Last week I attended the E-Learning Guild Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. It was something a colleague had run across a couple of months ago and thought would be appropriate to attend, as we are in the process of creating another online course.
It was absolutely enlightening! There is a whole world of E-Learning professionals out there that I didn’t even know existed. Primarily those that attended the conference were instructional designers (IDs) that either work for a corporation or non-profit or are consultants. They receive content from subject matter experts (SMEs) that they are then to make into an online learning object, and distributed across the country (or world) to the company’s employees. It’s for training purposes, mostly.
These E-Learning professionals have been doing this sort of thing for years, becoming experts in the fields of displaying online content, designing for online learners, and assessment through online mechanisms.
I can’t possibly share everything that I learned, but I will share some key points that are important to us as librarians.
- Rapid e-learning tools are fantastic, and there are plenty of them out there. You don’t need to learn Flash or XML. At my library we already have Articulate, which is a big one, but I learned about other options such as Adobe Presenter, FlyPaper, Raptivity, and Lectora. There’ s also programs like CodeBaby where you can create animated characters who speak to each other. Very cool. They can be expensive, but these companies often offer academic discounts, and you can usually get a trial to test it out and see if it’s worth the money. Why is this a big deal? By taking advantage of these tools, librarians will no longer have to go to their software programmers or try to learn programming skills to create this stuff. These tools can usually be self-taught and require little technology-savviness. And they have great help forums.
- Designing instruction for online learning is far different than designing it for face-to-face sessions. But fortunately, there is a lot of research and a ton of books out there on how to design effective online instruction. Check out Empowering Online Learning, Making Sense of Online Learning, the Online Learning Idea Book, and the E-Learning Handbook (which are all now on my Goodreads “to read” list). Here are some tips I picked up:
- Don’t make them read. Construct your use of text very carefully. Use tables and graphics and images where appropriate. Always set a context for the learner. Always make the experience a conversation between teacher (or computer) and learner. Read Letting Go of the Words (the author, Ginny Redish, was a conference speaker on this topic and was fantastic).
- Take a lesson or two from infomercials. Find ways to draw your student in by telling them what this will do for them, and why it’s worth their time. Keep it simple, but incorporate stories, and use testimonials and quotes from experts to further convince them that this instructional tutorial is worth their time.
- Aesthetics matter, so remember a few simple rules. Use just one font type in one section, reserving any alternate font for important messages you want to get the students attention. Use different font sizes to distinguish headers from main points from supporting points. Don’t use decorative fonts, ever. And be consistent. Use good color schemes – Adobe Kuler is a great resource for selecting attractive color schemes.
I believe as instructional librarians are getting more pressure to produce online tutorials, classes, and other content – we should reach out to those that are experts in exactly that.
If you are involved in building online instruction or tutorials, I highly recommend attending a conference geared towards e-learning professionals. In addition to the E-Learning Guild conference, there is DevCon and DevLearn both happening this year. I have to say it’s possibly the most worthwhile and practical conference I’ve been to since becoming a librarian!