eLearning Lessons from an eLearning Learner

Joanne Savio
Posted: October 14, 2014

Years ago, as the troubleshooter for an experimental self-study learning project, my job was to resolve student confusion before any modules went to print. The students’ feedback provided invaluable insight into learner needs and implementation issues, and the lessons learned back then seem just as relevant to today’s elearning and mobile learning design challenges.

Online learning has come a long way since its early days in corporate training, yet there are still many courses that neglect to answer very basic learner questions, like these:

How Long Will This Take?

Frequently overlooked, but easily remedied, is not telling me how much time to set aside. Even if there is no ticking clock on the lesson, I’d still appreciate an estimate of how much time I’ll need. (Otherwise, I feel as if I’ve missed a turnpike exit and don’t know where I can pause or turn back!)

Solution: Insert a progress bar, a time estimate, or even “frame x of y”…anything to indicate my progress.

Can I Just Print It out and Complete It at Home?

OK, I wouldn’t print it; I’d use a tablet. But the problem remains: There is a lot to cover, I have a short attention span, and I’ve got competing tasks awaiting me at work!


  1. Chunk courses into 15-minute sessions.
  2. Engage me in frequent interactions and games such as crossword puzzles for terminology, drag-and-drop for sequenced procedures, True/False for reinforcement.
  3. Substitute lecture with questions that do double duty as instruction. For example:

“XYZ Corp uses BLUE containers to recycle glass and plastic, and RED containers for aluminum cans. What should you put in the WHITE containers? “

If I See Another Bullet I May Freak Out!

[Tweet “The only thing worse than a talking head is a silent bullet.”]


  • If development time is limited and creativity stifled, put key points in speech balloons and introduce characters to simulate conversation.
  • Use Smart Art graphics to help me visualize important concepts.
  • Teach me to fish by allowing me to seek answers offline.

Will This Be on the Test?

Instructional designers typically state performance objectives at the beginning of the course, but sometimes include other material to enrich the core content. Great! But spare me furious note-taking and the anxiety of guessing what is critical and what is not.


  1. Use specific graphic elements such as a unique shape and/or consistent color to differentiate must-know from nice-to-know.
  2. Designate a secondary character to deliver the “nice to know” content.

Are We There Yet? I’m Thirsty.

Pre-testing and branching are ideal for learning efficiency, but if they are not a design option for the course, use the navigation pane or other tools to give me some control.


  1. Allow me to pause, review, exit, and return without starting from scratch.
  2. Don’t hold me hostage to traffic clogging the left lane. Give me the option to mute recorded narration and cruise through the narrative at the bottom of the page.
  3. Record narration at a conversational pace. I’ve outgrown Mr. Rogers and I can decide if I missed something and need to slow down and review.

Incorporating these simple design elements will put me in the driver’s seat and eliminate distractions that could steer me off the learning path.

featured image by Alejandro Escamilla

About the Author