5 Steps for Creating Online Learning – Are You Missing Any?

5 steps for creating your digital training
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Table of Contents

Online Learning Guide Contents

Can you even remember the last time you sat in a classroom training or conference event? It feels like years ago, right? I know a lot of people who rely on in-person education and they’re now asking me – “how do I convert this into online learning?”

For example, I have a sales coach friend who used to deliver live business development workshops but now needs to do it over Zoom and is trying to figure it out

The best piece of advice I can give is this:

“Don’t try to cover the knowledge, uncover it.”

A digital environment is vastly different from a classroom setting, primarily from the perspective of the learner. Your approach to designing your training should, therefore, be vastly different too.

If there is nothing else you take away from this article, let this be it: join your audience on a journey of discovery. Prompt them to ask the right questions. Guide them by asking open questions. Map out the journey for them. But let them discover the path.

For those looking for more practical guidance on how to do this, let’s get into it.

If you want to jump straight to the 5 steps, click here.

Who is this online learning guide for?

This guide is for anyone that transfers knowledge to others.

You’re an expert in your domain. Perhaps you’re in charge of talent development at the company you work for. Perhaps educating prospects is part of your business development strategy as a business owner.

You can no longer rely on gathering people and delivering training the way you’ve always done. The energy in that room. The ability for people to feed off each other and learn from each other. It’s going to be different now.

But it’s not all a bad thing.

Why the shift to online learning could be a good thing.

There is an opportunity here that a few of our clients at Curious Lion have taken advantage of already. Most early adopters of online training solutions do so to save on costs of flying people around for live training – the dollar costs, but also the time costs. Sometimes there is only one subject matter expert who can’t be in twenty places at the same time.

So what are the benefits of transferring your knowledge in online training?

Online learning is scalable.

By eliminating logistics like flights, accommodation, meeting space, and presentation technology, you can reach way more people with just a computer and a Zoom account.

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can log in to watch and participate in your learning experience. And as you will see, if you design the experience intentionally, you may even increase the knowledge transfer you are used to seeing.

Online learning is asynchronous.

We’ll discuss live virtual sessions later in this post, but with online learning, you open up the possibility of participants viewing recorded sessions at their own pace in their own time.

Suddenly, your learning experience is available to anyone in any timezone. You can be teaching and training 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.

Online learning is measurable.

We’ve all seen it in classroom settings, especially in the after-lunch session. Glazed-over eyes, drooping eyelids, nodding heads. These are the obvious signs, but how do you really know anyone is paying attention?

With online learning. you can measure intangibles like attention. You can track this by looking at active windows, clicks, playtime of videos, and participation in interactive elements like polls.

Online learning is ‘improvable’.

With the ability to measure comes the ability to improve. You can pinpoint the exact slide where your participants lose focus. You can ask for feedback through simple online voting or instant feedback questions.

It is far easier to give feedback online, in-the-moment than by filling out a post-session paper questionnaire. Likewise, it is far easier to implement feedback digitally, where assets are editable, than having to wait for your next in-person session to test your changes.

The number one way people consume online is through video.

When you have a question or want to learn something, where do you turn? 

If you’re like 86% of YouTube’s massive user base, that’s where you go. This trend is increasing. In fact, Cisco predicts that by 2022, video will account for 82% of all internet traffic.

You can now watch live TV on your phone. It’s clear that if you want to reach an audience, video is the most familiar digital medium for consuming training content.

Learners have higher rates of retention from videos.

Video may be the number one way to consume information, but do people retain it? 

John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, shows that we remember only 10% of the information we hear three days later. If the audio is paired with a relevant image, knowledge retention jumps to 65% three days later.

You’re creating an asset.

For all the reasons highlighted above – the ability to scale your reach to larger audiences, the ability to cross multiple timezones, the ability to measure the success of your online learning offering and improve upon it – you’re creating a digital asset. Think of the time and money you need to develop it as an investment that will continue to pay off over time.

Differences for the learner between in-person and online learning.

There are a few fundamental differences, from the perspective of the learner, between consuming content in-person versus online. We need to consider these carefully before going about creating a great online learning course.

