Diane Elkins is co-founder of Artisan E-Learning, a custom e-learning development company, and E-Learning Uncovered, a company specializing in training services, books, and resources for e-learning development using the major rapid e-learning authoring tools.
She frequently speaks at events (in fact she led a session at Learning • Technology • Design 2019), and she’s co-author of E-Learning Fundamentals: A Practical Guide and the E-Learning Uncovered book series.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, Celisa talks with Diane about all things e-learning including common mistakes and keys to success with e-learning design and development. They also discuss ways to foster learner motivation and engagement in the context of e-learning as well as her view on designing effective microlearning.
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Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews Diane Elkins, co-founder of Artisan E-Learning and E-Learning Uncovered.
[02:01] – You might consider the reflection questions below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- When we talk about learner engagement, Diane repeats some advice she got about letting go of control. Are there places in the products and services your learning business offers where a desire for control is standing between you and effective design?
- Look at your production values with an eye to what’s truly helpful for learners versus what’s flashy. Do you need to rethink your production values?
Do-It-For-You or Help-You-Do-It-Yourself
[02:44] – Introduction to Diane and some additional information about her work.
She talks about how when she and her partner mapped out their vision around e-learning 16 years ago, they knew they wanted to either do it for you or help you do it yourself (which is why they have the two brands).
She says back then, nobody was teaching you how to do e-learning and that it was like a secret science. But they know there are folks who want to be able to develop this capacity internally and that’s where E-Learning Uncovered can help.
And there are also others who want to be an expert in their content and they want somebody else to make sure it’s a good course—and this is where Artisan E-Learning can help.
Defining E-Learning and Rapid E-Learning
[04:55] – Your work is focused on e-learning and, in particular, rapid e-learning development. Would you define those terms—e-learning and rapid e-learning development?
Diane acknowledges that e-learning can have a very broad definition and that if you look at it very literally, it’s anything you learn electronically.
But the definition she tends to use is narrower: a purposeful set of content delivered electronically for the purposes of training somebody on a specific skill.
Her particular niche is the self-paced model so when she personally throws around the word “e-learning” she’s usually referring to self-paced e-learning (as opposed to a podcast like this—which is technically e-learning).
Diane points out that rapid e-learning is an interesting phrase because it’s a misnomer and there’s nothing rapid about e-learning development.
It goes back to the days when coding was a very common solution, where if you wanted e-learning you had to write code.
She says this is isn’t rapid and that a typical instructor-led training course industry averages about 40 hours of effort to create 1 hour of seat time. Whereas that number for e-learning can be (on the low end) double or quadruple the time very easily.
So not rapid but much faster if you have one of those tools because you’re not programming.
[07:19] – Was there something in particular that attracted you to that particular type of e-learning (online, primarily self-paced, WYSIWYG tools)?
Diane shares that it’s really been a marriage of everything she studied in life. When she was growing up she didn’t know what she wanted to be but she says it turns out that’s because it wasn’t invented yet.
She started her career in advertising and then switched to training. Then when e-learning started becoming really popular around 2000, she was very excited.
Diane discusses how she has a strong draw to the training side because she gets to help people. However she can still be creative, do graphic design, software, and writing which is a marriage of everything she’s ever loved in her life.
Common Mistakes with E-Learning Design and Development
[09:37] – What common mistakes or missteps do you see with e-learning design and development?
Looking at it from two different perspectives, Diane says on a strategic level it’s very common for folks new to e-learning to not recognize how long it takes to put a project together.
There’s a lot of complexity and lots of moving parts, especially if you’re in an organization with a lot of stakeholders and SMEs.
If you’re doing instructor-led training, you need everyone to agree on the bullet points that are being presented. But nobody scripts out what the instructor will say and you don’t need all of your SMEs to agree on that. However, in self-paced e-learning you do.
So there’s a lot more time, coordination, and agreement involved. Designing an hour-long PowerPoint and an hour-long of e-learning require very different levels of effort.
