Creating online courses:
The educational workflow
You are about to create your first online course. However, before you start assembling content in the authoring tool, you need a scheme of work to give your course a workable structure. In this article, we take you step by step through all the points that this kind of scheme of work should include. You will then be able to use this guide to put together your own schemes of work, guaranteeing you effective online courses.
The basis of a successful online course
Before you start designing your content, you should evaluate precisely what learners’ needs are. Who is in your target group? What prior knowledge do your learners have? Do they have the right skills? What level of training—basic or expert—are you intending to provide, and what methods are suited to this? Your needs analysis will ensure that you are investing your valuable resources in effective online courses that contribute to your company’s goals and are well-received by learners. Statistics, sales figures, customer feedback, appraisals and the like can also help depending on the circumstances. You can also analyze which people need training at all. Especially where you are dealing with changes, new launches or the introduction of new strategies, employees from outside of the department that is primarily affected may also benefit from training.
Setting objectives and defining learning outcomes
Training courses of course need to be precisely formulated: What should learners know or be able to do after completing the course? The more precisely you can answer this question, the better you can structure the educational aims of the course, adding or omitting content in a targeted manner. For example, you could formulate a learning objective as follows:
—“Staff should be able to create and schedule tasks for themselves and other team members in the new project management software, enter progress with work, assign files to projects, and archive completed projects.”
This objective can then be used to develop specific course content and to evaluate learning outcomes. Alternatively, if it were to be formulated as
“Employees should be able to handle the new project management software”,
you would probably find it more difficult to decide which content would be really relevant for the basic software course. It would also not be possible to evaluate the success of the course with any clarity afterwards.
Target group analysis
The same applies to the target group. The more information you have about your target group, the more precisely you can ultimately target your online course. Answer these questions in advance:
How many learners are participating?
How old are the learners?
What language do they speak?
What level of education do participants have?
What technical needs and knowledge do learners already have?
What is the learners’ basic knowledge of each topic?
What types of learners are the participants?
Do they include learners with disabilities?
Your answers to the questions will determine which media you use, how interactive the course can be, whether content needs to be fully accessible, what the scope of individual sessions can be, etc. If you have only auditory learners in your target group, for example, you will probably work primarily with spoken texts. If all participants have a similar level of education, you can use a more elevated language register and deliver more knowledge per individual session.
Overall, as in marketing, the following applies: The smaller the target group, the more precisely courses can be designed, and the better learning outcomes will be. Of course, courses with fundamentally the same content can be prepared for different target groups.
Analyze learning environments
In this context, it is also important to think about learning environments:
- Where are participants doing their learning? (In transit, at work, at home)
- What devices are participants learning on? (PCs, smartphones)
- Do learners already have devices or do these need to be provided?
If, for example, participants are primarily studying as they travel to work, it would be better to offer individual lessons in short nuggets. The devices used by learners will also determine how you present content. Here, it is beneficial to work with software that can offer a fully responsive version of online courses from the outset.
Designing online courses
Once you have determined the need for eTraining and identified the target group and learning environments, you have the information to design your course.
Structuring the course into sections and subsections to fit with learning objectives
The first step is to structure all relevant content into sections and subsections in accordance with overarching learning objectives. The structure is rather like the table of contents in a book. In order to make the work as goal-oriented as possible, the sections are formulated as learning objectives. Taking project management software as an example, the sections and subsections could look like this:
Subsection 2.1.: Creating the project
Subsection 2.3.: Adding team members
Subsection 2.3.: Creating subtasks
Subsection 2.4.: Assigning subtasks to team members
Each subsection equates to a separate sharable-content object—one of a number that ultimately make up the entire course. Perhaps the most significant advantage of structuring a course in this way—in addition to the general focus on objectives—is that many learning content management systems also enable individual sharable-content objects to be reused in other courses. The smaller the modules, the more easily they can be recycled later. Staying with our example of PM software, you could offer the course both to project managers and to team members. While the basic functions are the same for both target groups (so the sharable-content objects can be used in both courses without having to be created afresh), you can add additional sections to the course for the project managers, covering specific organizational functions.
Specifying the learning path
Then you determine how you will evaluate each section. Do learners have to complete a section successfully before they can unlock others, or can subsections be completed independently of one another? And which sections also require learners to pass a test in order to complete them successfully? A storyboard can help visualize the learning path (see below).
Use of media to suit learning objectives and target groups
As already indicated above, specific media and gamification apps can also be incorporated to suit learning objectives, target groups and learning environments. Audio files, (interactive) videos, quizzes with different question types, interactive infographics—there is a long list of media that you can use. Find out what media and application options are available to you. Then decide which media are most likely to achieve your learning objectives and which will best suit your target group. If you have a young target group, you need have no hesitation about working with any kind of interactive features, and content is best presented in the form of videos. If your target group is older, they are likely to prefer interactive elements to be used alongside texts.
Creating and delivering the storyboard
Once you have defined your sections, learning path, and media use, you can choreograph your course in a storyboard. Depending on what you prefer, this can take the form of a simple Excel table or even a digital visualization that you later pass on to the course developers or use to create the course yourself. The following information should be added to each individual subsection:
- Title of (sub)section
- Screen text and elements (roughly outlined)
- Content of audio or video files (roughly formulated)
- Interactive features
- Navigation and potential offshoots
- Notes on learning path and dependencies between subsections
Tip: At this point, it is helpful to have an overview of all the elements that your authoring tool offers. This will allow you to take full advantage of all the potential options during the design process.
Review and optimization
If you have considered all the issues mentioned here and have included all the information you have on your target group and their learning environments, you will now have an educationally coherent design that will maximize your learners’ success. Despite this, in practice you may find that aspects of your course are still in need of optimization. So make sure you plan adequate time for testing, feedback rounds with test candidates, and later for reflection and evaluation of outcomes. This will enable you to gradually optimize the schemes of work for your online courses, adapt them to individual circumstances, and improve learning outcomes.
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