Cognitive Load

Perhaps the most important area of research to refresh ourselves on is how the human mind processes information.

There are three states of memory that we need to consider: sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memory.

How we process information in our brain
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Our goal, of course, is to embed knowledge in the long-term memory of our learners, so what do we need to keep in mind as we set out to do this?

There are 3 things, actually. They are the concepts of dual-channel, limited capacity, and active processing.

  1. Dual-channel – we have separate channels for processing verbal and visual information.
  2. Limited capacity – there is only a limited amount of processing capacity available in the verbal and visual channels (working memory).
  3. Active processing – learning requires the use of both verbal and visual channels to pay attention to presented material, organize it into a structure that makes sense, and integrate it with prior knowledge

The key is that in a virtual setting, visual and verbal information is originating from the same source: the computer. There is no presenter walking around a room, no flipchart or slideshow to look at as a break from the presenter. There are no participant questions randomly asked out loud. 

There is simply one source of information, which is coming at you in both a visual and verbal form, and there is distraction. It’s binary in a virtual setting, and as a result, we need to follow certain principles for designing multimedia training, which we will go over later in this piece.


So how do we overcome the limited capacity of working memory?

Your digital content competes with every other piece of digital content out there, from Facebook posts, to YouTube videos, to Instagram images, to tweets.

First, capture your learner’s attention. This is essential to be able to stimulate active processing. The most effective way to do this is to connect with someone on an emotional level.

Video has a powerful quality to tap into emotion. The combination of images, music, and sounds can elevate any written text or spoken word into a potent concoction that captivates emotion.

Emotion shapes the information we receive in that when our emotions are aroused, our attention is heightened. Attention is one of the most valuable commodities we possess. With all the competing distractions, any good teacher must spend time thinking about how to capture and hold the attention of their learners.


Emotional connection produces motivation. For learners to become and remain motivated, digital instruction needs to satisfy four conditions. It must: 

  • capture and maintain attention,
  • hold relevance,
  • promote confidence, and
  • deliver satisfaction.

Knowing the prior knowledge levels of your audience will help you keep your content relevant. Promote confidence by including knowledge checks and opportunities for feedback throughout. And by using entertainment as well as education, you can produce a more satisfying learning experience.

Let’s go one step further here. Daniel Pink’s reboot of motivation in his book Drive argues that for 21st-century work, the new approach to motivation must satisfy:

  • Autonomy – our desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery – the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters.
  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do for a higher purpose that is larger than ourselves.


Motivated learners engage more with content, finish courses in less time and retain more of the knowledge after the course. These are some pretty great reasons to use a blended approach in your training (more on this later).

Everything from working through problem-solving scenarios, to participating in a facilitated discussion, to pausing and replaying sections of videos helps promote active learning.

Be more intentional about your learning design.

Do you feel like you have a handle on what a learner needs in a virtual environment?


We’re now in a good position to discuss design, or more specifically, instructional design.

This is where you should be spending most of your time.

Even if you work in a talent development role and are familiar with these concepts, it is worth refreshing yourself on these fundamentals as they’re going to become even more important in designing online learning.

Remember that piece of advice I gave earlier?

“Don’t try to cover the knowledge, uncover it.”

You need to think critically about how you’re going to uncover knowledge for your learners.

According to Hattie and Yates (2014), the necessary ingredients for learning are:

  • time
  • goal-orientation (motivation)
  • supportive feedback
  • accumulated successful practice
  • frequent review.

I know you probably want to jump to the how-to guide of this article but stay with me here because this part is important.

Before we get into the step-by-step on how to develop an online learning course, it’s important to build a firm understanding of two things: (1) fundamental instructional design concepts, and (2) multimedia principles for managing cognitive load.

Instructional Design Concepts.

There are seven crucial concepts to keep front of mind as you embark on designing your online learning course.

Let’s explore each of them to lay the foundation for the approach we’re going to follow.

Prior knowledge

Educational psychologist David Ausubel said:

The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach accordingly.”

We construct understanding by building on the knowledge we have.

