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How to Cook Up the Perfect Online Learning Experience

  • 10 Min Read

Keep reading for the ingredients you can use to whip up a great online learning experience and step-by-step instructions to put yours together.

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You’re hosting your first get-together for the holiday season. You’ve tidied your space and picked out your outfit, but now you’re pacing, torn on what food you can serve that will kick off the evening. Get it wrong and you’ll leave your guests hungry. Get it right and they’ll gush about how wonderful it was and how excited they are to come over again soon. 

Then, inspiration strikes. You remember the beautiful charcuterie board your mother got you for your birthday last year. You pop over to the store around the corner to pick up an assortment of cheeses, crackers, dried fruits and other goodies. Balancing your artful flare with tactful practicality, you lay everything out, then sit back and wait for everyone to arrive, feeling confident you have all the pieces in place for a great evening ahead. 

But what, you’re asking, does this have to do with learning? Here’s the thing—whether it’s a dinner party for 10 or an education program for 1,000, providing an impactful experience is what matters. 

As you’re crafting your learning experiences, keep in mind these five elements that great ones often have in common: 

  • they can be customised to reflect individual preferences 
  • they include real, meaningful ways for people to practice what they’re learning 
  • they foster a sense of community and togetherness 
  • they help your organisation control costs without compromising on quality 
  • they’re memorable 

So, without further hesitation, let’s dive into the recipe for creating top-notch experiences with a digital learning solution.

Ingredients

  • content 
  • user experience 
  • admin experience 
  • accessibility 
  • personalisation 
  • data and analytics 
  • ecommerce (as needed) 
  • integrations (as needed) 
  • professional services (as needed) 

Directions

Step 1: Prepare Your Content

Great content is at the heart of great learning experiences. While other pieces affect how learners move about and interact with your environment, content is what they consume. It’s the bread to the butter. The meat to the potatoes. The peanut butter to the honey.

Here are some features you’ll want to add to your shopping list: 

  • Flexibility to incorporate both custom and off-the-shelf content. Much of the learning content you create is likely going to be unique to you. Your learning platform should offer a content builder and give you the ability to upload whatever existing documents, videos and assessments you need. At the same time, there may also be third-party content you need to make use of. Your LMS should make it straightforward for you to incorporate that external content and build it into meaningful learning pathways. 
  • Ease of use for content creators. This one’s important because although in some cases you’ll be working with your own salaried employees, in others you’re going to be enlisting the support of volunteer subject matter experts. It can’t be a hassle for them to translate their expertise because that may discourage them from coming back and doing it again in the future. 
  • Distribution via a range of channels. Making more people aware of who you are and the work you do is the key to growth. One of the ways you can achieve those goals is by sharing your content more broadly with other organisations—but only if it’s not difficult to do. If your staff needs to update a dozen different things in a dozen different places every time there’s a change, that’s not going to scale. If they can edit something once and push it out everywhere, now we’re talking. 

Another piece to consider is engagement. Adult learners have their own set of expectations when it comes to learning. They want to be able to maintain a degree of control, use the knowledge and skills they bring with them, take part in relevant and practical exercises, and walk away with clear, tangible outcomes. 

We had the chance to speak with Graham Taylor, Manager of Instructional Design & E-Learning at SkillPlan, about what goes into creating learning that’s engaging for adult learners. Here are his three tips for bringing engaging learning to life.  

Step 2: Layer in Experience

Taste counts for a lot. But when something is delicious and well presented, that’s where the magic lies.

When you’re evaluating the experiences of different learning platforms, you want to look at them from two perspectives—those doing the learning and those creating and administering it. Here, we’ll refer to them as “learners” and “administrators,” though you may want to adjust the terminology to reflect your organisation’s needs. 

For learners, some of their priorities include:  

  • Ease of Use: They need to be able to navigate without hassle and customise the platform according to their preferences. 
  • Convenience: They need to be able to access learning opportunities when it benefits them and on any device.
  • Relevance: They need to be able to showcase that the courses they’re completing are having real impacts in their lives. 
  • Community: They need to be able to connect with their peers to nurture relationships, build their networks and share knowledge. 
  • Security: They need to know that their information is safe, so they don’t have to worry about security breaches and data loss. 
  • Accessibility: They need to be able to enjoy a learning experience that champions accessibility standards. 

For administrators, some of their priorities include: 

  • Ease of Use: They need to be able to deliver great learning experiences without being bogged down by cumbersome, complex processes and tools. 
  • Analytics: They need to be able to leverage data and reporting to measure how learning programs are performing and demonstrate a clear return on investment. 
  • Reliability: They need a platform they can count on to not only keep learners safe but facilitate seamless learning experiences too. 
  • Support: They need a partner they can turn to when they have questions or could benefit from additional expertise. 
  • Community: Like learners, they also need opportunities to sync up with peers so they can learn how others are using the platform and maybe even provide or pick up a few general best practices.  

