Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Get Skilled to Create Engaging e-Learning

by Jonathan Shoaf

Many of us know the common scenarios.
  • Victor has a great PowerPoint deck on the new widget. Make it available online.
  • Sally created some great videos on changes to the old process. Post those on the corporate site.
  • Work with Jordan to put the face-to-face training in Adobe Captivate so we can roll it out to the rest of the organization at low cost. Oh, and we don't have time to do anything elaborate!
As e-learning professionals we talk a lot about how things should be done. But every day many of us bite the bullet and put something out to either satisfy a low effort request or a ridiculous timeline. Creating something more engaging takes just too much time.

But, wait, that is easy to say but not exactly true. I believe it is a training issue within or own profession. Many e-learning developers simply don't feel comfortable adding engaging content on short notice. I believe this is because they are not trained to do so. Most developers I've met have picked up the trade through on-the-job-training and have no formal training in e-learning development. Further, many people charged with creating e-learning come from instructional design backgrounds and have never been formally trained on creating robust web content.

So here we are, learning professionals, doing a job many of us were never trained to do. And guess what? There is no one there to train you…that is your job.

And it is not an easy task. To create the most engaging training you need to be an instructional designer, a graphic designer, a web developer, and an LMS expert. On top of that you need great writing skills, attention to detail, and be great at testing and troubleshooting. You would command an annual salary upwards of $100K doing all of that!

Some of us work in organizations where these tasks are split up and there is an individual that can do each of these tasks. While the specialization allows for more interesting and engaging projects, communication and team coherence are often not as strong as they could be resulting in fractured projects that are not everything they could be. And, not many projects have the flexible timeline to fit in that type of model.

The more an individual can do, the quicker a project can move through the development process. So what can you do to get the skills necessary for such a demanding job?

If you are managing a group of e-learning developers, I suggest the following to get more engaging e-learning from your team:
  • Encourage and provide formal training on web development. This can be done from a combination of online learning sites like, training classes at web conferences, and formal training classes by tools vendors.
  • Facilitate sharing among team members. At weekly meetings, have team members take turns sharing something interesting they've learned in the past month.
  • Showcase projects that meet the engagement standards you seek. If a project is outstanding, make sure everyone on the team sees it and understands the expectations.
  • Give team members the time to experiment with engaging content for each project. Work it into the schedule as much as possible. They will get faster over time.
If you are an instructional designer or developer, I suggest the following to learn how to create more engaging e-learning:
  • Get membership to an online learning site like and use it on an "as needed" basis. Never say (or think) you can't do something until you have taken a training course on the topic.
  • Involve yourself with social media like Twitter, blogs, and user groups. Follow people on Twitter that have interesting things to say. Look at the social media surrounding the e-learning product you are using and look at the examples and how they are created. Articulate has one of the best social media networks for this.
  • Learn advanced actions and variables, practice with them, and use them in projects. Become comfortable with them. They are key to providing "outside the box" engaging content.
  • Create an e-learning playground on your computer to practice and hone the skills you learn. If you get an idea but don't have a project for it, create a playground project and save it there.
How have you improved your skills for creating great, engaging e-learning?


  1. Hi Jonathan! I really enjoyed this post. I especially appreciate this suggestion:

    "Showcase projects that meet the engagement standards you seek. If a project is outstanding, make sure everyone on the team sees it and understands the expectations."

    I've been on teams that do that regularly, and I think it's among the most valuable sources of ideas I've encountered. A great way to see new ideas and get a brief tutorial on how to do it.

    And I agree with you about Articulate's support network. I've used it a lot and it is fantastic!

    Great post!

  2. Thanks Shelley! It sounds like you've been involved with some good teams. An environment that facilitates sharing and collaboration can be very rewarding. I've been lucky enough to work with some good teammates too!

  3. Useful points Jonathan!
    "How have you improved your skills for creating great, engaging e-learning?"
    Years ago I spent lots of time learning Visual Basic(VBA)to make PowerPoint more engaging. Now, I'm using the discipline of that experience to delve into Action Script (AS) as I move from classroom centered instruction to the web. Customizing learning interactions using scripting/ variables/widgets is a powerful way to engage learners.
    Thanks for the useful motivational advice!


Thank you for your comments.