Below is an infographic that provides valuable information for anyone interested in what it takes to develop effective eLearning.  I love that the word effective is included and emphasized.  ELearning can be developed in less time but that does not mean it will be instructionally sound, engaging, and look like it was prepared by a professional.

When I worked in eLearning development I was part PM, ID, and eLearning developer.  That is too much for one person Based on this experience I think this is pretty accurate.  Of course each project is unique but this is a good estimate of what it takes, who does the work, and how the responsibilities should be distributed.

What Does It Take To Create Effective e-Learning - Infographic

Leanforward – an eLearning Company


If you build it, they will come.

That’s a famous line from the movie Field of Dreams.  But does it apply to e-learning?  In chapter 7 of his book, Designing Successful E-Learning, Michael Allen says probably not.  How often do we assume that the mere presence of an e-learning program, or any course, will attract an audience?  I accept that some responsibility lies with topic selection but the design plays a significant role as well.

Dr. Allen suggests that applying traditional instructional design to e-learning focuses too much on simply presenting information and passing a test to achieve its full potential.

Much contemporary instructional design is based on behaviorism or retains at least a strong flavor of it.

Simply get people to respond as we wish, provide knowledge of results as a reward, and practice until correct responses meet criteria.

Unfortunately, this approach, while quite effective with mice and pigeons to “teach” them relatively simple behaviors, has not worked well with humans.  It does not embrace the complexity of human thinking, emotions, motivation, and the powerful effects of the environment in which people behave.

Dr. Allen’s solution is to incorporate the Stages of Change model into instructional design.  This 6-step model below acknowledges that most people do not want to change or don’t see the need for change.  Since the goal of e-learning is to bring about change I believe Dr. Allen’s solution has merit.

In Dr. Allen’s revised approach, an e-learning course should include pre-instructional material.  He specifically warns against giving the learners a reading list.  Pre-instructional activities focus the learner’s mind on the need for behavior change (pre-contemplation), focus on the problem and consider solutions (contemplation).  What is traditionally considered formal instruction does not begin until the preparation stage.

You may ask, “what can I do to focus my learners on needs and solutions?”  One of my favorite ways to focus a learner is to give them a problem to solve.  Working on the problem can point out to the learner what he or she knows (and doesn’t know).  The great thing about e-learning is nobody has to know what the outcome is.  Introductory activities focus the learner on the subject matter, reveal learning opportunities (pre-contemplation) and motivate the learner to continue with the course.

In the rest of the chapter Dr. Allen address informal and blended learning.  Both are useful ways to introduce and follow-up on learning.  I’m not going to cover everything in the chapter.  Go out and buy the book yourself.  You won’t regret it.

Have you ever thought your classroom training could have been shorter?  Did your e-learning course resemble a PowerPoint slideshow?  Has your mind wandered during a webinar?  Ever wanted to test out of some training?

As a learning professional it is my responsibility to choose the delivery method that will achieve the best outcome.  My primary consideration is ensuring the participants retain what they are supposed to learn.  If that was the only consideration my life would be a lot easier.  For better or worse we live and work in a world of budget constraints, geographic separation, and learning styles that affect our how we present training.

When I started my career in adult learning e-learning was hot and organizations were moving all their training out of the classroom.  In their eagerness to catch this wave, little or no consideration was given to instructional design.  Later I joined an organization that relied heavily on classroom training.  Neither of these situations is better than the other.

So what is the best way to present training?

The only way to answer that question is, it depends on your situation.  The table below matches frequently asked questions with common delivery methods.  The table is intended to help decide what is the best way to present your training.

Don’t agree with something in the table?  Add a comment.  Start the discussion.

Below the table are links that provide additional information about each of the methods.

ILT -Classroom



Asynchronous Online (Podcast, etc)

Multimedia Online



Do the instructor and students need to be in the same location?



Do the instructor and students need to interact?





Do the students need to interact with each other?



