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How to Create an Engaging Online Course

Online learning, or eLearning, offers several advantages to today’s learners, whether they’re in the workplace, an academic setting, or anywhere else. The benefits include the ability to scale instruction to reach a wider audience than traditional live, classroom-based training, and at a lower cost. 

By making use of interactive elements such as quizzes, dialogue simulations, scenarios, and multimedia, eLearning is a highly engaging medium that can lead to accelerated employee development. Administrative tasks such as course enrollment, grading, and reporting can be automated through the learning management system that hosts your courses, allowing both instructors and instructional designers to spend time on what matters most, and not mundane tasks. 

Check out this infographic for more eLearning benefits:

With so many advantages, it should come as no surprise that the eLearning industry is booming. If you’re ready to start creating online courses, follow this simple strategy to set yourself on the path to success. 

Step 1: Define Learning Goals and Objectives

A learning objective is a concise way of stating what the expected outcome is for the learner upon completion of the course; in short, it’s what they’ll be able to do after gaining skills or knowledge from the instruction. 

In the workplace, this often corresponds to behavior on the job. For example, learning objectives could be:

  • Describe the features of a new product
  • Change a car tire correctly
  • Select the most appropriate item to recommend to your customer 

You might note that each objective begins with a verb, or an “action word.” Additionally, each objective is something that can be observed and measured. It’s clear when someone performs these tasks correctly, and you could provide feedback or guidance if they’re unable to perform the task (hint: connect your learning objectives to your assessment, which we’ll discuss later in the article). 

Your learning objectives provide a roadmap for both you and the learner. As the designer, learning objectives are your north star; any content that supports your objectives needs to be included in your course and any content that does not directly support these objectives is superfluous. Objectives provide similar guidance to your learners by answering the question “What’s in it for me?” and by telling them what they should expect to gain from the course. 

Step 2: Organize the Work with SMEs and Stakeholders

Throughout the course development process, you’ll work with both subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders. We define each role as:

  • SME. A subject matter expert is the primary source of your information. They provide you with the content for your course, review the course for accuracy and completion, and help define the learning objectives. 
  • Stakeholder. A stakeholder is anyone else with an interest in the successful completion of your project, such as upper management, trainers, and the project manager (if different from the instructional designer). 

For example, if you’re creating a sales training course, your SMEs may include the VP of sales, sales managers, and even the actual salespeople. Your additional stakeholders may be the executive leaders who commissioned the course, and the project manager who is tasked with overseeing the rollout of the new training initiative. 

It’s important to define roles and responsibilities for both your SMEs and stakeholders early in the design process to help ensure a smooth course development. By determining who should be involved, at what points in the process, and what their responsibilities are regarding providing and reviewing the course’s content, you’ll run less risk of revision and rework once you start building the course. 

Step 3: Create a Course Storyboard

After compiling the information for all the training modules of your course, the next step is to map it out in what’s known as a “storyboard.” This could be in the form of a document or presentation deck, or even a rough prototype or mock-up of what the final product could look like. 

The purpose of the storyboard is to allow your SMEs and stakeholders to review the course content, verbiage, and sequence of activities before building anything in the authoring tool. In addition to the written content, include any images, multimedia (like videos or podcasts), and navigational directions for how the learners will progress through the course. You’ll want to give your reviewers a complete understanding of what the course and each microlearning module will include, and how it will look and feel. 

Here’s an example of the eLearning storyboard for an intro slide in the course:

It’s much simpler and faster to make changes in a document at this early stage than it is later in the process. The time you spend creating a storyboard is time well spent, as you will be rewarded with a faster course building and review experience later in the development process. 

Step 4: Write the Script

Similar to a play or a movie, the script is the verbiage of the course. This includes all narration, as well as all on-screen texts. The instructional designer must write the course’s text based on the information provided by the SME(s) – which could come from any number and type of source files. 

During this step, it’s important to consider not only how the words sound, but how they look on screen. Read the script aloud to yourself as you write it. If you get tongue-tied or confused while reading it, then it won’t sound good to your learners. Craft shorter, concise sentences, written in a conversational, natural tone of voice. If your learners are likely to complete your course on mobile devices, you may also want to make use of short passages of text that learners can read with a minimum of scrolling. 

Ultimately, your course’s content will be more effective and more engaging if it reads like it was written (and narrated!) by a human being, and not a robot. 

Step 5: Build the Course with an Authoring Tool

Once your storyboard has been approved by your stakeholders, you’re ready to begin building the course! An authoring tool is course development software that brings online learning to life. Many such tools use a slide-based layout, similar to PowerPoint, where designers can add the course content using a range of design elements, such as text, images, infographics, video, and even interactions.

There are some tools, such as iSpring Suite, that use PowerPoint as a foundation. So, you can build an interactive course the same way you’d create a presentation, and then publish it in online format in a couple of clicks.

A slide from a course created with iSpring Suite

Step 6: Add Assessments

Recall your learning objectives. What measurable, observable actions are your learners expected to perform upon completion of the course? 

Now it’s time to create assessments to determine whether your learners have mastered the content or not. Many authoring tools include a quiz maker that allows you to build online tests.

For example, iSpring Suite provides 14 assessment options, ranging from traditional multiple-choice and true/false style question types, to fill-in-the-blank and moving objects on the screen (known as “drag-and-drop”).

A slide from a quiz created with iSpring Suite

Assessment can be as active and impactful as the instruction itself. And creation of the assessment can be as easy as the course creation, thanks to the inclusion of pre-built common assessment methods in online training software. The use of feedback based on learners’ choices or overall performance can also add an interactive, educational component to the overall experience, serving to reinforce any important concepts. 

Step 7: Publish the Course

Once your course is approved by your stakeholders, it’s time to publish! This is the exciting moment where your course goes live for your learners or for a pilot group. Based on how simple the creation of both the course and the assessments goes, it may come as no surprise that publishing is just as easy. Simply click “Publish” and your authoring tool will output a file that’s ready to be uploaded to your hosting service, such as a learning management system (LMS), website, or even YouTube. 

Final Thoughts

eLearning is a powerful solution for today’s learners, both in academic and corporate settings. With numerous advantages over traditional brick-and-mortar education, online learning allows organizations to reach global audiences, and to create and update their content in a process that’s both quick and easy. 

Whether you’d like to build an online course, an online quiz, or both, following a strategy for the design and development of your content helps ensure high-quality results. Empower your learners to achieve both their goals and the goals of your organization by presenting them with content that’s engaging, interactive, and relevant to their needs. 


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