1. Define your target audience
If you don’t define the target audience then it would be really hard for you to develop a project that truly resonates with them.
As we said earlier, the purpose is to engage the audience. You cannot achieve that unless you are fully aware of their habits, characteristics, learning needs and behaviors.
You should start with a clear idea of your target audience: what knowledge and skills they already possess and what they would need more for further development. Similarly, you should have an idea about your audiences’ educational background, their preferences and learning abilities.
When you have such picture, you are able to define what learning achievements they can be interested in. And if you have something to propose in such situation - there is an obvious sense to work on your project further.
When you know what to propose to your target audience, you need to formulate those proposals that are called learning objectives.
2. Define the learning objectives (LOs)
When the target audience is defined you already know their desired development vector(s). Setting clearly defined learning objective is important because why would any person be interested in taking up a course unless they exactly know why they should have this information?
Hence, defining the learning objectives is imperative to devise an effective eLearning strategy. This should be done at the planning stage since learning objectives will provide you direction and guide you in designing an outcome-oriented eLearning course. Clear learning objectives are always answering questions:
- What is the benefit of taking this eLearning course?
- How will it help in improving my existing set of skills?
Furthermore, it will create the right environment for your audience, making them feel more engaged and interested. A good learning objective is the one that clearly states what kind of issues the audience will be able to solve after completing the course. Also, what skill set and knowledge they need to have for this particular course.
Setting clear learning objectives not only add value to your eLearning project but also helps you in creating a course structure, making all the aspects of a content development strategy fall into place. If you are unsure about how to set learning objectives for your eLearning project there are a lot of good learning objective samples available that you can use to define objectives of your own project.
3. Choose the learning style
Once the preferences of a target audience and learning objectives are clearly defined, the next step of creating an effective eLearning strategy is to determine how the target audience can best absorb, process and comprehend the course information e.g. the learning style.
Once you have determined the right style of learning for your target audience, it will be easier for you to better plan the content creation and delivery process. But how would you know which learning style is best for your audience?
One of the easiest ways to determine the learning style of learners is Neil Fleming’s VARK model, which clearly describes information perception by students.
- Visual learning refers to the learning style in which the learner utilizes charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps.
- Auditory learning is the style in which the learner receives information by means of listening lectures, radio, email, group discussions, speaking, using mobile phones, web-chat and talking things through.
- Reading/Writing learning is a style in which a reading- or writing-dominant learner uses repetition of words and writing. This style is basically an overlap of auditory and visual styles, as it includes both reading and writing. However, the learners who prefer reading/writing learning remember and organize things in their mind and by taking down notes.
- Lastly, kinesthetic learning is about learning through physical activities rather than watching or listening to lectures.
4. Set content requirements
When the learner’s portrait and learning style are determined, you can set effective and objective-oriented content requirements.
For this, you should first prioritize the information that you need to include. As a part of an effective eLearning strategy, you should decide the knowledge areas which you want to focus on. To make the content engaging, use the appropriate formats such as podcast, video, slideshow, etc. Similarly, keep the information easily accessible for all the learners, including people with disability.
For instance, a learner with motor impairment or a visually impaired learner may use screen readers or voice recognition programs to access the content.
To enhance the accessibility of your eLearning course, make sure that the learning material meets the latest requirements of Section 508.
5. Set learning technology requirements
Defined learning style and content requirements create a perfect basis for effective learning technology requirements.
The bridge between the learning style, content requirements, and learning technology requirements is a “user story”. It determines what abilities and functions need to be in place to help learners embrace the content using their natural learning style.
In general most of the technology requirements are related to Learning Management System (LMS) requirements. Formal LMS requirements include:
- A centralized tracking of the training history of the user. This helps the user in mapping out their course more effectively
- Automation of all the administrative tasks which are involved in the eLearning course. These tasks may include the basic requirements to join the learning process. For instance, these may include dropping courses, enrollment and other notifications that will provide a convenient and hassle-free environment to the learners
- Rapid eLearning development tools
- AICC/SCORM and compliance with other standards to maintain a smooth learning process
Maintaining a smooth and well-designed learning platform can significantly help you in creating a more focused eLearning strategy.
If your team holds no instructional design skills, there are a lot of flexible LMS platforms available which are great to simplify the design of online courses.
6. Test the Program
This particular step involves aspects like support arrangements such as mentors and tutors.
This may also include the feedback loop to keep a check on the predesigned learning components, such as if the designed course and its content is actually delivering the learning objectives.
A good eLearning strategy makes sure that learners can effectively communicate with the facilitators or mentors. They make communication with tutors simpler, easier, and quick for learners in case they have any concern or question.
This makes the learners feel like they are associated with a solid support system that does not need a virtual instructor tied to the virtual classroom all the time. To check if the course meets the learning objectives, you can set up focus groups or use usability testing. This will also help you in gathering feedback from the learners. Once you get enough information about the user experience, you should detail your tactical plan, which is the next step in developing an effective eLearning strategy.
7. Create a tactical plan
After you have successfully laid out the entire eLearning strategy, you now need to develop a tactical plan which includes tasks, projects, dependencies, activities, resources, and timelines for moving further. When creating a tactical plan, you can use various project management techniques that can help you in scoping requirements, uncover issues, monitor deliverables or ensure transparent communication.
Hence, it is advisable to spend time on developing a tactical plan and to appoint someone responsible to manage the planning process. This tactical planning should meet the SMART concept and should be relevant to your KPIs – Key Performance Indicators.
Paul J. Ballard (Western Michigan University) identified the most frequently used KPIs across 34 institutions. These include:
- Graduates outcomes (job placement, graduation rate or success on licensure exams).
- Grade point average of the students.
- Percentage of completed courses.
- Human Resource/Employee measures (demonstrating how institutions value their faculty and staff).
KPIs help managers work together to achieve the strategic goals because their tactical measures are interdependent.
8. Measure the contribution of eLearning
In this step, you simply establish if your strategy achieves the results and outcomes you expect. For this, you should determine the ways to evaluate the effectiveness of your eLearning strategy, the measures that you will put in place to do this and what needs to be measured.
After all, eLearning evaluation is a very diverse discipline which embraces many qualitative and quantitative methods. At Sense Scotland, the Head of Organizational Development, Kenneth Fee suggests that the most practical methods are The Kirkpatrick Model and Return on Investment (ROI).
eLearning courses and online assessments can provide exceptional data on an individual learner basis. If you combine it with other data such as personality assessment, it can build a valuable profile of the learner, representing his training needs and progress.
The Bottom Line
Before starting an eLearning course, always have a sound eLearning strategy in place. This will ensure a return to your efforts and help you in developing skills in eLearning design, management, development, and evaluation.