The Full Guide to Creating Custom Online Training Courses
We'd guess your team's training efforts look quite a bit different this year than they have in past years. Gone are the days of multi-day training sessions led by one enthusiastic in-person instructor, giving way to virtual instructor-led training and e-learning courses.
During your research, you may have come across the idea of custom training courses—as in, interactive, engaging courses created specifically for your organization alone. Is it possible? Is it within reach for your organization? Honestly, it may seem too good to be true at first (it's not!).
At Artisan E-Learning, we specialize in helping organizations just like yours bring these courses to life. Let's cover the ins and outs of how custom online training courses come to life—starting with an overview of what these courses are.
How To Create E-Learning Courses: A Q&A
What is customized online learning?
To understand what customized online learning is, let's break it down into two parts.
"Customized" refers to something that is created or modified to work well for one specific individual or task.
"Online learning" refers to any educational experiences and materials that are delivered to learners via the internet.
So, "customized online learning" refers to online educational experiences and materials that are created or modified to suit one specific individual, group, or task.
We can simplify this further. Custom online learning courses are courses that are created for your organization's specific learners and their continuing education needs.
You can purchase a generic, ready-made course online and share it with your organization's members—but, that wouldn't be custom online learning.
Instead, think of a custom compliance course targeting workplace safety, that was created for a specific business. The key compliance topics are illustrated using simulated images and graphs of the business's office space itself. Rather than saying "find the nearest exit in case of emergency," the course actually shows learners where that exit is.
Or, consider a corporate e-learning course designed to help salespeople overcome a common objection that they hear in their daily prospecting calls. Rather than saying "address all objections before ending the call," the course immerses learners in a back-and-forth conversation with a "prospect" who is raising common concerns. Learners then have to respond accordingly and actively practice the key skill they need to perfect.
This level of customization, aligning the course with your organization's exact needs, isn't possible with generic, ready-made courses.
How do you develop online training?
So, you're eager to use custom online courses in your training efforts—we don't blame you!
That said, there are many steps that happen between choosing to use custom courses and actually sharing them with members of your organization. There are two general paths you can follow to develop custom online training:
- Creating courses independently using either free or purchased e-learning authoring tools.
- Partnering with an e-learning content development team such as Artisan E-Learning.
We'll walk through the steps involved in each path shortly—but, spoiler alert, we're going to recommend taking the second path (partnering with an expert) over attempting to author content independently. Let's discuss why.
Why work with an e-learning content development partner for custom online training courses?
There are a variety of high-quality free and paid content development resources that your team can use to create custom courses for your organization. So, why partner with an e-learning content development consultant for the project?
Put simply, creating an e-learning course isn't easy. In fact, for many organizations, it's quite the opposite.
There are many moving parts to manage throughout the process, whether the main instructional objectives, the desire to incorporate innovative and engaging learning formats, or even the opinions of subject matter experts and key stakeholders. Then, you have to take all of these moving parts and create storyboards, author the course content, and build the course itself using authoring software. That all happens in addition to your team's existing duties.
Maura Giles, senior leadership communications manager at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) described it well. "I already had a full plate," said Maura. "I had a team at Artisan that I could talk to about this and say, ‘Hey, I am having a hard time with this part,’ or, ‘This is really a lot for me to deal with. Can you help me figure out how to navigate some of these things?’ I was comforted by the fact that, if I felt overwhelmed, I just had to say, ‘Look, I'm overwhelmed. Here's how I'm overwhelmed.’ And the team would say, ‘Let us help you not be so overwhelmed. What can we do?’ Everyone was available to me. I don't know if I was the only person they were working with at the time—the only client—but it felt like it. It felt like personalized service.”
An e-learning development partner can:
- Manage the course development process from start to finish, removing any overwhelming tasks from your team's already full plate.
- Bring expertise in e-learning specific topics, such as accessibility and innovative instruction and assessment formats.
- Maintain an unbiased perspective, offering ideas and suggestions to elevate your courses while being removed from any internal influences.
We'd only recommend taking the self-managed route for organizations that already have a robust internal team of training and content development experts on hand. It may also work for those that are undertaking small projects—for example, filming a straightforward demo video or creating a PDF resource. For anyone else, you'll be best served by bringing in an expert to help along the way.
Breaking Down The Process of Creating Custom Online Training
Creating Custom Online Courses Independently with Online Course Software
Let's say you have a clear idea of the general parameters for a course you want to create and are confident in your team's ability to bring it to life. These would be your next steps to actually do so:
- Define your course objectives. What will the course cover? What do you want learners to be able to do better after taking the course?
