Dec. 13, 2018, 4:13 p.m. in Best Practices by Simon Dunant
At Engaging Networks, we take online learning seriously - very seriously. In late 2017, we launched a robust online training academy for anyone using Engaging Networks. Today, we have 680 users with over 75% actively learning in the Academy. We're also using it to train our agency partners in our official accreditation program.
We thought we’d share some of the deep knowledge and experience that goes into establishing an online training system. In case you’re considering creating one. Here are some resources that might help if you’re planning an online learning program.
Learning Management Systems
With learning management systems there are a couple of ways you can choose to set these up. The choice usually comes down to how large you want to scale the system against cost of number of users. The leading cloud vendors are Gomo Learning, Totara and Litmos with SAAS offerings that take care of all the tech, though they usually charge you 'per seat' (i.e. per user) in the system. If you expect a lot of users this can get very expensive, which is why a lot of these companies tend to mainly serve large corporate clients. I've met the teams for these three at learning conferences and they've got firm foundations and good support.
There is also a smaller company in this space called 'Thinkific' who target a small business market (though would be very suitable for nonprofits). They charge a fixed price based on features rather than the number of users. I've used them to produce personal courses myself and can highly recommend them. You can even use their free plan which limits you to 3 courses (with unlimited students - as of December 2018) to test out if it's for you. One of the biggest benefits of Thinkific is the free video hosting that's included (even at the free level) which avoids extra costs of hosting your training videos elsewhere (such as inside a Vimeo Pro account).
As Engaging Networks is a software company we chose a self-hosted Moodle installation, which gives us complete control over our own hardware and learning software. Moodle is a custom open source (free) learning management system, widely used by the education sector that allows you to create a complex 'academy' with custom courses, assign various roles such as teachers, managers and students. It can also host a variety of media since media can be created in much the same way as any other content management system.
The caveat of running something like Moodle on your own server is that you'll need to assign a knowledgeable Moodle expert to set it up, design and continually administer the software as it can be quite complex, especially in the set up phases, plus you're IT team will need to maintain it on the servers. however the benefits are that there are no software licensing costs, no 'per seat' user charges (making it highly scalable), and you have complete customization over the look, feel and configuration of the software.
There are also plugins for Wordpress that can provide learning management functionality, Learndash is the leading Wordpress plugin for learning, it is a premium plugin so you'll need to purchase a license for the software but you can have unlimited users. This is a good consideration if your organization already uses the Wordpress platform.
Make sure your learning software can handle robust quizzes in multiple formats, and can at the very least issue 'digital badges' to reward users on their progress. If you can include some sort of gamification that's an engaging trend in e-learning right now too.
When it comes to benchmarking, having the person responsible for your e-learning become a member of an e-learning trade organization in your country is essential. In the UK I'm a fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute, and while learning trade bodies are geared towards HR functions (which is where Learning and Development usually sit). I find these trade bodies along with their associated conferences, webinars and other learning resources are the best way to keep up to date with the latest learning practices regardless of how you're implementing e-learning. Some good starting points are:
- 702010 Institute's blog at https://702010institute.com/blog/
- The e-learning Brothers blog is a great US focused resource too at https://elearningbrothers.com/elearning-blog/
- The E-learning Network https://elearningnetwork.org/ is also a super global online learning community
Online Learning Content
If want to create great online learning content here are some tips and links to some great software for your digital learning toolbox to get you started.
Creating videos is one of the most engaging ways to deliver learning online. However, the key to engagement is keeping things bite-sized. Aim for 10-12 minutes per video max (it's called spaced or micro learning if you want to Google it for more info on it's effectiveness). If you're creating screencasts, the best tool to use is Camtasia, which will help you record and produce slick looking e-learning even if you're a novice with video. There's also a great browser-based video recording plugin called Loom that's totally free and although it has far less bells and whistles than Camtasia, it's still a useful go-to tool.
Top Tip: When recording a video pay particular attention to the sound quality, make sure it's not too low or too high, and make sure you are recording in a quiet room that doesn't have too many reflective surfaces to avoid echos.
Audio is a much-overlooked resource for e-learning but can be an effective way for learners to take in information. Podcasts have never been more popular with Edison Research reporting that 45% of people listening to a podcast listen to it all, and people love learning through their mobile devices. Audacity is one of the best audio editors and it's totally free. If you do want to set up a podcast alongside any formal e-learning platform (or if your communications team fancy starting up a new channel) then it's now totally free to create, host and distribute your podcast using the Anchor Mobile App.
One thing gives e-learning a bad name is static slides. Avoid them at all costs. Spend a little time experimenting with the animation features in Powerpoint or Keynote (Mac) to keep your learners engaged. Depending on the scale of your project, if you want to really dive into interactive learning then the two de-facto software products for e-learning content professionals are Adobe Captivate and coming in a close second for PC users only is Articulate.
Images & Icons
A picture paints a thousand words, so why not illustrate your online learning with some powerful free images. One of my go-to creative commons free libraries is Unsplash which has beautiful, free photos gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers. Pexels comes in a close second for more variety. If it's icons you're looking for to punctuate your online lessons, Icons8 is a great free resource for this.
I hope you’ve found this resource useful and if you’re an Engaging Networks client or partner, be sure to sign up for the Academy if you haven’t already.
About Simon Dunant
Simon is currently leading digital learning transformation at Engaging Networks, implementing the change management of product training to clients and business partners across the UK, USA and internationally. He was formerly Senior EMEA Trainer & CX Knowledge Specialist at Eventbrite Inc. where he worked with L&D teams across 3 continents to mentor, train and grow Eventbrite's EMEA Customer Experience teams through blended learning, online training and performance support.
Simon is a fellow of the Learning & Performance Institute with extensive experience in training, mentoring and coaching product, technical and soft skills in person and via online courses, webinars, distributed learning and production of on-demand digital content.