Do students need immediate feedback and remediation?





Does the content require rich media (video and audio)?





Does the content require long explanations (over 20 minutes)?





Does the content require practice?





Does the content require hands-on practice?


Does the content require role play or simulations?




Does the learning need to be assessed?





Is the training time-sensitive?





Training Delivery Methods
Training Delivery Options and Media

I’ve had several discussions lately about online “training.”  This is a highly specialized form of delivery that requires unique skills, planning, and management.  These discussions got me thinking about the responsibilities and personnel required to create online courses.  Much of the information below is from of my good friend Rich Dunn.

Please note the responsibilities listed appear to imply a specific person is required.  In some cases that is the case but for the most part, the responsibilities can be contracted out.  If it is decided to sub-contract some of the work a strong and experienced project manager is key to the success of the project.

–          Project management

–          Instructional design

–          Writing and editing

–          Graphic arts

–          Technical (includes programming)

–          Media

–          Quality Assurance

Some of these are often combined into single roles (e.g., PM is often combined with instructional design and writing) and many are contracted out in small environments (e.g., editing and media).  I’ve seen some job listings advertise for a PM/ID/GA/Programmer all wrapped in one…usually under the title of “Instructional Technologist w/ experience in creating X.”  My guess is these companies are getting started with multimedia in-house and don’t have the benefit of experience and are shy about allocating resources.   High level tools, like Captivate, make it tempting to leave everything up to one person but my opinion is it is rare, if not impossible, to find a single person who can do everything and produce a quality course.  These domains need to be understood and separated to encourage more than mediocre training development, increase acceptance, and above all to avoid costly mistakes.  I would also be very concerned about an all-in-one employee experiencing burn out.

Here’s how I’d break these down further to include your responsibilities and some others I’ve added.

Project Management

  • Manage timeline, budget, communication with stakeholders
  • Manage sub contractors
  • Gather and manage content

Instructional Design

  • Identify learning outcome(s), goals and objectives
  • Design interactivity/Create interactions
  • Write scripts or storyboards for development team
  • Oversee editing of scripts

Note: I’ve gone ahead and combined the writing and editing tasks under ID assuming you’d do the same.  Someone would need to establish styles and conventions in this area, of course, especially when working with multiple people and projects.

Graphic arts

  • Create a user interface design appropriate to the project
  • Create a look and feel for the project
  • Create media assets (Given assumptions mainly graphics to start)

Note: There are different types of artists.  Ideally, you want someone who can handle all three responsibilities listed above and handle them well.  However, this is often difficult to find and as companies grow the roles tend to split into art director and production artist.


  • Analysis identifying technical infrastructure requirements and solutions.  This would include LMS or LCMS selection, use of standards like SCORM, technologies and tools used for development, etc..
  • Software system design for the first task but also for setting up a core skeleton used and reused on course projects.
  • Programming
  • Testing
  • Maintenance tasks such as documentation, backing up assets, and revision control
  • LMS administration

Note: this is a tough one to address because it depends on the outcome of the initial analysis.  One possible solution would be to look for a company that would lease space on an existing LMS and as a result potentially relieve your team from taking on the associated administration task, which can easily become a role by itself.  Another possibility, is to integrate everything into existing HR systems or make the LMS into the main HR system.  The administration task would then fall to an HR person, hopefully.  Programming will vary depending on the tasks that need to be done.  If an LMS needs to be altered, you’re looking for one of many different programming language and platform skills.  Programming skills will be different for developing in tools like FLASH.

 Media composition and editing

  • Plan media production efforts  (shot lists, scripts, prop lists, location selection and setup, etc.)
  • Produce video and audio media assets
  • Post-production editing and composition

Note:  You said to assume graphics only but I couldn’t resist putting in just a few things here.  As you know, this is an area that can get expensive quickly depending on expectations.  Stock media and low production quality can still be effective in some cases.  Does your company have a unit that does video already for marketing and training?  What about producing and publishing of movie products for your stores or is all of that done by other companies/producers?


