Creating eLearning is hard. Creating great eLearning is REALLY hard. For some reason, everyone that learns a few things in Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate, thinks they’re an eLearning developer on the path to eLearning success. Hmm…does that mean everyone that knows how to use Microsoft Word is an author? Uh, no!

The bottom line is that there’s a million moving pieces to consider when creating eLearning, and many of them can sink your proverbial ship. Are you creating the right course, for the right audience, on the right topics? Let’s look at 6 different things that could bring on the demise of your course.

Course is Too Long

If you’ve ever created a course and worked with a SME, you know they want to cram everything into it. Once you get them talking, they think every tiny detail is critically important. First of all, this dilutes the real message. There’s this thing called Cognitive Load, and throwing too much at people can cause it. This means all those “nice to have” extra details are actually causing people to remember less of the crucial stuff. Not cool!

Now, we can’t always boil everything down to a few minutes. Some topics have a lot of legit info about them. But we need to chunk information better to support the learning process. TED Talks have actually figured this out with their 18-minute rule. Keep things short and simple and it will go a long way towards keeping people engaged and increasing retention.

The Course is BORING!

This topic is so important, we made one of our Principles & Rules for Success about it. So, let’s get real for a second. Most eLearning you’ve taken in your life is – how should I say this – HORRIBLE! You know, the kind of thing you wouldn’t wipe your…well, you get the point. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Training can be fun, or at least engaging. Most designers will blame the content for boring courses. Actually, it’s boring designers that cause boring courses. We’ve created courses on HIPAA, New Employee Onboarding, and Firewall Compliance that made people laugh out loud. And I don’t mean a courtesy LOL, I mean actual laughter. It can be done.

That doesn’t mean you need to make everything a comedy skit, that’s not the point. Some topics don’t lend themselves to humor, but that’s different than boring. Incorporating interesting examples and challenging activities that relate to someone’s job will keep them interested. It’s up to you to find what connects the information to things that matter to your learners.

The Material is Not Relevant

This has always been important, but in today’s OnDemand society, it’s even more important. People are used to watching what they want, when they want it. This makes everyone less tolerant than ever to put up with materials that don’t resonate with them.

This starts with catching people early with WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Your course needs a hook. This can be a story, a shocking statistic, or the specific job benefit this course will bestow. Whatever. You have precious little time at the beginning to prove your course is worthwhile. After that, it’s about keeping your promise. Make sure the examples you use connect with your audience. Scenarios can be a great way to handle this. Put people in situations they can relate to, and force them to make choices.

If your course needs to address multiple audiences with different needs, don’t be afraid to branch the content. This increases the work and overall course size, but it’s better to keep people invested by giving them what they need versus losing a huge portion of your audience.

The Style is Mismatched to the Audience

There are several things that go into making up the “style” of a course. Things like the graphics, color scheme, writing style, and narrative tone all come into play. Obviously these are details that need to be discussed with the client / project owner prior to beginning work. The thing is, these decisions not only need to play well with each other, but they need to be aligned with the company’s culture.

Some companies have a young-spirited, free-wheelin’ sort of vibe, and others are more conservative. One company might want their courses to be edgier and push the boundaries to resonate with their employee attitudes. Meanwhile, others may prefer playing things much closer to the vest. It’s critical that you align the style of the course with the audience, or else you’ll alienate them right from the start. Now, you can’t please everyone, and certainly not all learners have the same tastes. But if you roll out a cartoon-laden course with slang terms and super-casual narration to an uber-conservative audience, your course is going to be DOA. So determine the appetite your audience has for various styles and make sure you match your course up to those preferences.

The Course is Too Passive

Remember when your mother used to lecture you about…it doesn’t even matter. You know, she’d go off on this one-sided rant about why you shouldn’t eat cookies before dinner, or why you should never go out wearing dirty underwear. Eventually you stopped listening, because you weren’t really part of the “discussion” were you? You see, when your course does nothing but talk at the learners, they lose interest too. There have been a lot of studies about active vs. passive learning. Not surprisingly, when learners are involved in the learning process, they stay more engaged and they retain more.

Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This holds true in life and in your eLearning course as well. We actually remember a staggeringly small amount of the information we hear. (There are debates about actual percentages, but most agree it is a very small amount). However, as we involve learners to participate in the learning process, their understanding deepens and their retention goes way up.

So, adding opportunities for learners to interact is critical. Just keep in mind that this doesn’t always have to be “physical” interaction. Yes, activities where learners click and drag objects is helpful. But opportunities for learners to interact cognitively is what’s really important.

You Don’t Have Enough Stakeholder Buy-In

Typically your eLearning project has a client. Whether it’s a literal client (because you’re the vendor) or more of an internal client in the form of the project owner from another department, they’re both stakeholders. From the beginning of the project, you need to identify the project owner AND the person that ultimately signs off. They’re not necessarily the same person.

To keep the project moving forward appropriately, you need to stay in regular contact with the project owner, communicating status and any project needs. As the person immediately responsible for the training project, you obviously need to keep them vested. Regular status meetings can accomplish this. Review the current stage of the project and anything you require of them to ensure success. It’s best to inform them of anything that poses risk BEFORE things go sideways.

We’ve found that using some type of project management software can aid tremendously. We create task lists with timelines, and present them in the form of a Gantt chart at the beginning of the project. This ensures agreement for all timelines, both for the tasks you own (like writing the storyboard) and those the client owns (like reviewing the storyboard). This helps keep the project owner engaged and an advocate for your process, not just someone you’re reporting a status to.

In addition, you also need to identify the person ultimately responsible for the project. Especially in larger organizations, this may not be someone you interface with very often, but they can still be crucial to the project success. Determine at the beginning whether this person is needed as part of the sign-off, or whether they have delegated that role to the project owner.

If the responsible party needs to sign off on the course directly, then determine up front which review cycles they need to participate in. You don’t want to wait until the final sign-off just to find out the responsible party hates the color you selected. On the flip side, the higher up this person is in the organization, the harder it can be for them to set time aside for reviews. For example, if you try to include a busy VP in each of your review cycles, while they’re constantly flying around the country for other meetings, you’ll never get your course done on time. Determine the milestones that are critical and involve them in those.

Avoid the eLearning Pitfalls

While these are just a handful of the things that can go wrong, they do represent some of the major considerations. Addressing and discussing these issues with the appropriate audience, prior to the start of course development, could mean epic success. Not only for you, but for all those involved.