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ATD Blog

What I Learned From Designing and Developing E-Learning

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

When I first started creating e-learning courses, I had never designed an asynchronous learning experience and had not taken one click in an e-learning software program. Talk about a challenge! I learned by jumping in.

Sometimes my designs worked and sometimes they did not. I learned what participants liked and what they did not like through course evaluations and from talk around the office. The true results, however, showed on the job.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that a decent e-learning program requires more than a set of clickable PowerPoint slides. The learner needs to experience real-life scenarios, try out tasks, and get feedback along the way. An extrinsic smiley face and a thumbs up icon at the end aren’t enough.

Here are the top five lessons I learned from designing and developing e-learning programs:

1. Training resources are abundant if you look for them.
Take a solid e-learning instructional design training program to learn the fundamentals, such as the ATD E-Learning Instructional Design course. Attend a training program with like-minded peers. You’ll get prime references for the latest and greatest tools. And take advantage of online resources. Two of my personal favorites are:

  • ZEEF by Tracy Parish, which curates the best of the best e-learning tools. Think storyboards, images, project management, audio narration, and 508 compliance.
  • Articulate E-Learning Heroes has examples, challenges, and a forum. Get fresh design ideas, see what others are doing in the field, and troubleshoot development issues.

2. Assess the size and diversity of your skill set—you’ll need to do more than you realize.
Is your job title instructional designer? If so, get ready to add a few more titles underneath it. Narration actor. Graphic designer. Investigative journalist. QA tester. Writer. Surprise—you may need to be all these roles when designing and developing an e-learning course.


Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. If it is not possible to be proficient in all of the skills required, consider outsourcing one or two elements of the project to experts. For example, you could use Voice Bunny for professional voice-over services or subscribe to E-Learning Brothers to gain access to their slick graphics.

3. Check your work before you deploy to an entire cohort.
Once I had to roll out a series of e-learning modules without a full QA review or pilot due to tight timelines. In fact, I was the only reviewer before implementation. Can you guess what happened? The learners emailed me suggestions for improvements. “Nikki, I wanted to let you know that I could not proceed past the fifth slide, the e-learning sent me in a loop.”

If you run into a similar scenario, try this technique: Ask an intended learner to take the course while you observe. You will be amazed at the small hiccups that arise when someone else is navigating the course.


4. File management is key to long-term success.
Do you have organizational process changes? Of course! What does that mean for your e-learning courses? Updates will be needed. If you don’t have access to the original e-learning course files, you are back at square one.
I remember when a team member of mine went out on maternity leave. I was asked to fix one quiz question. Easy—if you have the file! It was on my team member’s desktop and I had no way to get it. I had to completely rebuild the course to amend that single quiz question.

5. Authoring tool expertise is not enough.
Participants in my authoring tool classes walk away with confidence because they can use variables and markers, add animations and triggers with grace, and create quizzes with ease. However, what they may not have mastered is the art of the design. The technical knowledge is one piece. It doesn’t mean it is a good design decision to add all the bells and whistles on every slide.

What do you want the learner to be able to do at the end of the e-learning course? Typically, it is not to be amazed by how many interactive features the developer was able to execute within the authoring tool.

For example, if the learners need to be able to cosign a document at the end of the training, have them practice it. Do a screen simulation with a try-it mode to have them perform the steps. Don’t create a complicated Jeopardy game that quizzes them on the process of how to cosign a document. The memory quiz is not what they will end up doing back on the job.

About the Author

Nikki O’Keeffe is an internal ATD Facilitator. She is dedicated training specialist who delivers a positive, memorable, and meaningful service that repeatedly meets or exceeds the expectations of the client. She has experience creating strategies and visions to ensure training requirements and deliveries are in line with quality, probability, and client need. 

Nikki has worked in varied industries, including education, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. In her role as the global senior training and development specialist at PAREXEL International, her focus was on managing and developing courses for new and existing staff on technical systems, process changes, new products, and soft skills.  Her educational background includes a BA in psychology from Butler University and a master’s degree in exercise science, health, and wellness from Northeastern Illinois University. Her specific areas of interest include virtual training, facilitation techniques, and mentoring new trainers. 

Nikki is skilled at providing face-to-face and online learning programs for global participants of varying experience levels. In addition to delivering training, she has performed training needs analyses to identify gaps and recommend training solutions, worked with SMEs as a consultant to develop courses and curriculums, and evaluated programs for effectiveness. 

As a certified ATD Master Trainer and certified ATD Master Instructional Designer she understands the value of solid training plans and strong facilitation. Nikki looks forward to sharing her experiences and expanding her knowledge base by learning from her participants in the upcoming ATD courses that she leads.

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