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What to Look For With Online Learning

Dan Bobinski
October 6 -- By Dan Bobinski

Whether your organization is large or small, having employees learn what they need to know via the computer can save you plenty of time and money.

Research at one large high-tech institution revealed that classroom training cost the company, on average, “$100 per hour per person.” Conversely, online learning cost the company only $35 per hour per person.

If your company could save 65% on some of its training, wouldn’t that be worth looking into?

In addition to the cost savings, online learning usually allows learners to access the material at a time that’s convenient to them – and that’s a great benefit. But several key points need to be made regarding online learning:

- It has to be user friendly
- It is best used for knowledge and understanding – not for application.

Having both designed and taught as well as taken E-classes, I’d like to pass along what I believe are some key factors to consider when implementing E-learning. These tips should apply whether you’re purchasing an online training course, or building one from scratch.

1. At the outset, make sure the learning objectives are clear. The same goes for any assignments the learner must complete. Course requirements and assignments should be listed in one central place so that the learner can access them easily at anytime. If learners know where they’re at in the training process, they’re sure to feel more confident of their learning.

Also, remember that learners usually don’t have ready access to an instructor for clarification, so make sure that instructions and information are clear and easy to understand.

2. Avoid fancy, frilly, moving graphics that do nothing to enhance the learning. Although some think it’s cool to include icons or images spinning around the screen, if it doesn’t aid in student learning, don’t use it. The only thing unnecessary graphics do is slow download time, which frustrates learners.

3. Although frilly, unnecessary graphics usually distract from learning, pertinent graphics that explain concepts in picture form are excellent to use. Therefore, as a general rule, whatever you can put in graphic form, do so.

The human mind learns well when it can “see” what it’s supposed to learn. As the axiom goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. The key is to use graphics that take up as few kilobytes as possible.

4. Make assignments (if any) easy to turn in. Although Microsoft has the monopoly on operating systems and virtually all programs are written to work within Microsoft’s framework, Microsoft systems are not the most stable in the world. As such, what works well on one computer may not work well on others (but that’s fodder for another column). Therefore, assignment submission needs to occur in a format that accommodates the lowest common denominator. Some courses use “capture forms” for assignments, others want assignments submitted via email. Whatever your choice, make sure it’s user-friendly.

5. Before you roll out with a new program, read through the material with “fresh eyes.” That is, go through the material with the mindset of being someone who’s never seen it before. See if it makes sense. Then beta test your coursework on a control group to see if it makes sense to them. When all seems okay, that’s when it’s okay to “go live.”

Bottom line: You can save money using online learning, but it has to work for the learners or they won’t want to use it. If that happens, they learn nothing at all and you haven’t saved a thing. In fact, you’d lose money by spinning your wheels and wasting resources on an ineffective program.

© 2003 Dan Bobinski / Leadership Development. Dan Bobinski is President of Leadership Development. He can be reached at (208) 375-7606 or by Email at dan@leadershipanswers.com.

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