E-learning, very simply put, is Education 2.0. When traditional chalk-and-talk teaching methods benefit from advancements in technology and learning goes online, e-learning is the outcome. The concept behind e-learning is easy to grasp: facilitate learners in the digital age through an effective, convenient and economical medium that they are familiar with. However, developing e-learning content is a whole different ball game, so much so that it is an industry in itself.
The First Hurdle: Understanding the Audience
E-learning content developers must take into account how their target audience learns: for example, content that caters to school-going children and working professionals cannot be the same, even if the subjects being tackled are similar.
E-learning content development companies understand that adult learners are typically hard-pressed for time and are learning with the intention of solving a problem or meeting goals. Adult learners are likely to be more interested in the practical application of a theory than in the theory itself. They are also likely to have some knowledge in the domain: companies involved in e-learning design and development must anticipate a learner’s pre-existing knowledge in order to prevent banalities. Adult learners, unlike school students, require facilitation rather than teaching from scratch.
Another crucial aspect of e-learning content development is learning styles. Different learners benefit from different methods of facilitation: some may grasp a lesson effectively by reading, others by listening to it. Some others may benefit from hands-on activities. E-learning content development companies must therefore provide multi-media content: a lesson must make use of audio, visual, graphic and text content.
Instructional Design and the ADDIE model
Finally, companies who design and develop e-learning content put instructional design principles into practice. Instructional design is the process by which the needs of a learner are assessed, the desired outcome of instruction is defined and “intervention” (i.e. content) is created to assist the learner to meet their target. Instructional design follows a number of models, developed with a keen knowledge of cognitive and behavioural psychology. The most commonly used model is ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implement, Evaluate).
Target audience and content is analysed, a course is designed taking into account strategy for instruction, the course is then developed using appropriate authoring software and finally, it is evaluated for effectiveness. ADDIE isn’t the only training model available e-learning content development companies also use other models, depending on the specific needs of their clients.
Any e-learning content development company must have knowledge of the target audience, learning styles and instructional design. If a company were to develop and design e-learning content based on the ADDIE model, these are the steps they would undertake.
The first step involves the analysis of the objectives and the profile of the company’s client. The e-learning development company must develop an instructional strategy based on the tasks learners are expected to undertake on completion of the course.
Experts will then design a program which acknowledges the above and anticipates design challenges that the e-learning development company may face during econtent development. The program will also recommend the instructional tools (for example, audio-visual aids, graphics, etc.) that the course curriculum could incorporate.
Development is essentially the process of putting into practice the program e-learning experts have designed. The nitty-gritties such as page design, multimedia tools and graphic user interface are finalised on a storyboard. Authoring software is then used to develop the course.
Evaluation and Implementation
The developed curriculum is tested for accuracy, effectiveness and functionality of content. The course is subjected to rigorous quality assessment and feedback is incorporated before the course is made available for client use.
The course is usually hosted on an LMS or Learning Management System. An LMS is a software application that administers, documents, tracks and delivers e-learning training courses. It records data like test scores and student progress and makes it available to instructors. An LMS makes sure a program is implemented effectively and that goals are met.
E-learning companies have a massive task on their hands: ensuring that adult learners benefit from training programs without spending too much time away from their day-to-day professional commitments. It is the ability to design an effective, engaging program that meets the client brief that puts an e-learning developer a cut above the rest.