Do you know what steps to take to ensure high-quality and highly engaging content when you create an online course? How do you battle your learners’ boredom and maintain their attention throughout your lessons?
Being mindful of these top ten mistakes during your course creation process will help make certain that your content hits the mark and achieves your educational objectives.
When you meet with your subject matter experts (SMEs), you may be presented with too much information. They may give you PowerPoint decks with hundreds of slides, hours of recorded lectures and presentations, and even entire textbooks on the topic. Your job is to sift through this content and select only the information that is necessary to achieve the objectives of your course. Too much information will overwhelm your audience and adds distracting content that takes away the focus from your main objectives.
A common rookie mistake when creating an online course is making clickable interactions just for the sake of clicking. Sure, they may be fun to design, but ask yourself what purpose each and every interaction in your course serves. Having lots of clickable interactions is not always a fun learning experience. Online courses can be intentionally designed to use clickable interactions in meaningful ways that allow learners to manipulate the information or items on screen, but the simple act of clicking alone does not directly correlate to engagement or learning.
The opposite issue of too many clicks is too few. Online courses should not be “walls of text” that replicate lectures by presenting lengthy passages of text with little interruption. Consider how much scrolling is required to read each passage in your course, and also if learners will consume the course on mobile devices. Make use of your authoring tool’s interactive features and add meaningful interactions as well as engaging audio and video. Consider how mentally active your learners will be while completing your course; if you’re only asking them to scroll, you’re not sufficiently engaging their minds and you’re not assessing whether they’re learning and reflecting or just simply scrolling.
There are many pitfalls to be wary of with narration; dialogue that is too fast, too slow, has background noise, or even white noise can be distracting for learners and can make the course feel less professionally produced. It takes practice (and adds time to course production) to record professional-sounding audio narration. Whether you record yourself or outsource this part of the project to a teammate or another professional, taking the time and the precautions to create high-quality narration adds tremendous value to your course.
Similar to audio narration, the quality of media used throughout the course (such as images, video, and music) can really make or break the course’s effect. Low-quality images that are grainy or blurry are not only unprofessional, they also fail to effectively communicate your intended message if people can’t clearly see the content. Even the selection of stock photos can have an impact on your course. The overall style of images used throughout the course should be consistent, whether that means using only photo-realistic or only cartoon images, as well as choosing stock photos that appear true to life versus ones that are clearly staged. When images are meant to instruct or set the tone of your course, choosing the right images is a critical part of the course creation process.
Online course assessments can be presented in a number of ways, from traditional multiple choice and true/false tests, to simulations and drag-and-drop interactions. Designers who take time to carefully write their course content but skimp on the assessment are failing to provide their learners with a meaningful way to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. Whether you partner with your SMEs to design assessments or write them on your own, consider your assessment a critical part of the course and challenge your learners to be as cognitively active during the assessment as they were during the course. One way of rating your own assessment is to ask someone to take it without taking the course. If they can pass without ever having seen your course, your assessment is too easy.
This tip is simple; don’t skip the assessment! The technology behind online courses and learning management systems removes many of the administrative burdens of assessment. Online tests can be timed, scored, and tabulated immediately, and your learners can be given the option to repeat the test or practice as many times as you allow. If assessment is not part of your course or program, you are missing a necessary part of the learning process.
What does it mean when your learners complete your course? What have they truly accomplished? Have they simply scrolled from beginning to end, or did they have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills? When you report back to your stakeholders, be cognizant that the number of course completions does not automatically equate to the amount of knowledge gained. Carefully consider how your learners will apply their knowledge in real life after the course and what steps you can take to help them retain this information.
Take the time before beginning course design and development to do a careful needs analysis of your audience. Learning basic facts about them such as their familiarity and interest level with the topic, why they are being asked to learn the material, and how they will be asked to apply this knowledge in real life will help you create much more meaningful content. Your course may look incredible and be highly engaging, but if the content doesn’t resonate with your audience of learners, you haven’t accomplished your main task as an instructional designer.
Echoing the concerns of having overwhelming amounts of information, carefully consider the overall length of your course. Are your learners on the go, completing your course on mobile devices or away from traditional desks? Realistically, how long are their attention spans? Determine if it would make more sense to break your course up into a series of “bite-sized” microlearning experiences, or simply do one more review to make edits and remove unnecessary content. Give your learners exactly what they need and nothing more; their retention will be higher, and you won’t spend time creating content that ends up being trimmed from your course later.
Whether you’re an experienced or beginner instructional designer, reviewing your work to make sure these common mistakes don’t creep in will elevate both the quality of your course and its overall effectiveness.