There are many tools on the market for speeding up production of e-learning. Some of them are great for capturing processes, some great for authoring text, some for graphics, some for video. Many are good, some less so, but they have one thing in common; none of them will guarantee the production of good learning materials.
Software can help by taking the pain out of production. It can make it easy to do things that appear to be hard. It can allow you to compress a video and upload it to the internet using plain language like ‘do you want to publish for the web’, rather than ‘which codec do you want to use?’. It can package materials within a wrapper, such as SCORM or AICC, without you ever needing to know the definition of the acronym or the history of how these standards came out of the American aviation industry. Software can do all of these things, and it can even help by driving you along a process, from design to production to review, but it can’t, in itself, deliver quality.
Good learning comes from being well structured and well written. The story needs to be good, and to be good, you need to be a good storyteller.
It doesn’t matter if the learning is going to be a ten minute session delivered in person or a 45 minute e-learning module, it needs to be well written. It does not matter if the project is £3.5K or £35K, it needs to be well structured, well presented and well told. Excellent materials do not have to cost a fortune, they just need to be designed with care. The good news is that we are all, to some extent, storytellers. We live in stories, we share experiences through them and use them to comfort, confront and support people.
Writing is probably the quickest, cheapest and easiest way of communicating in e-learning. It’s important to ensure that we focus not just on the content of the messages, but on how we write those messages. Proofing, reading out loud, getting feedback, not being afraid to rewrite something, are all tools and approaches than can profitably be used. It’s a good discipline to write something, then go back and try to write it again, but half the length. It’s often comparatively easy to reduce the length of something significantly by rewriting individual lines, taking out the superfluous elements and strengthening the overall piece.
But good writing isn’t going to be effective unless it’s written within a solid instructional design framework. We need to understand where we are setting the context for the learning, where we are demonstrating the concepts and ideas, where we are allowing space for exploration and practice and where (and how) we are assessing the learning. We need to consider how learners are going to take the learning out of the classroom and transfer it into the language of their everyday lives.
There is great value in looking outwards, looking at how other people and industries tell their stories. Look at film making, photography, the theatre, politics. It’s worth analysing what messages are effective, what’s engaging, interesting and potent. We can emulate these approaches to strengthen our own. People are discerning consumers of media and communication. We are competing for attention and time.
Instructional design is not complicated. It’s just a bit of jargon that means ‘think about all the elements, instead of just writing’. It’s as much a mindset as it is an activity.