Think about the first time you learned a new language. In the beginning, you have no prior knowledge. Learning vocabulary and the proper use of tense is demanding. But as you develop experience with the language, you start to take things for granted. You “just know” how to construct a sentence. Of course, that’s your prior knowledge coming to the rescue.

Therefore, taking the time to understand the prior knowledge levels of your audience is an important first step.

Pattern recognition

There is a classic result in cognitive science which shows that chess masters can recall briefly presented positions better than novice players when those positions are actual chess games, but that their superiority disappears with random board positions.

Our brains are naturally wired to look for meaningful patterns of information. As you learn more about a domain, your ability to store more within your working memory increases. It’s not your capacity that has increased; it’s your ability to recognize meaningful patterns that increases the efficiency of your working memory.

You can influence pattern recognition by organizing your content intentionally. Like the table of contents in a book, the organization of your course sets your learner up with an outline of what they will learn, and serves as an easily referenced reminder of what they’ve covered and where they’re headed.

Principles over facts

True understanding cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions. 

Understanding reflects context and applies differently in different circumstances.

If you had a similar high school or college to me, you were confronted with a barrage of lists to memorize. Countries and capitals. Steps to complete a procedure. Definitions. 

To demonstrate your understanding, you had to regurgitate these from rote memory.

This ability is pretty much worthless in the age of Google, Alexa, and Siri.

The transfer of true knowledge occurs through an understanding rather than a memorization of facts or a thoughtless following of fixed procedures.

Understanding promotes flexibility when contexts change. When faced with a new problem you are more likely to internalize concepts if you have to deconstruct and reorganize them to solve the problem.


Concentration spans are short. In fact, most of us have a maximum span of 15-20 minutes before our minds begin to wander.

Learning requires motivation and it is your job to put the right elements in place to motivate learners to return their attention to the topic at hand.

The rule for motivation is that all creative decisions made in the production of online learning material must be motivated based on their impact on the learner.

The thing that is going to inspire your learner to keep coming back: the WHY. Show them why learning what you have to teach is important, remind them of this often, and you’ll have created an environment in which you can take advantage of the “motivational waves” of attention that your audience will have.


Scaffolding is the support given to a student during a training course and is made up of three elements:

  • interaction with you, or the expert you’re featuring;
  • your awareness of the learner’s current level of knowledge (there it is again); and
  • the gradual removal of support and guidance as the learner becomes more proficient.

The idea here is that you set your students up with all the support and guidance they need and then gradually remove it over time, just like if you were teaching them to ride a bike with training wheels.

Deliberate practice & retrieval

To learn, your mind has to be active. When your mind actively responds to something, it becomes memorable.

The takeaway here is to provide plenty of opportunities for your audience to apply what you are teaching them. The more they can practice the skills or behaviors, the more they retrieve and reinforce that knowledge in their own minds, especially when combined with constructive feedback.

Spaced repetition

Trying to learn something in a single block of time isn’t nearly as effective as learning that same thing, in shorter blocks of time spread out over a longer period.

Think back to when you learned how to drive a car.

Do you think you’d learn more from a 3-hour driving session, or 6 days of 30-minutes a day, with the opportunity to reflect on how you did in between?

As we’ll see, once you’ve identified your key learning points, the more you can repeat them, the more effective your online learning will be in transferring knowledge.

Let’s move on to the second category learning design theory and then we’ll be ready to dive into our 5-step process. 

Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning

Our minds respond well to multimedia inputs. As we’ve discussed earlier, images convey information 60,000 times faster than words.

Our brains are wired to receive information from multiple sources, i.e. be multi-modal. The best learning occurs when words and images are combined intentionally.

Luckily, we have the work of one of the most published researchers in online learning, Richard Mayer, to refer to here.

His precise studies have confirmed that our mix of text, images, audio, animation, and video in online learning is often flawed, resulting in cognitive overload.

