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Turning Content into e-Learning

Richard Sites

by , vice president - client services | @rhillsites

For the past couple of weeks, my colleagues have blogged about the quality of e-learning design. These two blog posts offer more elegant statements on the condition of e-learning than I could ever hope to present. So I am not going to try.

What I would like to offer, however, is a solution to a challenge that frequently faces e-learning projects – the trouble with pre-existing content.

I cannot count the times I have walked into a project kick-off meeting and on the table lay mountains of three-ring binders, stacks of paper, and CDs full of corporate policies, operating procedures and other formal documentation. This is usually accompanied by someone in the room announcing proudly, “Here’s all of the content you’ll need to develop the course.”

ContentSadly, I know that in preparing for this project, a painstaking effort was made to sift through files, databases, research reports, marketing materials and corporate documentation. This was done with the best of intentions—to provide us (the instructional designers, developers and writers) with the data they think will best help us create an engaging, interactive e-learning course.  

When faced with this mountain of documentation, I often thank the team for their effort of gathering all the material and then quickly push it to the side.

While pre-existing content helps to define core information about employee performance, it’s not the kind of information we need to build an e-learning course. Moreover, focusing on pre-existing content for e-learning course development has two basic problems:

  1. The content was  created for a purpose other than e-learning, and
  2. The content has no context

First of all, most pre-existing content was developed with a specific intent – to convey information, policies and procedures, to market a product to consumers, to report results on a specific survey, even to train employees with the assistance of a knowledgeable instructor in the room. However, it was not developed with the intent of engaging employees in an e-learning course.

Secondly, this content has no context. Because this information was created to convey specific information in a direct and clear manner, there was no need -- and no desire—to construct a context for how the information should be used or viewed. And we know that for our e-learning to have the best chance at changing the learner’s performance, it will need to provide a memorable challenge that is placed into a meaningful context.

Our goal is to create original content. Content designed specifically for the purpose of performance change in an e-learning environment. Sure, we can reference the research, the policies and procedures, and the marketing messages, but our job is to translate information to learning.   

Policies and procedures can translate to potential consequences from actions taken. Marketing messages can translate into a conversation discussing the benefits of our product with a potential customer.

To be clear, I am well aware that content is king in nearly every e-learning project. And this is a double-edged sword most of the time. However, even if we are choosing to create text heavy e-learning, we don’t necessarily need to rely on dry corporate policy documents. Even if we are going to err on the side of too much text in our e-learning course, we should at least err on the side of content that has a voice, that presents the learner with meaningful information, that creates an engaging challenge and that comes from the mind of the designer – not the compliance department.

Give your e-learning a voice and leave the three-ring binders in the compliance office.