Online courses and e-learning have taken off in the last few years thanks to the pandemic. Sadly however, not all of it is effective. It may contain interesting information and beautiful images, but if it doesn’t deliver on its promises – usually bringing about some kind of change – then it’s of limited value. If you work in organisational learning design, that’s learners’ time taken away from their work; in academic learning, that means students not achieving their goals.

In this post I’ve brought together five of my favourite ‘force multipliers’ – actions that, when used together, make a big difference for creating effective learning. They’re designed to ensure that you can make the most of learners’ time as well as your own.


1. Don’t start work on e-learning design until you know the end result

The initial step in online learning design is often someone noticing that something needs to change. That person may not be very good at articulating what exactly this is and what it looks like, so it’s up to you to help them. Along the way, you will also need to find out why they think this change is needed and what’s preventing it happening. 

Without a clear sense of your aim, it will be difficult for your e-learning design to result in effective e-learning because what you’re trying to change won’t be clear. And without a clear view of the bigger picture, you won’t know if large-scale obstacles such as management resistance or technical problems could prevent the e-learning being successful. 

It can be tough working with stakeholders to manage the relationship with them and to establish the ‘why’ behind their training request, especially if they are senior to you and/or time-poor. In my last blog I outlined some ways to use performance consulting to manage e-learning development – take a look for some tips on managing the relationship. 

One of my favourite learning design gurus, Cathy Moore, also has great tips on managing subject matter experts.

2. Effective e-learning is user-focused

Subject matter experts are just that – experts in their subject. However, too much subject matter expertise and not enough learning design expertise risks learning that doesn’t work for the learners. This is where you can contribute your understanding of how the learners tick, which you may have gathered from learning management system data, interactions with them or feedback from surveys. 

As an example, you may know that many of the organisation’s remote employees use phones to access e-learning, so you will need to make sure the online course works for this format. Or, you may recognise that some learners work in a noisy warehouse and can’t hear audio material. These kinds of insights will make the difference between the training being effective and falling flat. 

It is also essential to recognise that learners have jobs – and other priorities – that mean your learning won’t be their main concern for long, if at all. With this in mind, keep the e-learning short, focused on the essentials and easy to access. Many learning management systems allow learning to be curated in small chunks and different formats – talk to the learners about what works best for them and why.

3. Iterate and evaluate for successful e-learning design

You may think your online course is fantastic, but if it has no impact then it needs a rethink. That’s another reason to involve learners in the design process and to do that upfront thinking with your subject matter expert.

Think about how to get learners involved in the design process to ensure that learners’ knowledge of how they work and learn is reflected in the resulting course. User testing is one recommendation; evaluation is another. I’m a fan of Will Thalheimer’s approach to evaluation because it focuses on change and learner reflection, and of course you know at Complete Learning Solutions we favour the ROI Methodology® when it comes to proving value at five levels, including learning transfer – L3, business results – L4, and return on investment (ROI) – L5.

4. Focus on behaviour not content

Some of the most ineffective learning I’ve seen is content heavy but light on applicability and conversely, some of the best has given learners opportunities to apply their new knowledge. There’s a lot more to be said about learning by doing than will fit in this post but, when it comes to workplace learning, trying new things out in a safe environment (such as via scenarios in an online course) can help learners overcome their own fear of the unknown. They can also apply change at their own pace, ask questions and create their own shortcuts.

If you use Docebo as your learning management system, you can also provide channels for learners to share tips and expertise with one another – a valuable way to generate social proof.

5. Look for ways to personalise e-learning

One-size-fits-all e-learning doesn’t float anyone’s boat, so look for ways to tailor it to different learners where you can. This could be through optional content, scenarios tailored to different roles, additional support materials designed for different groups or curated sets of resources available to people in different roles. Tailored content not only gives learners confidence that their training will be relevant but also respects their time.