  • Establish a QA procedure
  • Content testing and verification
  • Functionality testing
  • User acceptance

ISPI’s eighth standard for performance improvement is development.  As you may have figured this phase of a project deals with the actual creation of training materials.  According to ISPI it can be much more than training, “The output is a product, process, system, or technology.”  This array of solutions underscores a key difference between human performance technology (HPT) and instructional design.  Where instructional design tends to focus exclusively on training and learning, HPT looks at the way work is done and the tools that are used.

As I have written before, a common mistake is to start with this step.  As I write this, I stand by that position because this approach usually results in unfocused materials and unmet expectations.  However, a recent trend in learning development is rapid prototyping.  This approach combines elements of analysis, design, and development.  By combining these into one process, the team is able to refine their expectations, goals, objectives, and materials as their understanding of the project grows.

In a traditional approach, commonly referred to as the waterfall method, lots of meeting time and resources are spent drafting goals and objectives.  The expectation of this approach is that each step flawlessly flows into the next.  Unfortunately, experience has shown this is not always the case.  When the team finally gets to the development step there is no room to reconsider decisions made earlier.  If something was overlooked or the focus changes it requires significant rework to implement which results in delays and cost overruns.

Rapid prototyping, also called iterative prototyping, puts the emphasis more where it belongs, creating a solution that improves performance.  Through iterations the design of the learning intervention is refined, expectations are clarified and outcomes are documented.  The designer solicits feedback from stakeholders and subject matter experts to get approval on acceptable design elements and direction for future iterations.

The strength of an iterative approach is that it emphasizes what is important, actual learning materials, and focuses the team’s energy there.  It is also less labor intensive.

What are the keys to success when applying an iterative methodology?

  • Create.  Don’t just be creative.  An idea is only useful if it results in something
  • Discard. Be willing to throw out unproductive ideas
  • Learn.  An iterative approach is exploratory and prototypes are disposable.
  • Focus.  Appoint a timekeeper or reality checker.   If the group has spent too much time on an idea without producing anything usable it is their job to call us on it.

What’s more exciting, planning an addition to your home or living it it?  Do you prefer to shop for new shoes or see them in your closet.  What is more fun, hunting for game or shooting it?  I can say from personal experience driving off the lot with a new car is not nearly as exciting as the negotiation.

In this podcast, the speaker shares her thoughts on the book Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.  The podcast is about 15 minutes long.  If you don’t have time to listen I will summarize what prompted me to write a post about it.  In the book the author cites research that challenges the theory that dopamine is released as a reward for completing a task.  Dopamine is a powerful brain chemical that  is released by naturally rewarding experiences.  She references research that suggests it is not the finding that stimulates dopamine release but the searching.  From my experience this appears to be valid.

These findings provide support for experiential learning.  In a traditional approach to learning, instructors disseminate information through lecture and the participants listen passively.  There is no challenge.  If there are any questions asked they are mostly low level recall questions.  To quote B.B. King, “the thrill is gone.”

Not only does traditional learning have a negative impact on learner motivation it also has an impact on learner outcomes.  Since the participants are not actively engaged with the content in a traditional approach, it is difficult for them to recall and apply the information correctly when they return to the workplace.  Utilizing an experiential approach engages learners in such a way that they are motivated to seek information and are able incorporate it into their existing knowledge and experience.  When learners participate in experiential learning they are able to recall and apply what they learned more effectively.

Here are some tips for experiential learning.

  1. Challenge your learners.  Giving your learners an authentic challenge that makes them work to complete is motivating and will lead to better outcomes.  Problem-based learning is a great way to introduce challenge into your instruction.
  2. Don’t spoon-feed.  Respect is a key aspect of adult learning.  By asking questions that do not have clear answers and require thought you show respect for your audience.  Often it is the discussion that has a greater impact than getting the right answer.
  3. Use relevant examples.  Adult learners want their learning to relate to personal experiences.  Using a teaching scenario that is not clearly related to the learner’s context may confuse the participants and will undermine the learning outcomes.

