’re not always easy to read. Having a focus group or series of test learners go through the preview version of the course can also help you get feedback on the content density and user experience as well as their general impressions.

Ways to Ease into Innovation

To the reviewer’s horror, an emergency conference call revealed that everyone else was willing to give it a try this one time. Much to the reviewer’s surprise, the course was a hit. Members rated it highly and left comments calling it “refreshing” and “a pleasantly unexpected point of view.”

Trying something new can be stressful, but there are ways to try new eLearning methods that make the experience easier. Here are a few ideas:

  • Start applying a new approach to just one standalone lesson or course to see if it works.
  • Make sure the eLearning’s description clearly states that it uses a different approach. That way your learners are less likely to “walk in” expecting the usual.
  • Include navigation instructions if the navigation is different from what your learners are used to.

Creative new approaches to eLearning can be frightening at first. Seeing eye-to-eye with your developer, running new ideas by your learners, and introducing innovation a little bit at a time will help your association give alternate approaches a try. What has your association done to try creative, new eLearning approaches?

read more

The Importance of Implementing a Marcom Strategy for Continuing Education

Marketing Communications for AssociationsMarcom or marketing communications, is the branch of marketing that decides what messaging you’ll use, directed at whom, and on what channels you’ll place those messages. Marketing’s overall functions include: audience segmentation, demographic and psychographic research, and decisions on product, price, distribution, and promotion.

Marcom decides what your marketing message is going to be and where your messages are going to be placed. They determine where your audience is most likely to be reached, and what they need to know.

So, if your association is marketing continuing education (CE) to members and nonmembers, it’s going to need a marcom strategy based on detailed market research and a solid marketing plan.

Step 1: Define the message

If your association provides CE credits, you’re half way to your goal already. You know your members require these credits to maintain professional certifications. But, they can go elsewhere to obtain those credits, so based on who your members are and what they need, you have to come up with messaging that resonates with them giving them not just reasons to come to you, but solutions to their problems. What are their pain points? What frustrates them? Use this information to come up with a marketing message that demonstrates that you understand them and have the solution to their problems.

Step 2: Decide on which channels to use

Using your psychographic and demographic information, decide which channels your message is most likely to reach your target audience on. For example, you might use your email database to send an email blast to your members. If they’ve opted in, you can assume your marketing message will reach your target audience there. If your audience is older, you might consider print advertising like magazines and industry publications to get your message into their hands.

Step 3: Decide your approach

Will you take an integrated marketing approach essentially putting the same marketing message on all the channels you’ve chosen or will each channel have a different message to target different types of audiences? For example, will you use your blog to reach analytic types to show that you’re a thought leader in your industry? Will you use social media to reach younger demographics? If so, will you present the same message to them both? You might if your message is advertising a specific promotion, but what if your goal is simply awareness and brand recognition? No matter the approach, make sure you are staying true to the association’s brand standards maintaining logos, fonts, and general principles that define the association across all channels.

Step 4: Decide your budget and implementation strategies

No one likes the dreaded “B” word, but we all have to stick within our marketing budgets. So while you might wish you could afford place an ad in the Wall Street Journal, you have to consider where you can reach the most people for the least cost to produce the greatest ROI.

Additionally, you have to decide on a timeline and decide who is taking ownership of which marketing initiatives. Will you assign someone to create post cards to mail out to members announcing a new promotion? When is the best time to mail that? Will that be handled by an advertising team? What about your blog? Should advertising write the blog or should that come from a team of writers?

Ultimately your goal is to get people to buy, join, or otherwise look upon your association with favor, and your marcom strategy is the key to achieving those goals. So sit down with your marketing team and put your marketing plan to work by creating a marcom strategy for your CE initiatives.

read more

How to Increase Conference Attendance

AssociationsFor associations, conferences represent a major source of potential revenue. To best realize that revenue, your conference not only has to attract attendees but also retain them year after year. In the simplest terms, you do this by providing value in the form of networking opportunities, vendor availability, keynote speakers and, of course, smaller learning sessions. I want to talk about that last one today and discuss how better sessions can lead to higher attendance.

