This guest blog post was written by Joshua Cline, Senior Technical Writer, and Norbert Cartagena, Senior Manager of Technical Documentation at Greenway Health, an electronic health record (EHR) software and service company that connects providers to the right information and insights so they can make patient-driven care a reality. Joshua loves playing the guitar and Norbert loves spending days reading or listening to music.
If you’re in the position of having to create online learning content, you may be wondering how to approach it. Whether you need to create a training document, eLearning course, online training course or module or simply to understand how to create online learning content, this blog post is for you.
This article covers structuring learning content or training material by leaning on the 5 Moments of Learning Need. These include:
- Learning for the first time
- Expanding on this existing learning
- Applying what’s been learned
- Providing immediate answers as problems arise during work
- Minimizing or eliminating the resistance to change
In addition, we cover some of the technological and audience decisions you might need to make when creating and delivering your training material via eLearning software.
Remember: learning content is all about empathy and having a human focus. Keeping this at the forefront of what you do will ensure your focus is on the learner or the target audience, rather than simply on the online course or lessons.
Thinking About Your Project
So how do you create online training? When creating any type of online training program, you have to have a clear idea of the learning objective and how long it will take to create. The training goals and learning outcomes are critical aspects of any course creation.
To develop course material for your online training content, start by thinking about the scope of what you want to cover: do you need an entire eLearning course, or will a lesson do? The answer depends on numerous factors, such as whether the intended audience is new to the concept, or whether learners are likely to already know some of the basics.
Creating learning content isn’t just about putting a bunch of content in front of the learner. It’s about empathy, about putting yourself in the learner’s shoes: who are they? Why are they looking to learn about this? How will it benefit them? It’s crucial to put yourself in the position of the learner before starting to craft any sort of online training content, but even more so online, where the user is likely to be self-directed and may encounter technological challenges. Engagement and usability here depend on the applicability and presentation of the content, and that starts with empathy. When you focus on the target audience and their learning experience, you are then able to create effective online course content.
As you get ideas for areas to cover during your course and how, write these down. You’ll use this information to craft your content strategy that can lead to a successful online course and positive learning outcomes.
Suggestion: Use a Mind Map
As a course creator, something that works for us as we develop a content strategy is a mind-map, a way to visualize various concepts and how they relate to each other.
To create one, start by grabbing a sheet of paper and a pen. In the center of the page, write down the main topic and circle it. Now, start listing concepts that you’ll want to cover, but place them around the center topic, spreading out as necessary. (Don’t make columns of ideas. Spread the words out!) When you have a few, start tying them together: do they tie to the main concept, or are they more related to other concepts? Draw lines to associated concepts to show the associations.
For example, Topic A maybe your idea, and Concept B might tie to it. But what about concepts C, D, E and F? Do they tie to Topic A? To concept B? To both? To each other? To neither?
Write down enough ideas that you can create a solid web with your main topic at the center of it all; discard any ideas that don’t fit.
Once finished, you will have a clear view of how you’ll be tying this information together.
The Content Strategy
At this point, you know what you want to cover, what points you want to hit, and how you want to approach them. The next step is creating your online content strategy. This includes how you plan to deliver your content (for example, videos, individual lessons, gamified content) as well as figuring out how to present that information in a way that satisfies the learner’s needs at different points during their journey.
When creating content online, the format you present the information in is important for various reasons:
- Are you choosing video content? Learners get the most engagement from short videos, so consider making your content modular.
- Where are learners accessing the information? Bandwidth issues may present challenges to learners in some situations.
- How will learners consume your content? Be sure to create content that’s appropriate to your learners’ technological constraints: someone using a finger on a phone and someone using a mouse pointer may have wildly different expectations about how content should be consumed.
Remember: thinking about the learner is crucial throughout this entire process. Don’t just focus on what they don’t know. Focus on how they’ll be approaching your content.
As you consider the presentation of the online course content, also consider how you plan to structure the information.
Moment 1: Learning for the First time
When people think of instructional content, “learning something for the first time” is often what they think about. Presentation here is crucial, and organization is key. Information must flow logically from one topic to the next, revealing information as necessary, and building on that foundation to introduce the next topic.
When using software like MadCap Flare (or any knowledge content authoring solution), there are two logical places for this organization: the table of contents and the topic. A person looking at a learning content for the first time might first look at the Table of Contents to see what areas they can expect to cover.
As you design your online learning content, decide how you want to design the learning experience. Will it be linear, where one topic leads to the next? Or will it branch out, so that learners can follow their need and curiosity down independent paths, moving easily from one topic to another as their learning needs arise? The advantage of online courses is that non-linear content can be just as easily created and consumed as linear content. This allows learners to learn what they need and set aside that which they don’t.
When introducing a topic in an online training course, you don’t want to overwhelm the learner. You simply want to give them an overview of the topic, go over the most salient points, and prepare them for the next steps. For this, a brief overview is effective. Just as importantly, the content should walk the user through the topics and concepts while keeping in mind where the user is on their journey, what they can be expected to know, and what they likely don’t. Again, it’s a matter of empathy: you want to know where learners are in their journey. Too basic, and you bore them. Too many assumptions and you lose them.