Clearly, his findings are going to be instrumental in our design, so let’s do a quick refresh of them here:

  • Less is more – the Coherence principle encourages us to be ruthless about weeding out words, images, animations and sounds that are not central to achieving your learning objective.
  • Don’t be redundant – when we see text on a screen, we read it, taking in information through our visual channel. But if it is also read to us, it is like an assault on our verbal channel – we cannot easily block it out. The Redundancy principle says, in most cases, to present information as graphics with narration, without the associated on-screen text.
  • Chunk it – you now know how attention spans are affected by online learning. The Segmenting principle provides evidence that breaking content into bite-size chunks helps people consume information more efficiently and effectively. If learners are able to decide when they move to the next step, knowledge retention is even higher (this ties back to Daniel Pink’s observations on autonomy).
  • Keep it close – the Contiguity principle shows that to increase knowledge retention, you want any combinations of words and graphics to be close together, whether this is placing text next to graphics or synching narration with the display of images.
  • Send signals – studies have shown that thanks to Signaling, we retain more when visual and/or verbal cues are used to highlight the organization of essential information. Think of keywords to highlight definitions or mark chapters, or visual cues to highlight focus areas in a complex diagram. But remember, less is more, so use these sparingly.
  • Front-load it – for complex topics, especially where there is a low level of prior knowledge, Pretraining principle studies have proven that those that received definitions and concepts upfront (followed by a focus on the causal connections between concepts in the rest of the lesson) had higher knowledge retention than those that did not.
  • Say it, don’t text it – online learning with only text instruction is like watching a movie with closed-captioning and no audio. It’s another assault, this time on your visual channel. The Modality principle shows us that words should be presented as speech rather than text on screen.
  • Make it personal – perhaps my favorite principle is that of Personalization. Studies have proven that using a conversational style for narration (e.g. words like “you”, “your”, “we” and “us”) results in improved learning retention. We all work that little bit harder when we’re being instructed by someone we perceive as a peer, rather than a formal lecturer.

If you want to explore these concepts in more depth, check out our post packed with examples analogizing each of these 8 principles. 

Know your multimedia options for online learning delivery.

Ok, we covered a lot in that section on instructional design. Do you feel like you have a clearer picture of the tools at your disposal? Revisit that section as you develop your online learning. Let it be the north star for your design. For more on the development process see our complete guide on training material development.

Let’s now explore the additional tools in your toolbox for delivering the best possible experience for your learners.

Video (Live Action and Animation)

Great for: managing cognitive load and motivation.

Taking full advantage of the benefits we discussed earlier, recorded video, whether in the form of live-action (think human actors or talking heads) or animation, is one of the most powerful tools any learning leader has.

Images are more powerful than written words. Consider the word ‘lion’ and this image.

We process information from images 60,000 times faster than words
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We’re talking milliseconds for this single word, but you processed the image of the lion 60,000 faster than the word. Now add in the ability to show 25-100 frames (images) per second like you can with video, and you have an extremely efficient delivery mechanism for information! 

Beyond efficiency, video has a significantly more powerful quality that we can take advantage of – video connects with you on an emotional level. Emotion helps shape what we pay attention to. Attention, as we’ve seen, is one of the most valuable commodities we possess.

Finally, delivering content in a micro-format (short series of videos covering sections of content) allows you to take advantage of a learner’s moments of need as they access content when needed in a continuous learning cycle. 

To Zoom or not to Zoom?

Great for: capturing attention and interaction.

On the other end of the broadcast spectrum is the live stream, typically through a tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts. This is often referred to as a webinar for larger groups, but can be used as an interactive training for groups of 10-20.

By default, this option is synchronous, meaning your participants are joining in real-time and interacting with you and each other. Of course, you can record these sessions and make them available for playback, capitalizing on the benefits of asynchronous delivery we touched on earlier.

Audience interaction is the big plus here. With a live webinar, you can ask your participants questions and have them respond in the chat, or directly through their mics. You can also invite them to work together in groups, which is a powerful way to facilitate social learning.

Another great reason to use a live webinar tool like Zoom is if you have a call-to-action (CTA) that you want to make at the end. It is much easier to capture and hold attention in a live setting, giving you the perfect opportunity to present your CTA and motivate why your learners should take the next step.

Print Media

Great for: concentrated study, factual information.

Studies have shown that print is most suitable for concentrated study, at an individual pace, of information with fine detail, such as diagrams, and equations, or where learners will benefit from random access for skimming or revising material. 

