What is effective e-learning? Tips and tricks for creating effective e-learning!

As with all learning material, its effectiveness depends strongly on its quality. Anyone can make e-learning material, but making it effective is different. So, let's zoom in on the variables that make your e-learning effective!

Content Manager & HR Officer
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Table of contents

  1. What does effective e-learning mean?
  2. 8 tips for creating effective e-learning material

What does effective e-learning mean?

Before we dive into practical details, first take a step back. Because what do we actually mean by effective e-learning? We look at effectiveness from two sides: the outcome and the material itself.

E-learning material is effective when learners have significantly improved their knowledge

Let's discuss the outcome first. According to us, e-learning material is effective when learners have significantly improved their knowledge and skills after completing the e-learning course. They behave and do their work differently than before. Therefore, they positively contribute to achieving the company's targets, as the organization works more efficiently and effectively. It is measurable. Long story short: the learner performs better, and the company benefits from it.

Then, the e-learning material. To achieve improved business outcomes, the condition is that the e-learning material effective. Of course, other variables also impact learning and learning results. But what do we consider as effective e-learning material then? Effective e-learning content is tailored to both learners' objectives and needs, and your organization’s broader structure, resources, and goals. The material is designed according to those standards, and has interactive elements that present information in various ways.

By influencing the process, you'll control the outcome. So, let's focus on how to create effective e-learning material. What factors do you need to take into account?

8 tips for creating effective e-learning material

1. Use learning goals and objectives.

Without a clear learning goal, your learners are adrift. Your learners need to know why they need to take the e-learning course and, more importantly, how the course will help them and how it will benefit them in their daily work. How should they apply the information in practice?

A concrete goal also helps to give substance to your e-learning course

Ultimately, a concrete goal also helps to give substance to your e-learning course. The content that’s needed, and how to compose the course. You can break a goal down into several learning objectives. A goal sets out what learners will be able to do once they've finished your course. But to reach that goal, they first need to complete several specific and measurable learning objectives.

A clear goal becomes more important the lower the intrinsic motivation for taking an e-learning course. This is the case, for example, with compulsory (read: top-down) courses.

2. Create courses in the right order.

Ping, you have a brilliant learning idea, and start creating immediately. Our advice: don't do it. Stop and start in a structured way, even if it feels like you're pushing the brakes.

It is better to write down the learning goals and objectives first and then decide what tasks, assignments, and questions are needed to assess the knowledge. Once you have finished that, the content you need will automatically flow from it.

By working this way, you keep your course condensed and focused. It even helps you to build on your content on each other in a logical way.

3. Choose the right size for your e-learning course.

You should avoid lengthy courses

Less is more. As an e-learning course creator, you should avoid lengthy courses. One of the main reasons for that is human attention span, and that e-learning courses can be taken literally anywhere. Distractions lurk (imagine that participants sit on a train or at the airport), and you can anticipate them by offering bite-sized courses.

Research by Kasper Spiro, a recognized thought leader in e-learning, has shown that the ideal course length is 5 to 15 minutes. Suppose you cannot complete your learning within 30 minutes. In that case, it is better to split it up into multiple courses and present it in a learning path (a series of courses in a logical order) [1]. This result aligns with research that shows that 10 minutes a day is enough to acquire new knowledge.

4. Offer the same knowledge in different ways.

Traditionally, training of employees takes a part of or a whole day. But what do employees remember after a long training day? According to the research of psychologist and memory researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus, we know that 66% forget what they have learned within a day. After a month this percentage is 98%. And there is also research that indicates that human beings forget 90% of what they learn within just hours of learning it.

What can we do about this? How can we make sure the information sticks longer? The best way to ensure that valuable knowledge isn't lost is to repeat it and offer the same knowledge in different forms. So, you could vary your course templates (text vs. video vs. audio). Also, using a variety of question types can help your employees beat the forgetting curve. Use multiple-choice questions, open questions, and scenario questions to maximize the impact of your course. Another option is to make what is learned tangible by offering them daily tasks where they can apply their knowledge directly. Lastly, don't offer lengthy courses, but keep it short and sweet. Your learner will barely notice that you offer the same information repeatedly.

5. Write to the point.

Clear, unambiguous information is a prerequisite for good learning. You don't want your learners to spend time on how to interpret or question the information. You want them to take it in and help them retain it. Here are some ideas for writing clear e-learning courses:

  • Know your audience and put yourself in their shoes. What is their existing level of knowledge on the subject matter? Do they use jargon?
  • Have a clear goal and express that.
  • Write top-down, so start with the most important information, and save the details for later. Summarize the important information in bullet points at the end.
  • Use the active voice. In an active voice, the sentence's subject performs its verb, not the other way around. This type of writing presents your points clearly and with confidence.
  • Keep your sentences short. Don’t add unnecessary subclauses, adverbs, or adjectives.
  • Make text scannable by using headings to break up your text.
  • Get your e-learning course reviewed by a peer. They will always catch some (minor) errors. Prevention is better than cure.

