You finally did it.

After researching and selecting all the e-learning development tools that you needed to author your first lesson, you've rolled up your sleeves and produced an excellent, captivating e-learning course. It really looks great, and, more importantly, it includes all of the fundamental learning methods that you discussed in your instructional design training. You know that learners will absorb the learning concepts you've given them, as they sail through the module.

What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, the answer is, a lot.

It would be nice to think that a well-designed e-learning lesson will break through any obstacle in its way and will illuminate the light bulbs of all learners who touch it. The reality, however, is that many perfectly good e-learning lessons have wilted and died for reasons that are completely unrelated to the design and content. Here are seven of the most common reasons for e-learning failure and solutions for creating greater success.

1. Fire and forget

Myth. Everyone knows that you have been busy for the last two to three months developing an e-learning course. When you send an email to inform your learners that it's available, you can assume that all will view the course and be trained.

Reality. You cannot simply send out your "course ready" notification and expect that your audience will have the course completed within the next four to five business days. The real world simply doesn't work that way. There are a few essential steps that need to be followed so that your course doesn't collect dust and become virtual shelfware.

  • Save the date. Those "save the date" cards may be useless in your social circles, but advance notification goes a long way in business circles. Today's business calendars are far too busy to announce the course and then expect an organization to make time to take it within the next few days.
  • Deadlines. Forget what you've heard about the wondrous self-paced, self-controlled nature of e-learning. If you want your learners to complete the course, assign a completion deadline.
  • Management support. You would like to think that learners have enough free time and intrinsic motivation to take and complete your e-learning course. However, almost all case studies prove otherwise. Many more people will take and complete the course if they believe that their manager or upper management supports the initiative.

2. Don't worry about assessments

Myth. E-learning assessments are just like paper-based assessments. You don't need to worry about them until the course is completed.

Reality. The final assessment serves several purposes. First and foremost, it affirms that the learner has mastered the course material, or, it alerts her that she needs to revisit the course information. It may also be used to track a learner's professional development or certification requirements. E-learning can make tracking and reporting much easier, but you must plan for that. Do not think of the assessment as a one-time event that simply signifies the end of a course.

With e-learning, you may also want to use the assessment to indicate course completion, and in that case, you must carefully decide

  • the difficulty of the assessment (Do you want learners to answer simple questions that confirm general knowledge of the course content or is it critical that the learners have mastery of all course content details?)
  • the consequences and remediation steps for assessment failure.

Finally, if you are delivering the course through a learning management system, you may need to choose between building the assessment in your e-learning development tool or your LMS. There are many pros and cons for each method. Make sure to discuss the issue with an LMS administrator and a subject matter expert to ensure that you make the right choice.

3. Ignore the working environment

Myth. You have provided key instructions for the new software tool in your e-learning module, so there's no need for additional information regarding the learner's work environment. It would only be "learning clutter."

Reality. We would like to think that the long hours we devote to building comprehensive training courses produce all the guidance that is needed to help today's corporate learner. However, studies have clearly shown that our formal training courses do not provide a complete solution. In fact, approximately 80 percent of all learning in a corporate environment is accomplished through informal learning. If we do not mention those informal learning channels, we are severely limiting the effectiveness of our training.

No matter how much you love your excellent e-learning course, you need to be practical when it comes to the workplace environment. When people need information from an e-learning lesson they took in the past, they will not want to log on to an LMS, locate the course, open it, and navigate to the section where that information can be found. That is extremely inefficient, and, in most cases, the learner's access to the course will likely have expired.

To help your e-learning lesson succeed, make sure that you point your learners to all of the relevant performance support systems and job aids that will help them with their tasks. In addition, provide contact information for personnel who may be able to help - such as your company's IT help desk representatives. Do not simply give your learners a fish. Teach them how to fish!

4. Forget about the LMS

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Myth. Your job is to build the course. There's no need for you to be concerned about the rollout of the course on your LMS.

