How to Do E-Learning and M-Learning Solutions Right

Last week, my colleague Susan Fisher and I presented at mLearnCon in San Jose on the topic of “Mobile Decisions: Right Solution, Right Tools.” I was thrilled to be speaking about doing mobile right.

For one thing, I love the potential mobile has to revolutionize how learners use learning and performance support solutions. Second, I’m excited about focusing on how to do learning “right.” This is something that’s equally important for m-learning, e-learning, traditional classroom training, or any other learning solution.

Here are a few suggestions to help ensure your e-learning and m-learning solutions are done right:

1. Develop processes, standards, and tools, and align the standards and tools to each step in the process. I recommend using a process similar to the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation) model with the addition of project management tools.

I’ve seen companies spend a lot of extra time trying to complete e-learning courses because every step through ADDIE involved all the team members reinventing the wheel. If you have documented processes, standards, and tools, it doesn’t stifle innovation. Instead, it lets you cover the core requirements quickly and efficiently, which then frees up time that can be devoted to innovation and creativity.

2. Document your organization’s technology infrastructure. Keep this up-to-date when the infrastructure changes. Ensure you never build training that won’t work in your infrastructure.

I’ve consulted with companies that are frustrated that video in e-learning courses doesn’t run well on their thin client computers. When I inquired as to what video compression settings were being used in the courses and what bandwidth was allowed for video within the organization, the course developers couldn’t answer either question. There’s no way you can hit a required target for bandwidth if no one can tell you what the target is!

3. Select delivery methods and authoring tools that are well suited to the learning and performance objectives. Use blended delivery methods and authoring tool sets when appropriate.

Some of the most effective and efficient e-learning solutions I’ve seen use a mix of authoring tools where programmers with extensive technical experience focus on the core functionality using one authoring tool, and individual pages are developed quickly using another authoring tool that requires a less extensive skill set.

4. Select authoring tools that match the complexity and type of interactions in your courses.

Is it any wonder that e-learning courses lack engaging features when the authoring tools selected by the organization are designed for simple interactivity, and no other authoring tools are allowed? Often, I have seen the reasoning for the choice of tools is based on the fact that the developers using them wouldn’t know how to use tools that can produce more engaging interactivity. The tools are for simple interactivity, and the people using them are only capable of producing simple interactivity … how come there aren’t engaging learning solutions being produced?

5. Select authoring tools that match the capability of your course developers.

If you really don’t have developers who can program in Objective-C, specifying Objective-C won’t work. You’ll need to find other developers or pick another language that’s suited to the learning objectives.

6. Ensure instructional designers, programmers, and the creative team collaborate on learning solutions.

Without collaboration, you may find that someone in one function spends hours to determine how to handle a design issue only to find out that other team members have resolved and implemented it hundreds of times. Usually, it’s best to ask others for help if the question isn’t in your primary area of expertise.

7.  Develop a prototype with a representative sample of each type of interaction in your solution before you build the entire solution.

If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then a functioning prototype is probably worth a million.

8. Create a standard quality assurance testing plan to use across projects. Customize this base plan for each project.

A quality assurance testing plan is just one of the tools mentioned earlier (in processes, standards, and tools), but it’s a key tool. If you don’t have standards, processes, and tools for quality, how can you expect to get quality?

9. Use an online tracking system for revision requests and verify every change has been made properly.

Ten years ago, my project team used to use spreadsheets to log revision requests. Invariably, some team members were out of the loop on what issues still needed to be resolved. Furthermore, the lack of an easy way to verify that issues were really fixed caused countless problems. An online review tool simplifies quality assurance testing immensely.

10. Test solutions on all platforms that learners will use. Build in such a way that those solutions will likely work in future platforms without requiring revision.

I’ve seen courses go all the way through quality assurance testing and pass with flying colors only to have a new browser or Flash Player plug-in come out that renders the course unusable. Of course, you can’t predict every change that might happen, but it’s a good idea to check on beta versions of future browsers and plug‑ins if you have access to do so.

11.  Pilot learning with actual learners prior to general release.

Who knows better than actual learners whether the learning is easy to use and the content is useful and appropriate? Hopefully, the instructional designer and subject matter experts are able to determine what learners need before you’re at the end of the development process. In the event there are important things learners will ask to have improved, it’s better to find that out at pilot, before everyone in the intended audience (which can at times be your entire organization) is bombarding you with change requests.

By no means is this list exhaustive. I’d love to hear about what you’d recommend to ensure e-learning and mobile learning solutions are done right.

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