Have you ever heard the saying that doctors are the worst patients? It refers to how someone used to being in charge in a certain situation has the hardest time doing what others tell them in similar circumstances. For example, a doctor who is stricken ill will often try to self-diagnose, second guess their physician’s decisions or generally think they know what is best for them more than their caregivers. The same applies to educators (or education specialists like myself). We make some of the worst students.
Recently I was given the opportunity to take some e-learning courses for a new system we are using at the office. The software program looks fairly smooth, and it will definitely be easier for us as employees than using spreadsheets (as we were before). But as an e-learning creation professional I am a bad choice to have watch any e-learning; I get the content, but my perfectionist eye that comes out when I’m creating e-learning comes out, and I can spot all of the flaws. And these courses hit several of my pet peeves. With that in mind, I’d like to over some advice for e-learning creators.
1. Mind the Audio
I realize that not everyone can get a hold of professional sound editing equipment. But there is absolutely no reason why you cannot take advantage of some of the free, open source audio editing software out there to make sure that your audio files won’t drive your learner’s crazy. There is nothing more distracting or annoying than listening to a course with a constant high-pitched squeal running the length of the entire course! Audacity is free, relatively easy to use, comes with an expansive online manual and can really increase the quality of your audio. It has an extensive effects menu, with tools specifically designed to remove white noise and the annoying high-pitched whine that these audio tracks suffered from. Same thing for those annoying pops whenever you say consonants like P’s or B’s.
2. Don’t Race Text
If you are going to use text to convey information or point things out in a course, keep in mind other people are going to be reading it…people who may not have the same reading speed as you. A good rule of thumb we follow for our micro-learning courses (which have no narration, and thus rely on text captions) is to read the text at a slower-than-normal reading speed, and then add an additional three seconds. Are you going to be able to accommodate every reading speed? No. But it is far easier for the learner to have the text captions move slower, because they can use the extra time to orient themselves to the mouse and where it is going to. If the captions move too fast, the learner will either ignore them (as they can’t read them anyway) or they will be constantly hitting the pause button until they have read the caption. That takes them out of the course, which makes it very hard to focus on the content.
3. Location, Location, Location (Of Text Boxes)
The courses I have been watching of late are software demonstration courses. Those are the same type of courses I make on a daily basis. One thing that you must keep in mind when you are doing software demonstrations is that the learner’s focus is on the software. That means if you are going to be using captions, you need to place them in an unobtrusive area of the screen. More importantly, if you are highlighting a certain area, make sure that the text box is not covering up the area that you are demonstrating/highlighting. Not only is it annoying, it defeats the purpose you are trying to achieve.
4. Keep Design in Mind
If you are using items like highlight boxes, arrows, text boxes and other things, they should be consistent with the design of the course. Not only should they be consistent with a certain theme, they shouldn’t be obtrusive. Arrows, for instance, can be used to indicate which buttons to push or which fields to fill in when using the software. But they shouldn’t be enormous or seem out-of-place against the software you are training. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal taste, but I find over-sized, cartoon-ish design elements to be unprofessional, especially when placed against a software application which is full of square text entry fields. To my eye, it is visually jarring, and that takes me out of the course.
5. Always Check Your Work
When you are using Captivate to make your courses, the default method to record the screen is by clicking. Often, this can mean that things will happen in the software you are recording (things are highlighted, cursors appear or disappear in fields, etc). Before you publish your work, make sure you give it another watch to make sure you’ve covered those things up. If you need to cover up something like that, make sure it starts at the beginning of the slide and runs until the end, otherwise whatever you are covering up will flash in and out of the final project. Also, the mouse in Captivate can be set to show a click, provide a click sound, or neither. Whichever method you use, be consistent throughout the course. A lot of this just goes back to being detail-oriented. To produce quality work, you need to be detail oriented enough to identify and clean up these issues. Give the course a few watches before you publish it to make sure you have gotten everything cleaned up; sloppy work will reflect poorly on the software, on the company, and on you as the content creator.