Ten Steps to Creating a Successful E-Learning Course

By Freddie Diaz-Batista

In my previous article, I discussed several learning management systems (LMS) available for the fire rescue community that can store your online content. So, now you’ve installed the LMS that is right for your department. What’s the next step? The course! So let’s get started.

To make the design process easy, I broke it down into the following 10 easy steps to help you with the creation of your first e-Learning course:

1. Determine the course goal. As a fire service instructor, ask, Why are we creating this course, and what is the outcome we want? Why is this course/training needed?

2. Gather the content/information. Get with your officers, your subject matter experts, and do your homework on the following:

  • Do a needs analysis.
  • Identify the required knowledge.
  • Identify the problem at hand. What incident took us to the creation of this course? What brought the delivery of the specific course topic?

3. Define learning objectives. When designing your course, define your learning objectives. What will the student/firefighter learn at the completion of this course? You’re learning objectives will guide your development process. If you’re looking for a guide on how to start your objectives, do an internet search on Blooms Taxonomy; this will process will get you started.

4. Create assessment criteria. Align your objectives with the levels of Blooms Taxonomy to help create your knowledge checks or scenarios to assess your learners.

5. Use a storyboard template. Organize your content into a format that works for you. Consider using an e-Learning storyboard template. Locate these templates by searching online for “online storyboards” and find the one that works for your department. In my previous article, I gave an example on what a storyboard template can look like. The key thing to any storyboard is making sure the course content is approved before you start the actual course creation. So, make sure the person who has the last say (the chief) on any course content gives you the green light to start the development process.

6. Pick a design model/method. To deliver effective e-Learning content for your audience to easily apply, consider using these popular design theories:

  • ADDIE.
  • Knirk & Gustafson.
  • SAM.
  • The Action Mapping Process.
  • Gagne’s 9 Principles.

These models can found by searching online. I prefer the ADDIE model, but the latest model is the SAM model, which is replacing ADDIE within the instructional design community. The main thing you need to remember is to follow the method you choose and make sure you answer every question for which that the method asks.

7. Choose design elements. Compile the following design elements that will best achieve your learning objectives:

  • Images.
  • Videos.
  • Interactions.
  • Quizzes.

I use a variety of design elements to assist each generation of learners. In my previous article, I discussed the retention ratio based on the delivery of the content. Every learner retains their information differently so applying this content in the creation of your course will not only increase retention but will increase the variety of delivery methods in the course itself. I designed my course using the Show, Tell, Do in which the learner gets to see three different actions built within the actual course and then has the opportunity to actually demonstrate the action through an interactive element embedded within the module.

8. Select an authoring tool. Choose a tool that will best support your design elements. If you’re just getting started converting PowerPoint into online-based training can be easily used with Articulate Storyline or, if you ready to advance your skills, pick Adobe Captivate. The software is all different, but picking the right one for your project is the key. The great thing about Storyline is its user-friendly and basically replicates a lot of the features that you would normally see in PowerPoint.

9. Course Layout. For a course to be complete, the following items must be covered in your course creation. When you look through Fire Engineering magazines, each one looks different and covers different topics. Yet, each magazine edition follows a similar structure. It has an attention-getting cover, a title page, a table of contents, a chapter/article sections, and an index. So, although each monthly magazine may be different, the structure of the magazine is very similar. And so it is with eLearning course content. They may all look different and may cover different topics, but most courses have a similar structure. They include a title screen; a menu; instructions; objectives; and content, assessments, and exit instructions. Think of it as a fire station; there’s the front (welcome) and back (exit) entrances with a bunch of firefighters and recliners in-between.

10. Using course design templates. The best way to get started is by using and sharing templates; it is the best way is to align with other training departments/instructors. This can help you maintain a library of several unique templates geared around the fire department. I love using templates; they provide some structure to the design of your online training. But many times templates become so rigid that instead of helping the training design, they inhibit it.

In many cases, when using different templates, make sure the content is uniformed. As a designer, the content must stick out more than the graphic because the content is what the student is to what the student is supposed to be paying attention. Since the structure of most courses is similar, create an e-learning template that defines that common structure. Include all of the major parts of the course.

The main point is to identify the major parts of an e-learning course. From there, you’ll be able to build a good starter template that helps guide the course structure without defining the specific look. Once you create your first course, you can use that design for future courses, giving you a basis with which to work around. This allows you to have a default e-Learning template.

Each software application is going to be a bit different in how it works. But if you use PowerPoint or Articulate Storyline, you can follow a similar process, which is to create a master template that has a placeholder for each core element. By thinking through the main parts of a course, you’ll be able to design a good starter template. The template provides structure for the course design to make sure key parts are considered and are not falling through the cracks.

When you’re ready to build a course, start with the default template. At this point, you’re not trying to fit all of your content to match the template; that’s what causes some problems. Instead, you’re using the template to guide your initial development. Once the final course is created, make sure it goes through a question-and-answer process in case any points have been missed. Now, stop reading and get started!

 

Freddie Diaz-Batista is an 18+-year firefighter/paramedic in South Florida. He has an extensive background in e-learning and development and is considered a pioneer in e-learning. He has a master’s degree in executive management with a minor in instructional system design, specializing in e-learning design and customization of learning management platforms. His research focuses on the sustainability and transfer-ability of teaching and learning innovations in the public sector as well as training/higher education/adult education especially in hybrid based training/M Learning. He has served as project manager for multiple large-scale curriculum reform projects and software development for the Florida Department of Health and course development and design for the 28 FEMA Task Forces and subject matter experts in public safety. Batista has developed Open Source LMS systems for many institutions and was a guest speaker for the SMEs at the Public Safety Convention in Maryland in 2010. He received an Award in 2009 from the Florida Association of EMS Educators for his development of online learning modules and online instructor course to meet Florida Statue 401, which is currently being used by the Department of Health Training.

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