Examples include PDFs, infographics, workbooks and study guides. 


Great for: attention, motivation and curiosity!

Finally, it is worth pointing out that not all content needs to be custom-created.

Companies like Degreed pioneered the idea of a platform to make corporate learning content easy to find through curation. Instead of creating everything from scratch, pull in content from across the web (both free and paid) to supplement your core expertise. 

Remember, you’re on a journey of discovery with your audience, and your job is to surface the right knowledge at the right time for them. Much of it is already out there.

How to design your own online learning course.

Are you ready for the guide?

I’ve arranged this as a checklist. As Alfred Whitehead once said: “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.” My goal here is to provide a resource you can refer back to such that, over time, you don’t need to think about how you develop online learning. You just do it.

The 5 steps in the online learning development process.

  1. Identify the building blocks of your course.
  2. Outline sections that each have a distinct learning objective.
  3. Pick your media, delivery format, and tone.
  4. Storyboard or script how you’re going to transfer your knowledge.
    a. Craft a narrative flow for your content.
    b. Apply multimedia principles for managing cognitive load.
    c. If you are using video, follow filming guidelines for rapid video development.
    d. Provide ways for learners to practice in new contexts.
    e. Provide opportunities for interaction with the expert.
    f. Check on the progress of your learners by performing regular knowledge checks.
    g. Promote community by encouraging students to give feedback to each other.
  5. Consider how you will reinforce learning after the course.

Let’s dive into each of these in more detail.

Identify the building blocks of your course.

It’s important to start with an inventory of everything you’re going to use in creating your training.

The content itself is an obvious starting point – slide decks, PDF’s, workbooks, product documentation. 

Now, shine a light on concepts and principles, not facts and formulas. 

Ask a series of WHY’s (commonly referred to as the 5 Why’s – keep answering the question to drive at the heart of the content) to reach the first principle of any complex concept you cover. Be ruthless about eliminating anything unrelated to the core concept or that can be looked up by a quick search. Learners will only remember a handful of things, so take the time to clarify the top 3-5 takeaways you want them to leave with.

Finally, pinpoint the level of prior knowledge of your learners and anchor your content to this.

Armed with this information, you’re now ready to map out your approach.

Outline sections for your online learning
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Outline sections that each have a distinct learning objective.

Organize your content by scaffolding it around learning objectives framed from the perspective of the learner. What do you want them to be able to do differently after completing each section?

Your existing material may already have learning objectives, but for a online learning course, it is important to separate content into sections that each only have one learning objective. This will help you pick your delivery format and media in the next step.

Pick your media, delivery format, and tone.


Are you looking to capture attention, or increase motivation? Do you have a complex topic and need ways to manage cognitive load?

In instructional design, there is a concept known as a “blended approach”. The principle here is that no single solution can meet all the learning needs of your audience. Instead, use a combination of multimedia to transfer the knowledge you’re looking to transfer.

Use video to capture attention and explain complex topics.

Use live Zoom-based sessions to interact with your audience and provide them with opportunities to practice the concepts you teach.

Supplement your own content by including curated material from outside sources.

Choose the right media for your online learning
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Delivery Format

There are five formats common in training videos:

  1. Talking head
  2. Interview
  3. Conversation
  4. Presenter
  5. Action

The talking head format is what you see in news broadcasts. 

Interviews and conversations have one major difference: usually there is only one person visible at a time in an interview whereas a conversation has both people on screen, like in a talk show.

Presenter formats are most often used in educational content and work best with visual aids. 

Finally, action videos are primarily narrator driven, with visuals shown as support. Animated videos and documentaries are excellent examples of this.

Choose one of the 5 delivery formats for any video-based training
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.


The tone or mood of online learning is heavily influenced by the presenter’s voice and body language, no matter what format you choose.

Consider tone from the perspective of the learner. Do you want your training to come across as formal or informal? Collaborative or instructional? Authoritative or exploratory? The answers to these questions will affect your scripting, so it is important to be clear on them during this step.

If you are going to feature an expert in your training, consider what brings out the best in the person presenting the video.

Storyboard or script how you’re going to transfer your knowledge.