Step 3: Make Sure the Experience Can Be Enjoyed by All

You want as many people as possible to be able to join you at your proverbial dinner table and savour the content you’ve worked so hard to create. That’s why accessibility is something you need to bake in from the beginning. 

The right learning solution should help make it easier for your organisation to create courses that are not only highly engaging but highly accessible too. Questions you can consider include:

  • Can learners easily customise their preferences to suit their needs? 
  • Are they able to use assistive devices and technology? 
  • Can they interact with content and provide responses in a variety of ways? 
  • Are you able to present material through different mediums?  
  • Is the platform compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AAA standards? 
  • Are there features or tools included in the platform designed to help you make your content more accessible?

Keep in mind that accessibility-related features aren’t just useful for learners who may have a long-term disability. They can benefit everyone. A learner in a noisy room, for example, may need closed captions to follow along in a video and a transcript to revisit afterwards. Someone suffering from an eye infection might benefit greatly from content that has the right contrast ratio of text-to-background colors and descriptive tags for images. 

At the end of the day, it’s about making sure that all learners have a variety of ways to consume content, demonstrate their knowledge and skills, and engage and collaborate in the experience.

The true need is for learning how to learn, for mastering the learning process. 
Dr. Sam Chandrashekar global accessibility lead, D2L

Step 4: Allow People to Personalise for Their Preferences

Everyone has their own unique preference and taste. Some people practically leap for the pickled onions when the charcuterie board arrives, while others can’t get enough of a cheese-and-cracker combo. 

The idea that the ideal experience means something different for each person holds true in learning too. That’s why being able to personalise learning can have such big impacts on learner satisfaction. The more relevant and beneficial an experience, the more invested people will become in the process. They’ll also be more likely to come back to you in the future and share their experience with others in their network. 

From the point of view of the learner, personalisation features in the platform can include: 

  • custom profile fields for areas of educational interest, work histories, current certifications and more 
  • personalised feeds, notifications and nudges based on progress 
  • searchable course catalogues 
  • individually defined and pre-set learning pathways 
  • multi-language interaction and support capabilities 
  • adjustable color palettes for menus and sidebars 

Why is personalisation so powerful, especially for adult learners? We won’t get too into the weeds here, but to answer that question we need to take a closer look at adult learning theory. In essence, adult learners approach learning with specific expectations. Not only do they want to be in control of what they’re learning; they also want it to be highly reflective of and applicable to their day-to-day lives. 

Adult learners come with knowledge and life experience and want to be able to apply those lessons in new environments. They learn better by applying lessons to real situations and having some say in how they plan their learning activities. They are also motivated by understanding that what they are learning is relevant. 
Doris Savron vice provost, University of Phoenix

Step 5: Incorporate Any Additional Elements

Just like every chef has unique approaches they bring to their recipes, your organisation has specific needs it’s going to bring to the table when selecting the right learning platform and crafting learning experiences.

Ecommerce

If you sell training, this is mission critical. You need an ecommerce solution that meets your business where it is now and has the potential to scale with you as you grow. 

You’ll want to think about: 

  • Flexibility: Do you need to be able to adjust language and currency settings? What payment gateways do you need to leverage? 
  • Customisation: Can you create a storefront that reflects your organisation’s brand identity? 
  • User Experience: Is it easy for learners to search for, find and enroll in courses? 
  • Analytics: Can you use the data to measure how your learning programs are doing and monitor trends?  

Integrations

Interoperability with the other technology your organisation uses is crucial. It’s how you make your LMS part of the cohesive technology ecosystem you rely on.

Depending on the nature of the work your organisation does, the systems you need to integrate with may include a:

  • CRM 
  • HRIS  
  • HCM  
  • AMS  
  • ERP  
  • BI tool 
  • sales and marketing platform 

Professional Services

The right professional services can be key to helping you get more out of your learning platform. Plus, they give you confidence that your vendor has broad expertise within the space and will be there to support you well beyond launch.

Consider what each provider has to offer in the realms of: 

  • implementation 
  • training 
  • strategic consulting 
  • content design and development 
  • administrative support 
  • technical support 
  • analytics support 

Tips and Variations

  • As with all recipes, remember that the best ones are those that have a personal touch. Tailor these guidelines to suit your needs and be prepared to adjust and expand on them over time. 
  • Don’t feel you have to go it alone. When you’re trying to find the perfect ratio of cheese to meat, what do you do? You find someone who has it down to an art and learn from them. The same is true with learning. Find a learning partner who’s been through it before, has the expertise you need, and can provide guidance and support at every step of your journey. 

Let’s Create Something Great Together

You want to deliver the best experiences for your learners. We’re here to help make it happen.

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  1. Ingredients
  2. Directions
  3. Tips and Variations
  4. Let’s Create Something Great Together

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