e-learning It’s a sprint, not a marathon!

Olympic fever is truly taking over. Flags are waving from every window, the TV commentators are getting more and more excitable, and gym memberships are shooting up as people decide that they could be the next Michael Phelps. Winning twenty medals may be a bit out of the average person’s reach, but we can still take on board some Olympic inspiration to make our e-learning world-class.

The athlete who inspired me to write this blog doesn’t have the superstardom of Phelps or Bolt, or the legacy of Sir Steven Redgrave. She is Helen Glover, one half of the GB women’s coxless pair who have just won Britain’s first ever Olympic gold medal for women’s rowing. What makes this even more amazing? Helen only got into a rowing boat for the first time in 2008. That’s four years from being a complete novice to being Olympic champion. Of course, I don’t want to suggest that she didn’t train exceptionally hard in those four years to achieve this standard. But I think the lesson that we can learn from Glover’s success is that being an expert depends on how you spend your training time, not on the number of hours (or years) that you put in. Short, focused training can be just as effective as countless hours spent slogging away at something.

Recently, the trend for ‘bite-size’ e-learning has started to take hold. The same principles apply to this type of learning as to Glover’s unusually short training period: why spend hours in front of a screen when you could cover the same content in a fraction of the time? Learners are more likely to absorb what they’re being taught if they’re asked to focus for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, than if asked to sustain concentration for an hour or more. A format of short, manageable sections rather than one comprehensive course is also much easier to fit into the working day – learners often find it difficult to reserve hours for e-learning, but a fifteen minute unit can easily be completed when they find themselves with some spare time.

So, here are my top tips for changing your courses from a road race to a sprint:

1. Do you really need that?

We’ve all been there. You sit down to start writing your content and you’re presented with a sheaf of manuals, guidance and suggestions from your client. You panic and add it all into your content. The result? A course that would end up lasting several hours and contain a lot of information that isn’t actually that helpful to your learner. So, next time, take a really hard look at what you’re trying to get across, and be ruthless. Learning outcomes are essential for this. Decide what your learning outcomes are, and then only use the minimum material necessary to achieve these. While the intricacies of health and safety compliance may seem incredibly important when you’re reading through that manual, it’s actually much more useful for your learner to be able to apply the principles of the code in real life than to recite the phone number of Diabetes UK. This brings me to my next point…

2. Don’t be scared of the Resources folder

A lot of instructional designers (and some clients) seem to view the Resources section of a course as a dumping ground for content that you couldn’t quite squeeze in. This is a waste of a tool that can dramatically alter the format of your course, and save your learner time. The Resources folder is the prefect place to include the more detailed information that may not be useful to everyone. To take an example from one of our courses, not everyone in a company needs to know what to do if they are bribed by an immigration official, as not everyone will be travelling abroad on business. However, senior sales people might find themselves in this situation, and they could benefit from a Take-away toolkit in the resources folder.

3. Divide and conquer

The bite-size units that I mentioned earlier rely on careful divisions of content. If you’re presenting the course as something that can be dipped into as and when the learner has the time, you need to make sure that your units work as standalone sections. They need to make logical sense, and each one needs to work towards achieving your learning outcome(s) – no filler units! You can refer back to topics covered in other units, but make sure that you include brief refreshers to jog the learner’s memory.

Will you try it?

Some people may think that a shorter course means less value for money, but I hope that I’ve managed to convince you that less time can sometimes equal a higher learning value. Try it out on your next course, and see if you can take your learners on a fast track to the podium!