How Do I Get My Stuff Online?! The Beginning

Here’s a secret about your learning management system (LMS): it’s rarely used to its full potential. The Litmos crew tells me that clients often have questions about how to “get stuff online.” The questions may seem strange, but the same dysfunctional process plays out all over.

If you’re relatively new to the process of getting your organization’s knowledge ready for eLearning, take heart. There is an extraordinary amount of information out there. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to talk about strategies to get your stuff online, and we’re going to direct you to some favorite resources. Of course, we can only scratch the surface—we encourage you to add your favorites in the comments.

Why is it so hard to get that good stuff online? Here are a few typical LMS-client scenarios:

  • A client engages an LMS vendor as part of a single, extraordinary training effort (New system! New product! Merger! Revolution!). A consultant builds fabulous eLearning, the LMS people create a model for a repeatable (and scalable) user experience, employees learn and perform, the LMS tracks and reports—but that’s it. No more engagement. There’s no momentum, because nobody at the client organization is empowered to fully use the LMS by getting additional content into the system.
  • A client has an LMS relationship in place, and all kinds of assets ripe for conversion: PowerPoint® decks, PDF files, Word® docs, static intranet material, new hire/orientation packages, etc. Unfortunately, the mass of collective knowledge sits there, diffuse, gathering dust…

These scenarios are just two illustrations of what goes on. It sounds like institutional paralysis (and maybe it is), but consider your assets:

  • You have an LMS environment in place (such as with Litmos), or you are in a position to set one up. This environment gives your learners a place to go when they need to build knowledge and skills, and allows you to monitor what your learners find most effective.
  • You have content. Lots of content. Reams of content. This is the hard part. Your people could have access to organized and engaging, rather than semi-accessible and static, content. Example: imagine how your workforce could (really) internalize your company’s marketing strategy, if only they actively participated in eLearning modules instead of just doing some reading.

So, how do you get stuff online? First things first: a content dump is doomed to fail. This maxim is what’s known as a “painful elaboration of the obvious.” Taking text, a few pictures, and (maybe) an intern’s voice and throwing it all into a slide show just won’t work. So, a good first principle is to build a short philosophy for your organization’s eLearning.

How will it engage learners? What’s effective? What part of the process is repeatable?

Taken another way, this philosophy answers the question “How do I treat content?” The sexy part of eLearning may involve learning authoring tools and adding effects, but it’s critical to have a solid foundation in content treatment before you start.

Building that foundation is the challenge. There is a paralyzing amount of theoretical and procedural material about building eLearning—websites, academic journals, social networks, conferences, and on and on. Most of it is valid, but getting through it all would take several lifetimes. Suggestion for new eLearning philosophers: read a few books and focus on what the authors have to say. Develop some guidelines. They will serve you well and eliminate the need for a lot of re-work down the road.

A graduate student in instructional design recently asked me to pick two books that I felt would have the most value as she made the transition to a corporate training job. She was going to be tasked with starting a medium-sized company’s eLearning efforts, and the company had a good deal of scattered content. My suggestions:

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction (Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer): Fantastic first read about eLearning. and a terrific example of theory-into-practice. Consider this: if you practice what the authors preach, you’ll have a strong idea of how to use text, visuals, audio, and interactivity. As important: you’ll know why.

Better than Bullet Points—Creating Engaging eLearning with PowerPoint (Jane Bozarth): Let’s face it. This software is everywhere. That’s why I like this book. It’s an excellent complement to e-Learning and the Science of Instruction. If you are just getting started, it might surprise you to realize that PowerPoint is a perfectly fine blank canvas for eLearning. Furthermore, you probably already have some PowerPoint skills. Why is this a foundational book? You will not only gain a wealth of hands-on experience (that transfers to other tools), you will also avoid the monsters of bad eLearning: page-turners and endless bullet points.

Please add your suggestions for foundational reading in the comments. As the weeks go by, we’ll continue looking at the essential elements of getting your good stuff online. Next up: authoring tools.

@jwillensky