Reality. If your e-learning lesson is going to run in an LMS, it is not prudent to assume that it will work perfectly when your capable LMS administrator adds it to the system. You must first determine the publishing settings that work best in your LMS, publish a prototype, and then test it in the LMS to ensure that the lesson runs without freezing up or causing any other adverse events.

If you ignore the influence of the LMS, you are also ignoring one of the most important interfaces for the learner as well as the very first hurdle that she needs to conquer en route to the e-learning course.

To develop a complete e-learning lesson, you must understand the interface and features of your LMS. You should make sure that your email notification provides explicit instructions for starting the lesson and that your lesson contains explicit instructions for features that are integrated into the LMS.

5. Don't worry about teaching the e-learning interface

Myth. E-learning courses are intuitive, so there's really no need for you to teach learners about using the e-learning controls.

Reality. Today's e-learning lessons are light years ahead of the old "page turner" lessons. However, there is not a standard interface, so even an experienced online learner may struggle with your electronic controls.

The forward and back buttons are easy. But today's courses also have glossaries, file attachments, FAQs, narration scripts, progress quizzes, software simulations, games, interactive exercises, and more. Do you really expect the learner to get the most of the lesson without some guidance?

6. Make it difficult to access the course

Myth. Everyone knows how to access the LMS. There's no reason that a learner would have trouble figuring out how to access this course and get it started.

Reality. It is paramount to understand that people do not take e-learning courses every week. In computer terms, e-learning lessons are infrequently used applications. And when you only access an application once or twice a year, it is easy to forget the details for navigating to the places where you need to go. So how can you help?

  • Be specific. When notifying your learners about the course availability, assume that they have never before taken an e-learning course, and provide any and all details for getting the e-learning lesson started. If possible, provide a hyperlink in the email so that the learner can simply click the link and start the lesson.
  • Be consistent. Think hard about the easiest way for learners to access your e-learning lessons, and then resist changing the access method. If a learner accesses a lesson in January and then doesn't take another lesson until June, she will have a much easier time if the access method is the same.
  • Publish smart. If you are offering the course on an LMS, your LMS administrator should publish the course so that it shows up on the learner's home page. Most LMS systems allow you to either display the course to the learner on their LMS home page or in the course catalogue. Whenever possible, do not make the learner search through a course catalogue for the course.

7. Ignore workstation configurations

Myth. Your e-learning course runs in a web browser, so there is no need to be concerned with the learner's workstation configuration.

Reality. Since you are an experienced instructional designer, you know that you must carefully review your work from start to finish before it is ready to be released publicly. However, in the e-learning world, doing Q&A checks on your own system simply are not sufficient.

There will often be a variety of workstation configurations for learners. Don't forget that your business audience may be taking the course from their home offices. Here are some workstation elements that can foil your e-learning lesson:

  • Browsers. If your lesson runs inside a web browser, it would be wise to test your e-learning lesson in the latest version of the big three browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Netscape. If you have Mac users, make sure to add Safari to that list.
  • Flash. The good news is that, according to the International Data Corporation, 98.8 percent of "mature market" PC users can view Flash 7 and higher. The bad news is that Flash 7 is now several years old, and Flash upgrades occur frequently. If your course development workstation is configured with Flash 10, there is a chance that your e-learning lesson will run fine on your system, but not on others. Test your lesson on all levels of Flash that are in your learner community.
  • Screen resolution. Most e-learning development tools default to publishing in a size that works on almost all computer screens. But you may be surprised to see how your lesson appears when you run it on a 14-inch monitor that is displaying at a 640480 resolution. If possible, test at a variety of resolutions - but don't panic if you see issues. Simply add a disclaimer at the beginning of the lesson stating that the lesson should be run at a specific resolution.
  • Audio. While it is true that the default configuration for PC workstations includes sound cards and some type of internal speakers, a number of IT departments remove them from the system to avoid distractions in the workplace. Check with your IT staff to see if your audience will have any problems in this area, and if the noise is going to be a problem, invest in earphones and hand them out to learners who enroll in e-learning classes. T+D