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3 Powerful Ways to Create eLearning Courses that Deliver Greater Impact

18 April 2016

5 Min Read


Online employee training is relatively new, yet already companies are learning what it takes to create and deliver etraining programs that have a more powerful and long-lasting impact on employees—and, therefore, the companies.

In particular, they’ve learned that while creating training programs has become easy enough to do-it-yourself, this doesn’t mean you can sacrifice quality for convenience. In fact, much of the early resistance to elearning stemmed from the rollout of some poorly executed, self-authored content over the years. Not surprisingly, poor quality turned off many employees.

However, this also doesn’t mean you have to spend big bucks to create your employee etraining programs. What it does mean is that you should learn several essential basics of course creation. Your effort will be rewarded in getting far greater results that you would otherwise.

Gaining these insights will not only help your company create better courses if you do-it-yourself, but also if you hire professionals to help you. When you understand the essentials of good course design, you’ll be better prepared to ask for what you want and to assess the quality of the production your course developers deliver.

Among the many impactful strategies for creating more powerful etraining courses are these three — keep lessons short and sweet, use graphics for maximum impact, and make your lessons visually appealing.

1. Shorter Lessons Deliver Bigger Impact.

Various studies have found that employees respond best to shorter lessons, in particular, lessons under 30 minutes or less. This doesn’t mean that all of your courses have to be short. But it does mean you should consider breaking long courses down into several bite-size chunks.

The reason for this boils down to cognitive load theory. This theory suggests learners can absorb and retain information effectively only if it does not overload their mental capacities. This occurs when our short-term memory (aka, working memory) is overloaded with data. Our short-term memory can only retain a certain amount of information at one time.

The way to work with our short-term memory circuitry when creating etraining courses is to reduce the cognitive load. Here are some ways:

  • Keep lessons simple. Remove all content that isn’t absolutely necessary for the training process. For example, reduce extraneous graphics and words that don’t add essential insight to the lessons.
  • Create bite-sized lessons. Divide content up into small lessons and let employees move comfortably through them at their own pace. You’ll both capture their attention and gradually build their long-term memory.
  • Use different learning techniques. One of the secrets to great training programs is variety. After all, variety is the “spice of life!” In your lessons, consider all the ways you can deliver learning content. For example, offer some content verbally and other content visually. Also, include a variety of graphics, quizzes, reading materials, and other training styles.

2. Add High-Impact Visuals.

One eLearning study found that employees gave high ratings to visuals such as photographs, diagrams, short videos, cartoons, audio, and games. These additional media forms helped some feel less alone (videos, cartoons), and helped others learn more easily (audio and text combined).

Course creators can learn a lot from journalism and marketing about creating interesting and effective graphics for their training programs. Here are ideas to help get your creative juices flowing:

  • Quizzes With Photos. Selfies are all the rage for a reason — people love photos. Adding quizzes to online learning delivers several benefits, including interactivity, testing learning, and boosting long-term retention. If you add images to your quizzes, you’ll gain an even bigger impact — such as on this Star Wars quiz published by The New York Times.
  • Infographics. Unless you’ve been hiding under the proverbial rock, you’ve seen a lot of infographics. They are among the hottest forms of visuals used by media and marketing pros today. There’s a reason why: They deliver a lot of information, but it’s boiled down to a few essential points and delivered within an interesting visual format. There are many examples of great infographics, like this board game-inspired content journey infographic created by Marketo.
  • Cartoons. Don’t laugh. Cartoons and other humor have been proven to be effective learning instruments, yet remain under utilized. One study found the use of cartoons sparks students’ interest and develop critical thinking and reflective skills. Visually the impact is immediate and all students, irrespective of age or background, are able to respond in some way to the educational point being made.

3. Make Your Lessons Look Great.

Graphic designers think in terms of shapes, patterns, white space, and colors. Course creators should too to create better lessons. To think like a designer, consider these elements of great design to your etraining lessons:

  • Color. Our brains intuitively recognize differences in color, hue, size, and shape, and attach specific meanings to each color. These visual properties are called “pre-attentive variables” because the process of perceiving them is subconscious, immediate, and automatic. Use the right colors to, for example, intentionally highlight the most critical information within your lessons. To find colors that work well together, use one of the many online color palette tools, like Adobe Color.
  • Fonts. The fonts you choose to use in your lessons can help or hurt the power of your message. Explore font options on various sites, like Here are a few tips:
    • Use serif fonts, like Garamond or Times, for printed documents
    • Use sans serif fonts, like Arial or Calibri, for on-screen presentations
    • Avoid specialty fonts that are primarily decorative
    • Right align numbers and column headers
    • Left align dates and text
  • Simplify. Experts agree: Simpler graphics are preferable. In other words, less is often more. As they say in the writing world, “kill your darlings.” In the design world, this means creating clean, clear graphics that support your lessons versus detracting from them.

If you follow these three easy-to-apply tips to your course creation, you’ll significantly elevate the impact of your eLearning programs — which helps to ensure you provide your employees with the best training possible.

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