Recent research from LinkedIn suggests that 68% of employees are looking for learning development programmes to be offered by employers, with 58% also preferring to learn at their own pace.

These new expectations mean that there is an increasing demand for eLearning and online courses. Indeed, the eLearning industry is widely predicted to grow by over 30% annually, over the coming years.

As organisations and institutions look to meet this new need and develop their online programmes, often the first place to start is to look at existing in-person training, and how this could be adapted and translated online. There are, of course, a range of benefits to taking existing in-person courses online:

  • Scale: Producing courses online allows you to involve far more people in the training, wherever they are in the world
  • Longevity: Large parts of the video courses can be used for a number of years
  • Flexibility: Learners can do the course at their own pace and at times that work for them
  • Accessibility: Video can offer a uniquely effective way to explain complex information and ideas, through visual representations, animations and contextual footage
  • Cost savings: Budgets can be significantly reduced overall due to the scalability and longevity of the online courses

It may also be that you want to use video content to augment an in-person training programme, rather than create a full online course. The principles remain the same, as do the potential pitfalls if not approached correctly.

Directly translating in-person training programmes to online is unlikely to work

The temptation is to approach a video-based course in exactly the same way as you would the existing in-person course. This could include creating videos of long lectures, with tutors talking through a long stream of PowerPoint slides. This approach will almost certainly lead to low engagement and, ultimately, poor learning outcomes.  

The potential pitfalls:

Many experts within the academic and learning communities have flagged the potential pitfalls to be conscious of when designing an online learning programme.

Not getting their attention – Without having students in the room, directly engaging with the tutor and their peers, an online course must grab them right from the beginning. Otherwise, there is a danger that they’ll become distracted, or go through the programme in a very passive way, half-watching the content and not actively learning.

To grab the learners’ attention right from the start, online learning content can establish a sense of connection with the tutor. It can also establish ‘why it matters’, giving learners an understanding of what the course will enable them to do.

Not keeping their attention online – It’s harder to keep people engaged over longer periods of time online. Bearing this in mind, it’s essential that the content is as relevant, engaging and useful as possible, and that it is delivered and structured in a way that’s more appropriate to how learners view content on digital devices.

Not giving learners effective feedback – Effective ‘active learning’ depends on learners receiving effective feedback. This sort of interaction is essential for effective learning, but also for keeping them focussed and engaged.

Expecting tutors to be great online communicators – Not all great tutors will be experienced and effective communicators on video. It is essential that they are supported and guided through this process, on things like pacing, language choice, and the way they engage with the camera. This will help to build the connection with online learners, and so help to keep their attention, and make the programme all the more memorable and meaningful for them.

Not delivering the programme in ways that suit the learners – It’s important to understand the unique needs and behaviours of your audience, and build the programme accordingly. For example, are they short of time and likely to consume information on mobile or is there a wider community or cohort of people they could learn and share feedback with?

Being over-reliant on technology – Just expecting technology and video to do much of the work a tutor might have done in-person, is almost always a mistake. As Nobel Laureate Carl Weiman stated in a recent interview with Vensight founder, Bob Denham:

‘The technology should focus on the things it can do better than humans – and leave the rest. If we are not careful, technology can make bad teaching worse – rather than support good teaching.’

Carl Weiman

When translating courses from in-person to online, you should be careful not to throw away the value that people, especially tutors, can add throughout this process, whether that be with providing feedback or supporting practice.

Not considering ‘Active learning’ when building online programmes

The starting point should always be to consider what’s best for the student, and this should guide the process throughout, from course design to production and delivery. For the best learning outcomes, a form of ‘active learning’ is very much the basis of any successful programme. This is an approach advocated by a number of learning teachers and thinkers, including Carl Weiman, and Anders Ericsson, who introduced the idea of ‘deliberate practice’ in his book Peak.

The idea behind ‘active learning’ is that the brain needs continuous exercise to be able to form the new neural connections which strengthen how we make decisions; effectively rewiring the brain. Passively listening to video lectures, alongside other distractions, does not help the brain to exercise. Actively thinking about the right or wrong explanations, or the paths to follow, does exercise the brain.

Applying ‘active learning’ when translating in-person courses

There are a range of ways to apply ‘active learning’ to eLearning when you are translating an existing in-person course to online. We have outlined a number of these here:

  • Start with the key skill that you want the learner to learn – the ‘learning objective’
  • Break that down into bite-size chunks that can be taught and practised. With video, this would ideally see lectures broken down into a series of modules and short chapters. Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, suggests that these video chapters should be 4-6 minutes each. There’s an example below of a course programme for a project we produced with UNU-WIDER on EdX (or view the course itself here)
  • Focus on the three key stages; delivering these chunks, getting students to practise these chunks, and then providing feedback.
  • Technology should support this fundamental approach – delivering the content and helping to provide feedback, such as through gamified elements and interactive questions.

Best practices for production when translating in-person programmes

There are a number of best practices for the design, production and delivery of these online programmes. These will help create the best possible courses, avoid the pitfalls outlined above, and make the most effective use of the video format. 

Keep the content focussed and dynamic:

  • Clearly structure and break down the content into manageable chunks, that lend themselves to active learning
  • Make sure you take out any extraneous or unnecessary material around the content that doesn’t matter to the learners
  • Immediately establish why it matters; a programme’s relevance, and its unique value
  • Design and build the content with your unique group of learners in mind. What do they need? What engages them most? How and when do they consume content like this?

Utilise the unique benefits that the video format offers:

  • Use ‘on the ground’ case studies and video footage to contextualise what the tutor is explaining
  • Use infographics, data visualisations and animations to help visually explain complex ideas and information
  • Use high-quality production values that demonstrate the stature of the course, and that make the content clear. Poor quality production values can be distracting.
  • Use graphics and signalling to highlight important information on screen

Use human interaction alongside the online material where appropriate

  • This could be to provide feedback or to answer specific questions, perhaps monthly or weekly
  • Cohort style learning has real advantages. Encouraging interaction and feedback between learner peer groups builds engagement and improves learning experiences. 

Use technology appropriately

  • Use functionality within your LMS or delivery method to encourage the learners to feed back. This could be things like quizzes or interactive elements.

Tutor – online course delivery

  • Use conversational and accessible language to build a connection between the tutor and the learners, and avoid unnecessary jargon.
  • Speak quickly and with enthusiasm (approximately 200-250 words per minute)
  • Support tutors with expert coaching through what may initially be a daunting process. This is something we have significant experience of at Vensight, and we would be pleased to offer advice and support wherever we can.

Looking to the future

When it comes to the future of video courses, as well as the future of education and professional development, our conversations with leaders in the field suggest that there are many exciting developments to come. We still all have much to learn. 

There is a growing expectation from employees, students and stakeholders for learning programmes and training that suits them and their lives. There are new, fast-changing demands on them to re-skill and upskill, which means that training and education will need to be increasingly flexible.This is where eLearning can add real value.

Online courses should not entirely replace traditional in-person training, but they offer a range of benefits that can help improve and augment existing programmes, while also offering development to greater numbers of participants, in a scalable and affordable way. As an organisation, Vensight Learn will continue to work alongside industry leaders, thinkers and academics to make sure eLearning can help empower even more people, and have a hugely positive impact on their lives. That is the power of learning.

If you’re looking to translate an existing course to work online, or even wondering how you could use video to augment certain parts of an in-person course, please do get in touch with our team. We’d be pleased to help.