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Create Online Courses: Best Practices

This phase of E-Learning development is where you utilize proven techniques and practices to help you produce the best content, with the least time and effort, leading to the best results possible. Most of these best practices are not directly dependant on the provided technology, but you will utilize technology to support and implement each practice.

Below are selected practices which have proven to have a positive impact on online training projects. These practices tend to either cut costs and development effort, or improve the quality and effectiveness of the training itself, or both.

Steps in the Best Practices Phase

1. View the Options and Policies available in FlexTraining and adjust as needed.

Your management menu includes sub-menus that let you define and modify the way FlexTraining works, without programming. These are the “Options” and “Policies” menus, and you should review the various settings under each sub-menu and understand what they are. Most settings have “Info” buttons next to them to describe what the item is, and they are named in a way that is also self-descriptive.

There is also an “Environment” menu that lets you configure the system to implement branding and other operational choices. Review these settings also.

2. Utilize the FlexTraining Authoring Tools

FlexTraining comes with an integrated authoring tool set that lets you build courses from the top down. While you can contract out the course-building process, using the course-builder to create courses and lessons gives you another level of control and interactivity.

If you elect to use video as a prime source of your training content, it is best to break up the videos into small, digestible pieces that run for 2-5 minutes or less. This also helps the learner to return where he/she left off when returning to a course, because FlexTraining will automatically bookmark the learning screen to return to.

Using short videos provides more robust navigation and more detailed bookmarking for student progress. Building courses in FlexTraining requires no knowledge of HTML or web page development.

3. Interactivity Reinforces Learning

Instructional designers tell us that the key to knowledge transfer and retention is interactivity. If a learner interacts with an online course, rather than just viewing it, she will retain the information longer.

There are many ways to offer interactivity within your courses. Here is the simplest method:

Within the FlexTraining authoring tool, you can provide interactivity with an easy method we call "learner exercises". These exercises can be added to most learning screens simply by clicking the “Advanced” link in the learning-screen builder, and entering a question and your candidate answers. Each exercise consists of a question and up to four candidate answers, which you provide.

Vary the responses to each choice in the exercise to indicate which answer is correct. You can also include an image or a video in the exercise. Multimedia responses – which you may place in the media libraries ahead of time – will be available for your selection as the response for each possible answer.

4. Narration Adds Life To Learning Content

A voice-over narration can spice up your learning material with a modest amount of effort. You can add a narration to any learning screen using the integrated authoring tool. The steps are as follows:

A. Develop your content for each learning screen without the narration, using whatever text and images you choose. You can add the narration at any time later.

B. Based on your content, write down a summary statement or two for each screen that will become your narration "script." Don't repeat the exact words from your learning screen - your learners can read.

C. Record your narration using a cell phone, or a built-in computer microphone and recording tool like the Windows Sound Recorder, or a more capable product such as Sony's Sound Forge Audio Studio. Use an audio editor like Sound forge or another editor – it’s your choice. Record and edit it several times, if necessary, to get the narration right.

D. Save each narration on your computer as a separate MP3 file. MP3 is an efficient audio format that works well over the internet. If the recording tool you are using lets you choose quality parameters, choose one from the middle of the pack (for example, you might choose "Radio" settings for decent sound quality). Avoid CD Quality and Stereo settings - these options create larger sound files with little or no benefit.

E. Upload your files to the FlexTraining Media Library and give each a meaningful description. You can test them within the Media Library screens to verify that they look and sound as you intended. Give the MP3 files meaningful names.

F. Add the narrations to each learning screen using the built-in authoring tool. Simply select the narration from the list on the screen. After you have recorded and utilized a few narrations, you will see that the process is straightforward and the improvement in your learning material is considerable.

G. If you are creating videos from screen capture or other content, and you are using a capable content development tool such as Captivate, you may choose to load the MP3 files right into the presentation itself, before generating the MP4 video output file. In this way, the MP4 file will contain both audio and video.

5. Smart Choices for Video

Video can be difficult to manage and deliver, or it can be simple if you make the right choices. If you decide to take on the challenge of creating video content, follow these guidelines:

A. The easiest and simplest format to use to capture, transport, and display video is MP4. Various “codecs” may be used to actually capture the video, but as long as you use MP4 as the overall format you should be OK.

B. You have a choice as to how to deliver these videos within FlexTraining: native delivery via the FlexTraining Media Library, or via YouTube/Vimeo.

C. Reasons to choose native delivery include better security for sensitive video content you don’t want to be disseminated. Also you have more direct control of the video and you can use the VideoLesson tool in the course-builder to rapidly generate online lessons.

D. The benefit of using a streaming service like YouTube or Video is that the video server is configured to handle every possible type of web browser and video player, because that is the business these companies are in. No matter what web browser is being used, YouTube will generally find a way to work with it in a smooth, reliable manner.

6. Choose Images and Multimedia Carefully

In general, use images, photos, audio, video and other multimedia objects that:

7. Consider a Pilot Approach

One strategy to consider would be the idea of selecting a single course to use as a "pilot." The pilot concept means that you fully develop all the screens, images and multimedia you need for this single course, and actually assemble and deliver the course, before beginning working on the material for your other courses.

The primary benefit is that you will experience every step in the development process, and your learners’ reactions, on a small scale. This experience will help you work more efficiently when developing subsequent courses, possibly changing your mind about what kinds of material to use.

Put another way, you might develop enough material for one course, view your resulting course, and then change your mind about what kind of text, images or narration to use. For example, you might decide your narration distracts from the on-screen text and needs to be shortened. Using a pilot approach, you will only have to rework a small amount of material before you continue on with your other courses.

The verbiage in this section does not specify whether you will be building all your content at once or utilizing a single-course pilot concept. The decision is yours, but a pilot approach is an excellent way to save time and effort, and to produce course material that you will be pleased with.

What you should have when you are finished

As you complete this phase, you will have most of your content development work completed.

  1. As you use the course-builder authoring tool, you'll build up a set of template-based learning screens, as well as images and multimedia suitable to your purpose. Many of your learning screens should include learner exercises to provide interactivity based on the templates you selected.
  2. You should have one or more online tests defined for each course, based on the built-in testing framework.
  3. Narrations and other multimedia should be complete and loaded into the FlexTraining Media Library. While the Content Library holds files for direct use in your courses, the Media Library holds the multimedia items you will use to build learning screens in the authoring tool.
  4. Learning screens and lessons are presented in a defined sequence, which you control. Changes to these sequences can be made at any time later, within the course-builder.

Success tips for the Best Practices phase

  1. As you build learning screens, use the preview tab frequently. Also, when you first assemble your course, quickly schedule it so you can view the course from the student module. You can turn the scheduled “active” status on and off as needed. Do this early in the development of each course, so you can see how your course will look to the learner.
  2. Keep video and images small for easier screen layout. Don't make your students scroll down through a learning screen unless it is unavoidable. Short screens make on-screen navigation easier for the learner.
  3. Test your learners at the beginning of each course (pre-test) and at the end (post-test). This technique lets you verify that the online students are actually learning, and demonstrates to management the value of your training program.
  4. If you create your own narrations, speak slowly and enunciate every word carefully. Most people tend to rush their speaking in normal conversation and to skip over syllables that need to be pronounced.
  5. Set realistic expectations with management about the timing for your training to go live. FlexTraining is the fastest training development system available today, but you will still need to verify and edit your content carefully as you build courses.