5 Ways to Write Relevant, Engaging, and Useful eLearning Content

Pen, Paper, and Laptop
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Writing content for an online or blended course is different than lecturing in a face-to-face course. Great eLearning content doesn’t just happen—it is intentionally designed to reach the student at their moment of need. As you develop your course, keep these five tips in mind to write relevant, engaging, and useful eLearning content.

Know your audience:

Consider the learner’s needs as you write your course content. Elearning demographics are shifting. Online learners are oftentimes older than the traditional campus student. It’s likely the online student studies around a full-time job and raising a family.

How can you frame the course to include their life experiences? What information is most meaningful after graduation? Do they need to pass an outside certification exam? What insights can you share to make that process smoother?

Tell a story:

From a young age, we discover our world through story. Stories inform and inspire; we’re more likely to retain what we’ve learned if we’re engaged on a personal level.

In “Wired for Story (2012),” Lisa Cron explains:

“We think in story. It’s hardwired in our brain. It’s how we make strategic sense of the otherwise overwhelming world around us. Simply put, the brain constantly seeks meaning from all of the input thrown at it […]” (Cron 8).

Storytelling works well with interactive scenarios. Instructional Designers use tools such as Articulate, Camtasia, and Captivate to build the scenario—all they need is your content to make them stellar!

Be real:

In academic writing, we’re taught to remove the “I” (first person) to create an objective distance. Elearning content is not as formal (nor impersonal). I’m not suggesting that you write in emojis and text speech. Your tone should be authoritative yet conversational. If you address the student as “you” and use inclusive language such as “we” and “us,” he or she will see you’re authentic and relatable.

Provide relevant content:

Quality content delivers useful information to the learner. Research current ideas and trends and remove any content that doesn’t meet the student’s needs. Museums curate art pieces around a theme or topic. Your content should curate links to relevant articles, books, videos, etc.

Encourage growth:

Marketers use calls to action as milestones to guide users to an outcome. In your course content, use learning outcomes to engage students and create a meaningful learning community. Ask questions at critical points in the course. Use the Discussion Board forums to invite student interactions. Include journals and blogs as spaces for online instructors to work with each student as an individual.

Are you an Instructional Designer, eLearning subject matter expert, or online instructor? How do you provide relevant, engaging, and useful content to students? Comment below to join the conversation.

Cron, L. (2012). Wired for story: The writer’s guide to using brain science to hook readers from the very first sentence. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.

So you want to be a subject matter expert?

Sure. You’d be glad to develop an online course. How hard could it be? You’ve been teaching for years now. This should be easy. Maybe you can focus on the project next weekend.

warning-400px-copyWarning: get ready for a moving experience.
That is, moving away from how you are accustomed to approaching teaching and learning. And moving toward an environment where your curriculum is masterfully designed for interaction and success.

Imagine a course without lectures!
Or a course that is never cancelled!

Imagine a course with:

  • a syllabus that is complete before class begins and is NOT subject to change
  • a readable list of criteria and points awarded for successfully attaining each requirement in every assignment.
  • space for meaningful and specific content-focused interaction between students
  • space for one-on-one interaction with each student at the point of need

Warning: you have to answer some questions.
The good news is that teaching and learning is not fundamentally changing. It’s always been about leading students to a new level of knowledge. But today, through the process of developing online learning, instructors have no choice but to re-think every corner of the content and employ refreshing and engaging routes of delivery.

In our eLearning department, the first questions we ask a subject matter expert (SME) are:

“What is it that you want your students to come away with from the course?”

“Who will your students be at the conclusion of this course?”

“Ten years from now, what will your students say they gained from the course?”

In reality, those are difficult questions to answer. But the answer becomes the learning outcome. Once it is clearly articulated, every course decision must align with it. Here are some learning outcomes from some of our university’s online courses:

Doctrines of the Christian Faith:

Discover the relevance of Christian doctrine for personal life and the practice of ministry in church and society.

Human Biology for Social Work:

Demonstrate the ability to guide my clients in making appropriate and informed decisions regarding their personal and family health issues.

China, India, and Japan:

Use evidence from selected readings on China, India, and Japan to defend the conclusion that individual human beings are both shaped by and shaping events that define their cultures.

Warning: it’s not about you.
Traditionally, the college professor is on stage for an hour dispensing knowledge. In the online and blended environment, the professor is on duty for the duration of the course – facilitating discussion, providing feedback, inserting relevant media to support the weekly topics, and interacting with students with questions and concerns. You will be busy, but it’s really not about you.

Student-centered is becoming a buzzword — but the eLearning world is convinced that it is the future. When you develop an online course, you must address who the student is, and make adjustments to get on his/her level. Teaching becomes a process of leading students from Point A to Point B. The journey that you take with your class will result in a milestone – a learning outcome that will be lasting for your students (and rewarding for you).

Warning: after this course development, the way you teach may improve.
Instructional designers often hear their SMEs say things like:

“It’s wonderful to see students participating in discussion that relates to what they were assigned to read and study. This course has so much value!”

“Can I use that video we developed in my face-to-face class as well?”

“Those rubrics worked so well, I think I’m going to provide grading rubrics for every assignment in my face-to-face classes from now on!”

So if you want to be a subject matter expert — we can’t wait to meet you!

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