What is human performance technology (HPT)?  If you search for it on the Web you get broad promises about fulfilled potential, optimal performance and better results.  But what does it look like?  How will you know it when you see it?

HPT can seem simple or complex depending on who is explaining it.  I admit to doing a poor job at it more than once.  I have found it easier to explain through case studies.  A few weeks ago I read an article describing changes the US Army has made to basic training.  This project is a good case study to introduce some of the principles of HPT.  The process used by the Army illustrates several standards of human performance technology developed by the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).  In this post I will focus on some of the principles that are clear in the project.

ISPI describes HPT as “a systematic combination of three fundamental processes, performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection.”  Confused yet?  Simply stated, performance analysis is examining optimal and actual performance with the intent of defining both.  Cause analysis is looking at reasons why people fall into the optimal camp, the actual camp, or somewhere in between.  With the performance gap defined and the cause identified, it is time to select the appropriate intervention.  In the Army example, I will focus mainly on the performance and cause analysis.  Since the Army is committed to the face-to-face training model, there were few opportunities to choose another training model.

There are ten principles of performance improvement.  The first is focusing on results.  To accommodate changes in the modern battlefield the Army has been moving away from large scale troop engagements in favor smaller semi-autonomous teams.  To equip modern recruits for this approach, basic training also had to change.  Conditioning needed more emphasis.  The type of weapon used and how it is used has changed.  The focus on small team engagements means interaction with local populations is increasingly important.  All of this also placed a premium on individual decision making.  Based on the article, the intended result of the updated basic training is a self-directed decision maker capable of interacting with local populations to engage the enemy with a small but highly effective team.

To account for these changes and achieve a successful outcome, the Army needed to adopt a systematic approach.  These are are reflected in HPT principles 5 – 10.  These six principles are similar to the instructional systems design (ISD) process.  ISD has been used successfully for years to analyze specific learning challenges and develop learning goals and objectives and to develop the appropriate instruction to meet those goals and objectives.  In this post I will only focus on 5 (needs assessment) and 6 (cause analysis).

ISD starts with a systematic analysis of the performance problem.  The Army surveyed the troops who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan to learn what was needed in the field.   They also studied the characteristics of recruits.  The survey analysis found that some skills taught in basic training could be removed.  They also learned that cultural awareness was important.  Analysis of the physical demands of modern warfare required a different approaches to conditioning.  One of the biggest findings was a need to equip soldiers to be effective and confident decision makers.

The combination of all these factors led to substantial changes to basic training.  Long distance runs have been replaced by short sprints.  Stretching and strengthening core muscles is emphasized.  Recruits use the actual  weapon during they will carry for marksmanship training.  Marksmanship has also been spread across the ten-week program instead of one intensive block.

Army analysis f0und that recruits, mostly all are millenials, are more adept at “juggling information” and “aware of global affairs” than previous generations.  They also have shorter attention spans and are less physically fit.  From a performance perspective, these are constraints that must be accounted for when developing the appropriate intervention.  The Army dealt with these issues by using a team approach to learning where recruits had to solve problems together and rely on one another’s strengths.  They also challenge recruits by frequently changing the conditions of a task and adding complexity.

Taking a systematic approach is more time consuming.  Successful organizations never stop reviewing the performance of the individuals, teams, and what they produce.  The ability to recognize and respond to market trends requires a thoughtful and intentional methodology.  HPT provides a framework where organizations can develop tools and methods that take into account the various inputs and constraints that affect performance.

How does your organization assess performance issues?

Does your organization apply a systematic approach to performance?

Do you have a program for analyzing the performance of your direct reports?

What are you doing to ensure they have the tools and training to perform at the highest level?

Does every performance problem get solved with training?

If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, click here to find a certified performance technologist near you.

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