Diane recommends knowing what you’re in for and if you’re working with SMEs, preparing them as well.
From a tactical level, some of the common missteps she sees are people not really taking advantage of the medium. You can do some really robust things even with the rapid e-learning development tools.
But even though Diane can show you how to use everything in a tool, she stresses that you have to come to the table with what you want to do with it.
What ends up happening she says, is we end up with these courses made with these tools that are a glorified PowerPoint. And there’s so much more we can do with it.
Keys to Success With E-Learning Design and Development
[13:13] – The converse of the last question, what do you see as ingredients for or keys to success with e-learning design and development? What really sets the stage for success?
One of the best pieces of advice she can give, especially if they’re converting instructor-led training, is to just set their existing PowerPoint aside.
She says 80% of the PowerPoint slides that are out there aren’t even good for the classroom. And in the classroom, most of the time learners are looking at the instructor and the slides a just a side thing.
A good instructor can carry a bad PowerPoint. But in e-learning, that’s all you have. So a slide deck that is barely good at their other job is going to be less good at this job.
One of the keys to success is not to pretend it’s the same, so start from scratch and build it from the ground up.
The other big key to success is to focus less on the knowledge and more on the action.
This is true for any training, but e-learning is expensive and timely so it’s important to get it right.
Diane recommends that you don’t waste time with things like background, context, and what they might be curious about. Rather, it’s more about helping solve their problems and saying, here’s what you need to do and here’s the scenario in which you would do it.
She also says to do less quizzing on definitions and focus more on practice.
Stop using the term knowledge check and start using the term practice activity. Instead of saying, what question can I ask?, ask yourself, how can I get them to practice? And if you just make that one little change in your thinking, you will design a different course.
How to Foster Learner Motivation and Engagement
[16:22] – I know learner motivation and engagement come up time and again in discussion I have with those in learning businesses, and I think there’s a perception that motivation and engagement are harder to achieve in e-learning. Thoughts on that perception and any suggestions for fostering learner motivation and engagement in that context of e-learning?
Diane doesn’t think motivation and engagement are harder to achieve in e-learning, they’re just different. They are hard to achieve the same way, so we have to tackle them differently.
If you have a motivation issue, you need to back up strategically and ask if training is the right way to get that motivation.
Diane believes that motivation should absolutely be part of training initiatives and you need to decide what percentage.
She warns we have to be careful that we aren’t trying to make an e-learning course be all things to all people. But that we can absolutely tackle motivation in e-learning.
When it comes to engagement, Diane notes there is a lot to choose from. But if you’re limiting yourself and doing things that are actually just screen management, for example, that’s not engagement. Engagement is getting people to think.
Diane shares one of the best pieces of advice she ever got around engagement is that you can do so much more for your student if you let go of caring whether they get it right or wrong.
With e-learning we’ve become control freaks and it limits our ability to engage.
She talks about how often the mindset is more about tracking and reporting whether or not students did what they were asked. But Diane stresses that you don’t withhold doing things for the people it would give value to because of a few people that might not give it value.
Diane argues that even if some learners skip it, it’s still worth doing. There are things we do for us, but let’s make sure we’re doing things for them. And if it’s a question worth asking, ask it.
Diane points out that a lot of people define microlearning about length, but she doesn’t.
Her definition for microlearning is a discreet chunk of content that solves a singular need.
So it means I come in (as the learner) with a need, and by the time I walk out, I have a solution to that need.
It’s “micro”, not because you’re dictating the length, but it’s because you’re narrowing the focus of what problem you’re trying to solve.
To her, “chunking” would be breaking an hour-long training into 10-minute sections, not microlearning.
As far as how long microlearning should be, Diane reiterates it’s however long it takes to solve a problem. That’s because if you haven’t solved their problem, then it wasn’t micro and not a singular event.
Microlearning isn’t about making your courses smaller, microlearning is about making your goal smaller.