6. Design your e-learning course like a pro.

Choose a sans-serif font such as Verdana, Calibri, or Arial

A font is a powerful part of online learning and the overall online experience. Did you know that 75% of internet users leave a website because of the font? Because they experience it as unreadable or illegible? A font provokes emotional responses that affect how we perceive content - as clean, crisp, elegant, modern or cluttered, chaotic or outdated. Since online learning happens online, we need to take font choice seriously. But what is the best font for online use?

Sans-serif fonts such as Verdana, Calibri, and Arial are best for reading on a screen[2]. 16 pixels would be the ideal size, according to some research [3]. Sans-serif fonts enhance legibility and readability. But, of course, legibility and readability are influenced by factors beyond your control, such as screen resolution, aging, the distance you sit from a screen, and lighting.

Sans-serif fonts enhance legibility and readability

There is also research that suggests just the opposite. This research result demonstrates that the retention of e-learning material significantly improved by presenting the material in fonts that are slightly more difficult to read. This has to do with what educators and psychologists call "desirable difficulty". When reading online in a familiar font, readers have the tendency to pay less attention to the text and scan it more. The 'easy' font suggests that the material is 'easy'. When reading online in an unfamiliar font, the reader's brain has to work harder, and deeper information processing happens.

But what to do then? There is a thin line between disfluency fonts that improve the reading, and illegibility of fonts. You don't want the wrong balance. We would advise you to keep it clear and just publish your course in a sans-serif font [4].

Keep 50-75 characters per line

Having the right number of characters on each line is key to the readability of your online material. It all has to do with focusing. If a line of text is too long, the learner's eye will have difficulty focusing. If the opposite is the case, it frustrates the learners. Lines that are too short tend to stress readers, making them begin on the following line before finishing the current one. Potentially important information could get missed.

Other typography tips

  • Make sure your text is left-aligned. It's the best for readability and user experience because of how our eyes read.
  • If you want to emphasize essential parts in your text, you can use a visual cue. Literacy research indicates that readers remember what they have read if keywords are highlighted by different colors and font styles (though not font sizes). Color coding is also an effective visual mnemonic [5].

Keep your black font on a white background and style it with green, blue, and orange

Owl that paints Color plays a crucial role in creating an environment that fosters learning. Black text on a white background works best. The simple explanation: we are used to it.

Learning content is offered in a customizable learning environment most of the time . You can align it with your corporate identity. Still, suppose the company colors are red and purple. In that case, you may need to reconsider if you want to achieve an optimal learning curve. Red is considered an aggressive color. Colors associated with a positive impact on learning are green, orange, and blue [6].

7. Make an engaging learning experience by adding multimedia.

Research has repeatedly shown that offering knowledge in different ways (video, audio, and text) positively affects the learning outcome. Also, adding multimedia (video, audio, infographics, illustrations, graphs, screenshots) to learning content works perfectly as long as it is supportive of the main content. The main rules for adding multimedia are:

  • It should help explain (difficult) topics.
  • Keep videos under six minutes.
  • Don't overuse illustrations and images in a course. Try to avoid using more than two images per page.
  • Try to alternate between text and interactive, entertaining content.

8. Create a feedback loop for your learners.

Knowledge isn't knowledge if it hasn't been tested. So, to check if your learners understood the learning content correctly, you could add exam questions in between or at the end of your course. Learners naturally want to know where they're going wrong and find out how they can improve their performance.

You can guide them on this by offering an explanation of the given answers. Even if they have answered a question correctly. This way, important information gets repeated, and repetition is one of the factors for effective learning. When a learner answers a question incorrectly, always make sure they understand where they went wrong. Explain the correct response and make reference to important content.

Useful resources

  1. De 7 bouwstenen van effectieve e-learning
  2. Wood, J. (2011, October). The best fonts to use in print, online, and email.
  3. Bnnon. (2011). 16 pixels font size: For body copy. Anything less is a costly mistake.
  4. eLearning Industry
  5. Vartanian, H. (201). The idiot’s guide to typefaces … and fonts.
  6. The Psychology of Color: How do Colors influence learning

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does effective e-learning mean?
    E-learning material is effective when learners have significantly improved their knowledge and skills after completing the e-learning course. The material is effective if it meets standards and is tailored to the learners' needs.
  • Where do I begin if I want to make effective e-learning?
    It's all about having a clear learning goal. It is your starting point for creating the needed content.
  • What is the ideal length of an effective e-learning course?
    If you want to make an effective e-learning course, you need to consider the learners' attention span. Ideally, a course doesn't last longer than 30 minutes. The perfect length is between 5 and 15 minutes.
  • What are the design standards of an effective e-learning?
    What applies to web content applies to e-learning content too. Use the following tips for an effective e-learning course: 1. Use a sans-serif font 2. Keep 50-75 characters per line 3. Left-align your text 4. Use a visual cue to emphasize important information 5. Use black text on a white background.

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