Six Bright Ideas for a Successful E-Learning Project (Perspectives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Project)

Introducing e-learning to your organization is a daunting task. Just ask Maura Giles, senior leadership communications manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

NRECA serves as the trade association for over 900 electrical cooperatives across the country that provide power to over half the nation’s landmass. They previously produced webinars for members to utilize, but when it came time to roll out phase two of training initiatives to engage members—especially young adults—in a new way, Maura and her team had a bright idea: pivot to a more interactive experience for the learner.

This was her first foray into the world of e-learning. She experienced several lightbulb moments along the way that may help you in your next e-learning project!

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a project that you hired a company to help produce and that company can’t help you feel less overwhelmed, you’ve got the wrong company.”

Maura Giles, NRECA

Bright Idea #1:
Focus on the Learner

Identifying the learners for a particular program can be a challenge but understanding what’s important to them is a key step. Knowing why they care, why they need this information, and how it will impact their lives are crucial to creating engaging learning experiences.

The focus for NRECA’s Young Adult Member Engagement initiative—or YAME—is just like it sounds, says Maura: “Yeah, ME!” Young adult members want to know: What’s in it for me? How does this impact me? It became clear to electric cooperatives across the nation that the “typical” member demographic was in many instances changing. More and more younger individuals and families have been moving to locations on electric cooperative lines. These young members weren’t always familiar with the inner workings of how a cooperative operates. NRECA saw the need and offered training, and they wanted the training to be seen as relevant and necessary. Maura turned to us because of the learner-focused approach: while a subject-matter expert (SME) advocates for the content, our instructional designers advocate for the learner.

NRECA, like many organizations, struggled with how to present content: What should be included? How should it be worded? What should the course actually look like? This is where a good instructional designer can make all the difference. Maura shared how our writing team reframed the questions to put the focus on the learner: What does the learner need to do? When they’re doing the job they need this training for, what will they be doing? Only after we get a clear answer to these kinds of questions, do we move to: what do they need to know to do that?

Focusing on what the learner actually needs to do helps weed out extraneous information and streamline the learning experience.

Bright Idea #2:
Avoid The Squeeze

“You can kind of lose sight of the goal sometimes when you get too deep into a project,” Maura says. “Don’t forget—what’s the goal that you’re trying to achieve at the end of this?”

To avoid this information overload, return your focus to what the learner needs to do and what information is required for them to do it. Some topics start to become huge, with rabbit trails in every direction. Narrow your focus and think about the practical steps the learner should take to achieve the goal you’ve set.

Sometimes the click-click-clicking of interactions required to get through a module is labeled as engagement when really it’s just interaction. Maura referred to this as “clickbait training,” and it happens when too much information is squeezed into a too-short timeframe.

Bright Idea #3:
Authentic Assessments

The decision to create an e-learning module opens up many doors for both the learner and the organization. The ability to recreate authentic scenarios for learners to put their new-found knowledge into practice is a clear benefit.

With a little creativity and some clever design work, relatable scenarios can be put into a course’s assessment. These realistic decision-making scenarios allow learners to use their new-found knowledge to solve a problem.

Maura was excited for the NRECA learners to experience content in a more interesting way. “It’s great when they say, ‘Oh, I get it! I absorbed the information and did not just click through it. I understand now because here’s a quiz and a scenario for me to check my knowledge and make sure I understood.’”

Bright Idea #4:
Call In Reinforcements

Clients often have difficulty finding time to review an e-learning experience. From storyboards to the final product, someone has to check every word to ensure it’s accurate, attractive, and meets the needs (plus the deadlines) of the organization while also managing their regular full-time duties.

NRECA was no exception. “I already had a full plate,” says Maura, “There are a few things that could make the process a little bit easier. One of those things is if you have someone who’s only dedicated to modules. If you’re doing a big project—like we were—where there are other pieces, having someone just dedicated and focused on the learning modules. And then the other part is, if you’ve got the resources, dividing up the modules into some key pieces.”

In hindsight, Maura recommends giving your team more specific tasks related to reviewing the modules. For example, designers who understand the company’s branding could make the call on graphics and imagery, while someone else could be responsible for reviewing the writing aspects. By clearly assigning tasks ahead of time, no one person has to feel overwhelmed by the burden of reviewing.

Bright Idea #5:
Frontload The Feedback

Having additional people review the final module is always great, but Maura recommends that more people review storyboards.

“Of course, it’s easier for someone to look at a module when it’s complete, but you really need people to look at the storyboards before they get to that point,” she says. “I think you have to be able to bring those folks in earlier in the process, so you don’t get to that point where you have to make a lot of changes at the end.”

Changes are easier to make during the writing process rather than when the module has already moved to development. Deciding on big changes in content or structure during the development process can cause your schedule—and your budget—to take a big hit.

Bright Idea #6:
Reach Out To Your E-Learning Team

Your first time reviewing storyboards and modules may feel like you’re reading a different language. Don’t hesitate to call on your production team to help you translate what you’re seeing into the learning experience.

During her first review cycles for storyboards and development, Maura sometimes felt overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. But she says, “I had a team at Artisan that I could talk to about this and say, ‘Hey, I am having a hard time with this part,’ or, ‘This is really a lot for me to deal with. Can you help me figure out how to navigate some of these things?’ I was comforted by the fact that, if I felt overwhelmed, I just had to say, ‘Look, I’m overwhelmed. Here’s how.’ And the team would say, ‘Let us help you not be so overwhelmed. What can we do?’ Everyone was available to me. I don’t know if I was the only person they were working with at the time-the only client-but it felt like it. It felt like personalized service.”

Whether you’re new to the world of e-learning or it’s old hat, you should be able to rely on your team to make your e-learning design experience as simple and painless as possible.

Maura adds, “If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a project that you hired a company to help produce and that company can’t help you feel less overwhelmed, you’ve got the wrong company.”

Learning lessons from others’ experiences is so valuable. Whether it’s your first time entering the world of e-learning, or you’re a seasoned pro, take some time to reflect on these “bright ideas” and ask yourself if there’s something you can use when you’re creating training for your learners.

These Bright Ideas Can
Fuel Your E-Learning Project Success.

The team at Artisan Learning can help.

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