The Rights and Wrongs of Microlearning
[24:44] – What do you see as microlearning’s strong suit or suits? And what do you see organizations offering microlearning get wrong?
Part of what Diane says she loves about the microlearning trend is that it gets us back to some key basics that are easy to forget.
Even though microlearning is trendy, it focuses on some unchanging values, such as don’t waste my time, help me solve my problem, and give me what I need efficiently.
She discusses how microlearning has put a microscope up to the bloat that’s in a lot of training and how there’s a lot of talking we do to talk. And if the microlearning trend helps us be more discriminating about what we choose to share or not share with our learners, Diane says that’s great.
And even if you’re doing microlearning for the wrong reasons with no strategic reason, if doing it makes you be as helpful as you can in as short of a period as you can, that’s fabulous.
The strong suit of microlearning is it can help us be really focused and solve people’s problems, which is why we exist as an industry—it’s not to talk and it’s not about content. We are in the business of solving people’s problems.
Where Diane sees people getting it wrong is letting the tail wag the dog. For example, saying you want to do a series of 5-minute microlearning videos before even knowing what you’re trying to accomplish. So it’s solving the problem backwards.
Below is a template from Diane you can use to help design a microlesson. And note the very last decision you make is your format.
The other thing Diane sees that people get wrong when designing microlearning is cramming so much information in to say, five-minutes, and they take out what makes good training.
If we’re not building benefit, setting context, giving a useful example, or a chance to practice, that’s not good training.
You have to give the learners whatever they need to be able to solve the problem. Diane makes that point that a five-minute microlearning that doesn’t solve a problem is a waste of five-minutes.
On the Horizon for E-Learning
[29:00] – You’ve been designing and developing e-learning for a long time, and I know you’ve seen some changes over the years. If you look into your crystal ball, what do you think might be on the horizon for e-learning? What changes do you think we’ll see in e-learning in the coming five years or so?
Because this was recorded in April 2020 (in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic), Diane admits she doesn’t even know what e-learning is going to look like tomorrow. But looking back at even the past six weeks she says there’s been such a fundamental change in the e-learning landscape.
She discusses how instructional designers have actually become essential employees.
And there will be ripple effects for years that the value of e-learning is going to go up—and down—because right now people are having to do e-learning.
Diane also acknowledges that what’s being executed right now isn’t ideal. People are getting things done, which is awesome, but unfortunately, for people new to e-learning, it might cause some lasting impressions for them that this is what it is.
At the same time, she anticipates we’ll have a ripple effect that shows the advantages of e-learning.
The other trend she thinks will come out of this is that we might let go of some of the need for production value. Diane still thinks we need good instructional design because if you’re not saying the right things, it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
She also thinks there will be a reevaluation of what really matters. There are some organizations who spend most of their e-learning budget on making things look flashy but instead, she recommends allocating those dollars to making things helpful.
[33:35] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Diane shares that an impactful learning experience for her has been Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. She admits it’s difficult to execute because of how simple it is (because simple is very challenging to do well).
She says it’s a great process that helps you get out of your own head and content to focus on what you need people to know. It lets you flip the conversation to the learner and what you need them to do.
It’s a great tool for filtering out the unnecessary fluff, making sure that our learners know what they’re supposed to do with what we’re telling them. And it’s a great tool for negotiating with SMEs and mapping out practice activities.
Check out our interview with Cathy Moore to learn more about Action Mapping.
Diane also does a lot of work around accessibility and e-learning so another very impactful learning experience she had was actually sitting next to someone who was visually impaired. She watched them take her course using a screen reader and seeing how this person navigated the course taught her so much.
[36:37] – How to connect with Diane and/or learn more:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dpelkins/
- Website (to follow their blog): https://elearninguncovered.com
[37:23] – Wrap-Up
- Are there places in the products and services your learning business offers where letting go of control will result in more effective design?
- Evaluate your production values—do you need to rethink them to focus on what’s truly helpful for learners versus what’s flashy?
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[39:17] – Sign off