The following are a set of specific guidelines for the design of your storyboard or script. Some may be obvious, but in that case, treat this as a checklist to remind you to consider each without thinking about it every time.

Craft a narrative flow for your content.

Narrative flow works best within a structure:

  1. Hook
  2. Signpost
  3. Sensitize
  4. Elucidate
  5. Reinforce
  6. Conclude

The hook is where you capture attention by shocking, surprising, or delighting your audience. Entertain. Amuse. Create suspense. Grab your learner by the collar and drag them in.

Next, use a signpost as chapters to set the scene and facilitate engagement. Signal what’s coming and show why a learner should care. Revisit the signpost throughout to help your audience keep track of where they are. 

Sensitizing your audience means facilitating a receptive mindset by being consistent. Music choice can signal changes in mood or topic. Familiar colors and images can also help sensitive an audience.

With these things in place, you can then explain the more complex topics of your content. Specify the implications and consequences you want learners to be aware of. Use comparisons and analogies to show relationships. 

In online learning, repetition is a good thing. Reinforce your first principle points early and often.

Finally, conclude by linking everything back to your opening hook. Provide your audience with the dramatic climax they’ve been craving and summarize your key points one last time.

Apply multimedia principles for managing cognitive load.

Remember: Less is more. Every element in your training should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t – cut it out!

Refer back to the 7 multimedia principles we covered earlier and make sure you are adhering to them when designing your learning assets.

For video-based learning, follow filming guidelines for rapid video development.

Framing – Proper framing is one of the simplest hacks to instantly improve any learning video. Just follow the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds teaches you to split your screen into thirds vertically and horizontally. Most cameras have a gridline setting to do this for you. Then you place the most relevant information at the intersection points of the gridlines. These points carry magnetic “weight” that naturally draws our eyes.

The rule of thirds for video-based learning
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Create a pleasing effect for the viewer by placing focal points, such as the eyes of a person, at these intersection points. 

Some additional considerations for framing:

  1. The edges of a frame are magnetic too. Objects too close to the edges will appear as if they’re being pulled out of the screen. Leave space between the edges of your frame and your subject.
  2. We read frames, just like text, from left to right. We pay more attention to the right of the screen (the last place our eye rests after a scan), so place your focal points there.

Background – The key to background is to add depth. Where the rule of thirds deals with the 2nd dimension of space, here we look at the 3rd dimension of depth.

Leave ample space behind your subject. You want to be able to focus on your subject while leaving a soft blur of the background behind them. Props and background tell a story so be intentional about what you place there.

Adding location to background in video-based learning
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Lighting – The classic lighting mistake is to point your camera at your subject with a light source behind them.

If you want to show an outside location in your frame, position your subject at an angle, and balance the light from the window with artificial light from the opposite direction.

There are 3 things to remember here:

  1. Rely on natural light as much as possible.
  2. Place the primary light source behind the camera.
  3. Balance lighting across the frame to avoid shadows.

Sound – Sound can be used to convey all kinds of information to support the dialogue.

There are also three simple rules here:

  1. Record any background noise for 10 seconds. This ‘noise print’ can be used later in editing to remove it from your final cut.
  2. The subject and the microphone should be the same distance apart throughout. It may help to use a separate microphone from the one on your camera or phone. If you do this, make your editors life easier by clapping your hands at the start of filming to aid in syncing.
  3. One more tip to help with editing: pause for longer than natural between takes.

Provide ways for learners to practice in new contexts.

Behavior is shaped by its consequences; consistency and timing play important roles in shaping new behaviors. Complex behaviors are best learned via continuous reinforcement, in which the desired behavior is reinforced every time it’s performed.

These are the findings of Harvard professor of psychology B.F. Skinner.

Reinforce the behaviors you want learners to demonstrate by using scenarios and role-plays as ways to introduce new contexts in which to apply the knowledge they’re gathering. These are equally effective in online learning when using a blended approach that also considers offline reinforcement. More on this in the final steps.

Experiencing content in multiple ways also helps learners to make meaningful connections between concepts, thus maximizing recall.