You’ve probably already got a good idea of the basics. Bring in relevant, inspiration keynote speakers, attract vendors for the expo floor, and allow experts in your industry to lead smaller sessions. Unfortunately, merely being an expert in an industry does not necessarily mean you are qualified to teach the subject. As learning professionals, we understand this better than most. Subject matter experts (or SMEs as we call them) have not necessarily studied teaching techniques and more often than not default to a “stand and lecture” style. No matter how knowledgeable your SMEs are, if they are not presenting their information in engaging, effective ways, it won’t have the maximum possible impact. Bored people who aren’t learning anything will feel they’ve wasted their money and will be less likely to attend again next year.

So what can you do about it? I don’t have enough time or space here to go over everything needed to create effective learning situations. Nor do you have the time to create or monitor every session you’ll be offering. The best way to maintain consistency amongst your offerings and to ensure they provide value to your attendees is through clear and direct standard operating procedures. You’ll want to consult learning professionals for the specific nuances of your industry’s material, but here are two of what I consider to be the most important pieces of advice.

  1. Insist on a good ratio of presentation to engagement.

Active engagement trumps passive absorption nearly every time. Instead of standing in front of a room and talking at people for the entire session, have your SMEs spend time interacting with their learners through dialogue, Questions and Answers, etc.

2.  Beware of cognitive overload.

While trying to teach your attendees as much as possible, don’t forget that they are living people. There is only so much a human brain can process and retain at once. There is a reason that traditional school is spread out over a year. When too much information is presented in too short a time frame, learners experience what we call “cognitive overload.” Instructional designers strive to avoid this, lest their learners curl up in the fetal position and give up. To make this work for you, carefully examine any learning sessions you intend to present and make sure the content can be fully digested in the time allotted. In this situation especially: Less is more!

There is so much more to presenting sound instruction at conferences, but these tips should put you ahead of the game. Extra effort here will pay off in the long run. Well-crafted sessions will let your attendees learn and retain more information and inspire them to keep coming back to your conference year after year. It’s really a win-win.

read more

Frustratingly Effective Learning

Effective eLearning CoursesI worked on a particular course that had it all: pre-work, an individual practice activity, and then a live event assignment that drew on the earlier pieces. The learners demonstrated the skills they were supposed to be learning and came up with a range of creative solutions to the assignment. It was wonderful! And it got bad reviews because it was “too hard,” even though their performance proved that they’d met the objectives and could apply what they’d learned.

Sometimes people seem to forget that learning takes effort. In short, effective learning usually isn’t “the quick and easy path.”

Why a Certain Amount of Frustration Is Good

Making mistakes is frustrating. Having someone point out where you went wrong can be frustrating. Repeating something over and over again to the point where you can do it in your sleep is usually frustrating.

But wait a minute. We’re more likely to recall lessons learned as the result of mistakes. Feedback is invaluable for helping improve performance and assessing quality. Spaced repetition cements knowledge and skills into long-term memory. And the last time I checked, being able to “do something in your sleep” means that you’re so used to it that you can just do it whenever you need to, without having to stop and think about how to do it.

How eLearning Fits In

How many times can a mechanic install a part incorrectly or an inspector forget to cover a new requirement before there are serious consequences in the real world? Sometimes there’s no margin for error at all. eLearning gives learners a safe place to try, fail, improve, try again, and practice until they’re confident and knowledgeable. “Practice makes perfect” isn’t realistic but “Practice makes proficient” is. With that said, it’s probably better for everyone if learners go through this process in practice situations rather than on the job.

How to Tell Frustratingly Effective eLearning from Bad eLearning

The best way is to look at the information that’s being used to decide whether a course is “good” or “bad.” If poor learner reviews are the indicator, read them carefully. If they say the learners couldn’t figure out what to do next or couldn’t understand the content that needs to be addressed. If they “had to think too hard” then the course is probably doing its job. If completion rates are the issue it’s worth investigating to see why your learners aren’t taking or finishing the course. Maybe they’re having trouble finding or accessing it and the course itself isn’t the problem.

When it comes to learning, whether it’s eLearning or not, people get out what they put in. A little bit of frustration and repetition can go a long way toward helping a learner grasp a new concept or skill. eLearning provides a safe environment for practice that doesn’t have the same consequences as the real world. At the end of the day, distinguishing frustratingly effective courses from downright bad ones is a useful skill. Have you been through any frustrating but valuable courses or classes?

I’m going to nominate my writing composition class from freshman year. Wow did that eat up a lot of my time and wow was that one of the single most useful classes I took in college.

read more
Keep in touch!
Follow us for special offers and news from Digitec Interactive!