Why ‘beauty is only skin deep’ is relevant to eLearning


How do you know if your eLearning module is a good one?

Our aim as eLearning development professionals is to have you say “After people did this training, they started doing things differently”.  A change in behaviour is what we really care about.

Unfortunately, most professionals don't judge eLearning that way.  They judge whether it looks good and is fun.  We hear “Well, people enjoyed doing it so it must have been good” or “the photography was really excellent”.

Don't get me wrong - fun, attractive eLearning is important.  But it’s not the only criteria you should use to evaluate your training solution.  Think of your eLearning like a person you are considering spending a lot of time with.  Beauty is only skin deep. It’s what’s on the inside that really matters.

Use these questions to evaluate the effectiveness of your training:

  • Is the content relevant to the people doing the training?
  • Is the training on something that is being done poorly or on something that’s completely new (as opposed to something that people may know already and/or are doing fine without training?)
  • Are there scenarios or case studies? Are they based on real-world examples so people can see how that skill transfers to their work?  The best eLearning tends to use storytelling. For example introducing a character and a challenge, and then working towards a resolution.
  • Does the content follow a logical structure? For example, is it in the order that a person would do specific tasks?
  • Is the content pitched at the right level? Are confusing underlying concepts explained properly?  Does the training recognise existing knowledge that all of the audience should have?
  • Does the content focus on behaviours (things you do), as opposed to information (stuff you need to know?) Remember: there’s no point ‘knowing’ something unless you do something with it.
  • Is the writing simple and easy to understand?
  • Is the course easy to navigate without getting lost?
  • Do the activities add value? Do they relate to something you actually do in the real world (as opposed to just breaking up several slides of text)?

Evaluation techniques that you should avoid:

  • It’s at least 30 minutes long. Duration isn’t a sign of quality.  Learners often lose focus quickly, so longer modules are not necessarily better.
  • It has a lot of activities. Having the activities isn’t what’s important – it’s what the activities teach people to do.  Activities should always have a purpose related to the training's topic.  If the activity is something like “click this box to see some more text”, then it’s not a valuable activity.
  • It has a lot of pictures and not much text. Simple writing is very important.  But sometimes, rather than writing simply, a person might take a big chunk of confusing information and split it out over a lot of slides.  If you're still asking learners to digest a big piece of information, even if it’s spaced out, something is wrong.
  • It has a quiz at the end. A traditional eLearning technique is to include a formal multi-choice assessment at the end, but it isn’t really necessary to check knowledge. Spread practical activities throughout the course and assume that a learner that has successfully completed the activity has learnt. You rarely require a formal quiz.
  • It’s got a lot of video, animation and audio voiceover. Used the right way, multimedia can be useful to enhance learning.  But just because it’s there, doesn’t mean it’s helping with learning.  For example, watching a video is very passive, and most people learn through doing.  Very little learning is likely to occur if your entire module is video with no activities.

Like a good life partner, good eLearning will make you want to be a better person.  If your module just confuses you, even if it looks pretty, it’s time to dump it and move on to something better.