Incorporate group work into practice elements. Moving from the main class forum to a smaller group forum, which is often student-led, creates a less formal space and greater ease for connecting socially. When students communicate amongst themselves, they feel more at ease and equal to their peers.

Describe practice scenarios for your online learning
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Provide opportunities for interaction with the expert.

As access to information becomes more readily available in remote, asynchronous settings, learners assume more responsibility for their own learning.

As learners assume more responsibility, the role of the expert changes, shifting from an instructor and sole information source to a facilitator, coach or mentor.

Learners should be doing, building, or exploring in virtual settings. The design of your program should reflect that. Include ample opportunities for interventions like Q&A segments to allow learners to get answers to their questions; facilitated discussions to provide an opportunity to reflect and debate; and worked examples where the class can work through a problem together with the expert.

Describe interactions with the expert for your online learning
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Check on the progress of your learners by performing regular knowledge checks.

Regular knowledge checks provide an instant “pulse check” for learners to calibrate their progress in your course.

In a digital environment, there are ample opportunities to embed knowledge checks in your presentation materials, in the courseware, and in the offline communications used to inform learners about the course.

But remember, these should be designed to test the knowledge level only. You should already be dedicating large portions of your online learning to facilitated discussions, worked examples and deliberate moments of reflection.

Use knowledge checks as pulse checks and you won’t disrupt the flow you set up at the beginning of this framework.

Set regular knowledge checks in your online learning
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Promote community by encouraging students to give feedback to each other.

The hardest part of learning anything is knowing what to do and when to do it. It’s not access to content that’s the problem. But you can’t always respond to everyone in an individual capacity with online learning. Peers, support, and deadlines provide a structure to help you do this.

Encourage a “buddy” system, whereby learners pair up after the training and check-in with each other at regular intervals. Social exchanges serve to build cohesiveness.

Not only does this benefit the person receiving feedback, but the giver must apply what they’ve learned to be able to give constructive feedback.

Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow identifies two elements of good feedback – quality and speed. Spend time outlining a framework for what good feedback looks like and set up the infrastructure to remind participants to do it and document it soon after the learning event.

Here are a few feedback frameworks you can use:

  • The DESC (Describe-Express-Specify-Consequences) 
  • The SBI (Situation-Behavior-Impact) 
  • The OFNR (Observations-Feelings-Needs-Requests) 
Promote community and social learning in your online learning
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Consider how you will reinforce learning after the course.

As we’ve seen, attention spans are severely tested in a digital environment. Your training videos should be bite-size (generally 2-5 minutes). Your live virtual sessions should be concise (generally 45-60 minutes).

As we’ve also seen, spacing out your online learning and repeating key concepts is a good instructional tactic.

Clearly, though, there is room for learning in the spaces between. The final step in designing your online learning course is to consider the support you will provide learners after the course is over.

The “buddy” system from the previous section continuously reinforces content through pre-designed interventions.

Office hours can be used to address follow-up questions from your learners. Typically hosted in online chat groups like Slack, Yammer, or even Facebook, it’s many-to-many instead of one-to-many, produces a record of Q&As to refer back to, everyone can participate no matter where they are, and once the expert logs off the conversation usually continues. This is an excellent way to foster community.

Email check-ins can be pre-scheduled to go out to learners after the course to ask them how they are doing if they have any questions, and how they have applied the knowledge covered in the course.

Discussion boards are another asynchronous opportunity for engagement. Building these into the flow of your course can also seed the discussions that will hopefully continue long after the course has been delivered.

Experiment with these interventions and always get feedback from your learners about what is working and what isn’t. 

Add reinforcement learning interventions after your online learning has been completed
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This is an excerpt from a free resource included in the eBook version of this article.

Ideal uses cases for online learning content.

Now that you have a blueprint for creating online learning, here are a few ideas for where to apply this new skill:

  • Translate corporate culture for new hires.
  • Develop product knowledge.
  • Hone customer service skills.
  • Introduce departments to each other to remove silos.
  • Translate new corporate policies.
  • Demonstrate new work processes.
  • Upskill remote work teams.
  • Educate prospects on how to use your product or service.

For more on the learning development process see our complete guide on training material development.

How will you use online learning to educate your employees or customers?


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