- Outline a plan for creating the course. This includes your general timeline for the project and teams that will handle each aspect. For example, you may want a different team handling each module or specific elements (such as graphics, videos, etc.). Make sure to assign deadlines for each deliverable and benchmarks to check on your team's progress along the way.
- Secure access to course authoring tools. This could mean purchasing robust software or accessing free cloud-based tools online. It depends on the scope of your project and your team's existing authoring capabilities. Choose software that your team is likely to be comfortable using—this isn't the time to be ambitious and choose something you can't use.
- Create an outline for the course. Create a slide-by-slide overview of how your course will progress from start to finish. Include how you'll address each content objective, as well as the various types of content, interactions, assessments, and graphics/animations that learners will interact with along the way. Share this overview across your team to ensure full buy-in and prevent major disagreement during the later steps of the review process.
- Create the course itself. Each team will work on its designated portion of the course. This will include interviewing subject matter experts, authoring content, and building the various elements within your e-learning authoring software. We recommend front-loading the feedback during this step, and having multiple eyes review each course element. This prevents major errors from slipping under your radar.
- Deliver the course via your organization's learning management system (LMS). Make sure that the course authoring software you choose is compatible with your organization's LMS of choice, so you can seamlessly offer the course to learners.
Again, this is a time (and resource) intensive effort. Furthermore, if your team is relatively new to the world of e-learning content, it may not even result in the ideal course for your organization's learners. That's why we'd only recommend it for more straightforward projects, or teams that are well-versed in instructional design.
Free E-Learning Tools to Help Your Team
If you are planning a straightforward e-learning course and are considering undergoing the process internally, there are a variety of free e-learning tools already available to help your team get started. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Graphic Design Resources
- Canva: This is a free tool that allows users to create full presentations, social media layouts, posters and flyers, logos, and more.
- Google Charts: This tool allows users to display data in a dynamic way, through bar charts, line charts, pie charts, area charts, tree graphs, and more.
- Venngage: This tool specializes in infographics, and includes ready-to-use templates for timelines, diagrams, full presentations, and more.
- Audacity: This is a free, open-source audio software that empowers users to edit music, podcasts, and other similar audio elements.
- Voki: This is a tool that allows you to create speaking, animated characters to present key concepts.
Animation and Video Resources
- Camtasia: This is a free screen recorder and video editor that allows you to record tutorials, demos, and training videos.
- Screencast-O-Matic: This is another free screen recorder and video editor that also allows for content hosting and blended learning experiences.
- iSpring: This free e-learning authoring tool allows you to create responsive courses by turning PowerPoint slides into e-learning tools.
- Easygenerator: This is a cloud-based e-learning software that allows you to author courses, collaborate with team members, and deliver content to learners.
Working with an E-Learning Content Development Partner
While these tools provide valuable assistance for teams creating courses internally, an e-learning content development partner saves you the hassle of juggling multiple solutions and teams. Think of it this way: would you rather assemble a piece of furniture that only requires one allen wrench to be assembled correctly, or a piece of furniture that requires a variety of complex tools and a trip to the nearest Home Depot? If you're drawn to the allen wrench scenario, you'd enjoy working with a content development team.
The process of working with a content development partner is as follows:
- Project Start-Up: This is where the partner reviews the content you already have, holds discussions with key stakeholders, and works to understand your organization, audience, and e-learning needs.
- Design and Develop Course Prototype: The partner creates a 5-7 slide prototype of the course to give you a view of design decisions, such as fonts, color, style, navigation, and device compatibility. This gives you confidence in the partner's early direction for the project.
- Write and Review Storyboards: The consultant creates a slide-by-slide blueprint of your course, clearly illustrating their approach to achieving your learning objectives. This includes the overall course flow and any interactions, assessments, graphics, animations, and more that will be included.
- Develop and Review Online Course: Using the previously created resources, your course comes to life. Your team will be able to review the course to make sure it aligns with your expectations.
- Conduct Quality Assurance: A team of trained course testers conducts quality assurance testing to ensure the course provides a positive user experience. This includes technical functionality, grammatical accuracy, style consistency, and browser compatibility.
- Publish and Deliver Course: The course is delivered on the platform of your choice. Further, your team is given all source files, so you can make updates to the course going forward.
Check out our process at Artisan E-Learning for an in-depth look at these steps. This process, plus our team, is what makes working with us the ideal solution for many association, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations.