Once they’re comfortable with the concept, you can dive more deeply into topics.
Moment 2: Expanding on Existing Learning
After you’ve given the topic overview, provided the learner with a solid foundation, and organized your content into a linear or self-guided approach, the next step is to do a deep dive on the information presented.
By this time, you’ll have some idea about what kinds of content to include and present this information in easily absorbed components: interactive videos, interactive and written courses, and onscreen walkthroughs are how you might present the information. The specific workflow or segment of an application might be what you need to focus on.
These segments should make some basic assumptions about what the learner already knows, which build on what has already been covered.
Whichever learning components you use should allow users to retain information and make this material applicable to real-world needs.
Moment 3: Applying What’s Been Learned
After giving the user just enough information, it’s time to test that knowledge. A great way to do this is to include some way for users to apply that knowledge. How you do that should be determined by the need:
- If the course is about a software program, give the user a task in the software.
- If the course is about a new set of policies, consider entering a small game that uses knowledge as the core element.
- If the course is about a practical skill, ask about some way to apply this.
In other words, test them. Of course, the best way to really prove their mettle might simply be to apply what they’ve learned on the job: adults learn best by being able to directly apply their knowledge, and not doing so is a quick way to forget what they’ve learned. But in using what they’ve learned, learners are bound to run into some obstacles. This is good.
Obstacles allow learners to solve problems on their own, but great learning content provides learners with the resources to do so. Therefore, it is crucial to include practical exercises, workflows, use cases, projects, and other learning measurements that align with learners’ real-world experiences. When users apply what they have learned to real-world tasks, they absorb information better.
Moment 4: Providing Immediate Answers
While applying their learned knowledge, learners will inevitably encounter something that their original training perhaps didn’t cover. Or maybe it did, and they simply can’t remember. In either case, providing the user with a repository of knowledge is the best way to do this. That might be a help file, a frequently asked questions document, or a knowledge library. In all cases, the learner is now hungry to get the answer to an immediate need.
Providing immediate answers through a knowledge repository with a robust search capability helps learners overcome obstacles as mentioned in the previous sections. In application, it also helps them find the answers to these obstacles without frustrating them.
Moment 5: Eliminating the Resistance to Change
Finally, learners are using new knowledge from online training programs to do things in a new way. Maybe they’re taking on new tasks, or maybe they’re doing things they were doing before, but more efficiently. In either case, learners are now more open than before to new ways of doing things.
Online learning content should, however, allow users to branch out and explore new ways of completing tasks. Some users may be resistant to changing the way in which they work (which may have been years in the making), but your content should make it easier for them to adopt new methodologies and new workflows without frustrating our users.
The key here is to focus on the person: people will only do new things if they’re easier and more effective than the old way of doing things, or if they get them closer to a goal. So, make sure that you think about ways to keep them on track. Otherwise, they may fall back into old habits.
Applying the 5 Moments of Learning Need
At our company, we develop software for medical practices. People in these practices have different functions and roles: someone checks you in, another person looks at your medical record, and another person handles the bill. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything about the application: the nurse entering your vitals, for example, doesn’t need to know about how the medical biller will contact the insurance company for payment.
To help these different kinds of learners, we apply these 5 Moments of Learning Need to online help content, instructional courses, knowledge repositories, and online user guides. Using a variety of online learning content helps our users find the information they are seeking and helps them learn valuable information based on their specific function and role within a medical practice.
For online help, we provide both a linear approach and a self-guided approach. We organize help information based on user roles and application layout (for example, medications, patient charts), and specific workflows like billing or clinical workflows.
We also allow users to search our help sites to facilitate an individual learning need. This search functionality includes the ability for users to filter content by a specific section or role. This allows users to conduct targeted searches to satisfy a specific support issue or workflow problem.
For our instructional courses, we include real-world scenarios, quizzes, tests, and links to other knowledge centers including online help and workflow guides. With these courses, first-time learners can gain a foothold in how to use our applications and test themselves on their use.
For knowledge repositories, we provide clients with a centralized place to access workflow guides, interactive videos, and interactive courses. These repositories serve as a one-stop-shop for a user’s learning needs. For example, we provide clients with a regulatory reporting knowledge base that gives our clients access to the latest reporting guidance, information on how to report government requirements, links to town halls and live events, and checklists to ensure clients are reporting accurately.
Finally, our online user guides meet the learning need of providing immediate answers to client questions and specific workflow needs. Our guides include frequently asked questions (FAQs), instructions on how to complete tasks, and application setup information. The guides give our clients short, quick references to help them overcome learning obstacles and to facilitate the easy absorption of knowledge.
By understanding where in the 5 Moments of Learning Need your learner is likely to come in, by fully knowing what you’re trying to communicate, and by understanding how learners will consume your content, you will be able to create great content that best leverages the technologies at your disposal. By helping your learners grasp new material, overcome any learning obstacles, apply what they’ve already learned to real-world scenarios, and immediately find the answers they need, you will prepare them for success going forward and will help reduce any resistance to change.
But remember that, before you create any learning content, you must put yourself in the learner’s shoes. Empathy and a human focus will take you a long way when creating effective learning content and are crucial throughout this process, regardless of the technology used.