5 Tips for Creating Customized Training Content for Learners
Let's be honest—whether you decide to create content internally or work with an e-learning content development partner, creating a custom online training course is a massive undertaking. The last thing you want to do is create the course, and then realize that in all of the hustle-and-bustle, you failed to make the most of the "custom" aspect of the course. At that point, you would be just as well-served purchasing a generic course.
Use these five tips to ensure that you make the most of the custom medium.
Use relatable characters and settings for your courses.
Is everyone in your "office," whether in-person or floating heads on a Zoom screen, blonde-haired and blue-eyed? Are they all men or all women? Probably not. So, why would you create e-learning courses that feature characters that are?
Trick question—you shouldn't. Aim to reflect the rich diversity of your team in your e-learning courses, including diversity in gender, race and ethnicity, physical ability, age, and religion. The best way to do this is to include diverse characters throughout the course—such as an employee who uses a wheelchair, speakers with varying accents, variation in skin tone and hair color, and of course, variation in gender.
Not only will this ensure all of your employees feel represented in your courses, but it will also make them more relatable. When your team can picture themselves in the course, it will be easier for them to apply the lessons to their day-to-day efforts.
Empower learners to personalize their learning paths.
Consider including elements that allow learners to personalize their experience taking your course, so they can learn in the way that works best for their availability.
For example, you can include supplementary microlearning courses so learners can take a quick dive into one specific topic that they'd like to learn more about. A microlearning course is a shorter, hyper-specific course that focuses on one topic—such as a supplementary course about password security accompanying an overall lesson on navigating the company's internal tech infrastructure.
Not only are there benefits for learners who want to learn about a specific topic, but it can also be helpful for individuals who want to learn more but have limited time in their schedules and therefore need to prioritize the most important information.
Author courses with accessibility for all learners in mind.
There's no point in creating e-learning courses if not all of your learners can access and engage with the content. Design your courses to be accessible for learners with disabilities, whether visual, auditory, or something else.
Specifically, prioritize accessibility in the following ways:
- Ensure adequate color contrast in all graphics, so visually impaired and color-blind individuals can view all elements.
- Write descriptions of all visuals, so learners using screen-reading technology can hear a description of what others are viewing.
- Prioritize tab-friendly content, so users who are accessing the content without a mouse can navigate using their keyboard alone.
- Use closed-captioning on any video elements, so learners with auditory disabilities can read along.
We've written a comprehensive blog post on how to prioritize accessibility in your e-learning courses. Check it out here.
Cater to a variety of different learning styles.
Not every learner learns in the same way. Some people love to dig into a textbook, while others prefer to listen to a lecture or watch a video tutorial.
Present information in multiple engaging formats to cater to the different learning styles of users. For example, incorporate:
- Audio elements such as audio review
- Interactive elements such as drag-and-drop, sorting and labeling, click to reveal, etc.
When you present information in a variety of ways, it makes the content more memorable for learners. For example, are you more likely to remember a long list of steps if you simply read it aloud, or a list where you were asked to sort the steps into the correct order? The latter. Or, are you more likely to remember the correct way to give feedback if you read a script, or if you hear a manager doing so correctly in an audio recording? The latter wins again.
Update courses as needed going forward.
Because you've made the course and it's customized for your organization, you have full control over the future of the course. Continue updating the course as your training needs evolve, rather than starting from the beginning each time something in your operations changes. This will not only be cost-efficient but will simplify the training development process going forward.
If you're working with a content development partner, ensure they provide your team with all source files as part of the final deliverables. This is what allows you to continue iterating on the course going forward, whether with that partner, with another partner, or internally.
Wrapping Up: Working with Artisan E-Learning to Develop Custom Online Training
At Artisan E-Learning, we can help you bring your custom online training courses to life. We offer a variety of services, including custom e-learning development, translation and localization of courses, and even e-learning template and prototype creation.
We prioritize assembling the people and processes that function as the perfect solution to create your organization's e-learning resources. To learn more, contact our team today.
In the meantime, continue exploring our blog for more e-learning resources:
- E-Learning Content Development Companies & Strategy Partners. Seeking a partner to bring your course to life? Start with this list of stand-out providers.
- Microlearning: A Comprehensive Guide & Tips for Your Courses. Interesting in learning more about microcourses? This guide gives a comprehensive breakdown and tips.
- Corporate E-Learning: Why Custom Online Training Is Key. Still not convinced that custom training is the solution for your business? Continue researching custom courses in this guide.