How to Create eLearning Courses - Answers to Top Questions

Have questions about building eLearning courses? We’ve got answers. Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions about creating online courses, organized by the 6 common stages of eLearning development. 

Have any other questions, reach out and we’ll get you the answers. 🙂 

1. How to Plan and Manage Your eLearning Project

What is an elearning project?

In general, an elearning project focuses on development of a learning-related program that will be delivered through a learning management system (LMS) or other online method. The specifics of elearning projects vary widely, from simple “repackaging” of existing videos to “screencasts” of steps and processes that happen on a computer to full builds of highly-sophisticated full-branching programs … and everything in between!

How long does it take to create elearning?

We hate to be cliche, but the correct answer here is, “it depends.”. Because the specifics of elearning projects vary so widely, it’s best to really understand the scope of a given project before committing to time allocations. Take a look at our time calculator [here] to get a sense of what goes into projecting the hours required to complete a project.

What is the ADDIE process?

ADDIE is an acronym that refers to the sequence of stages in the completion of an elearning project. Here’s the acronym spelled out: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. ADDIE is often spoken of as though it’s a guide to how to present learning material effectively, but in fact, it’s not that at all. Instead, use ADDIE as a guide to organize the phases in your elearning project process.

How do I write an elearning project description?

When you’re writing a project description, you can never go too far wrong if you start with answering the basic question words — who, what, when, where, why, and how? From here, you can craft and answer questions that will deliver a clear project description. For example: Why is this project being undertaken? What is the material that will be addressed in the project? Who will 1) view the project (that is, be the “audience”) and 2) be involved with project development? When is the project expected to be delivered to the audience? Where (or by what method) will the completed project be housed for delivery to the audience? How will the project be developed, using what tools, methodology, and source material?

What should I include in elearning project documentation?

“Project documentation” refers to the collecting of information about the elearning project itself. This is different from the collection of source material for script-writing and graphic development because it focuses on things like promised deliverables, technical specifications, design requirements, client or sponsor preferences, file revision records, and so forth. The better the system for collecting and storing this type of information, the fewer headaches throughout program development!

What file naming and saving methods should I use for elearning projects?

Although often left up to chance and individual preference, each of these conventions is critical to keeping your project moving forward without any issues. Our best advice is to save your elearning projects successively (that is, use “Save As …” and save a new version), naming each new file with the date as part of the filename (for example, 200916_filename for the version saved on September 16, 2020). Yes, you’ll end up with a number of files, but you will also have a built-in backup system from which to recover lost files and deleted slides. With this method, too, you’ll never be left wondering if “v1.12” is actually the most recent version or not, because, really who knows?

What backup methods should I use for elearning projects?

In addition to successive saving with date-based file naming, it’s a super-smart move to save a backup copy of every important file away from your main working computer. While it’s recommended that you open and work on a file directly from your hard-drive, it’s a good habit to consistently save a copy of the file to an external hard-drive or cloud storage like Dropbox or OneDrive. You won’t need to retrieve these backups very often, but, boy oh boy, when you do need to you will be thankful you put them there!

I have a very tight budget, can I still create elearning?

Yes, you can create simple elearning even on a tight budget. For example, if you just wish to deliver your content online, you can create an attractive slide deck in PowerPoint, then publish it directly from PowerPoint as a shareable video. Sometimes having a tight budget means thinking outside the box and we’ve heard of projects that successfully deliver learning via email, PDF, and virtual meetings.

I don’t have much time, can I still create elearning?

Time and cost are very much related when it comes to creating elearning, so the strategies you can use for low-budget projects are also applicable to time-strapped projects. Your goal in producing elearning of any sort is to deliver the learning content in an attractive and orderly format, so your audience can lock in on what’s important. Even in a quickly executed project, it’s time well-spent to use some of your project time to think through how you’ll achieve these goals.

2. How to Structure and Script Your eLearning Project

How long should an elearning project be?

The final length of an elearning project is determined by the quantity of information included in the program, the runtime of any videos that are included, and, when present, the speed at which the voice over audio is spoken. Usually, it’s an estimate of how long the program takes if it were to be viewed straight through — the actual time a person spends viewing and interacting with the program may be longer or shorter. In general, a limit of about 20 minutes of runtime per elearning module is recommended. Targeting a program of this length (or less) means both reduced demand on learner attention spans and a reasonable file size for development, stakeholder review, and quality control activities. [note: if you have an input like a voice over script, a instructor led presentation deck, etc, check out our conversion calculator here]

What are mLearning, blended learning, and eLearning?

As a field, elearning evolves along with technology. Terms like these reflect the new approaches that arise. “mLearning,” for example, refers to the delivery of learning content on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. In a similar way, the term “eLearning” is thought to be a shortening of the phrase “electronic learning,” and largely replaced the “computer-based training” or “CBT” that came before it. These are all ways of referring to learning that’s delivered in a computer-mediated environment, of course. “Blended learning” extends this to include both digital delivery methods and analog methods. For example, the basic content of a blended learning course may be offered as elearning but extended into the learner’s environment with a printed guide, work aid, or assignment.

What is instructional design in elearning?

Instructional design focuses on how to present content so that it will be actionable, memorable, and useful to the audience viewing an elearning program. An elearning program informed by strong instructional design will begin with well-defined learning objectives that are derived from real-life assessments of actual tasks and how they are successfully performed. From there, program delivery is designed to conform to researched, evidenced-based understandings about adult learning to help ensure that the expected transfer of knowledge from program to viewer can and does occur.

Why is instructional design important in elearning?

Because instructional design focuses on making sure learning can happen, it’s a critical factor in delivering on the real purpose of an elearning program: learning. Although it may appear to be a luxury, good instructional design sees to it that program-related costs — the time, money, and attention resources required to develop, deliver, and participate in the program — are balanced by actually achieving the desired learning objectives.

What are some tips for using audio in elearning?

The addition of audio in your elearning program enhances the multimedia experience. In general, you want an auditory experience to feel smooth, easy, and pleasant for the viewer. That means avoiding loud or startling sounds and volume changes, deleting things like coughing, throat-clearing, and mouth clicks in voice over files, and planning music and other sounds that match the overall feel of the program. You can use sound effects to emphasize right and wrong answers or results, to help illustrate a visual, or to otherwise add interest to your program. Remember that you want your audience to listen to the program, not to tune it out because the audio is bothersome, so make sure to address any audio-related comments you may receive from reviewers or program participants.

How do I write a script for elearning?

Scriptwriting is an important step in elearning development. A script blends content and instructional design to create a foundation for program design and development. Try to write clearly using simple words and short sentences. These will be easier to support with on-screen visuals and easier to understand if your program has live or text-to-speech voice over. Put the action of each sentence and slide first. For example, if you cite a study, write: “Nine out of 10 people love elearning, a study from the Institute for Better Learning Outcomes says,” not “A study from the Institute for Better Learning Outcome says 9 out of 10 people love elearning.” The first version lets you illustrate the key of the sentence right away, but the second leads to blank slide space where nothing happens.

How do I write for Text-to-Speech voiceover?

Text-to-speech (or “TTS”) applications deliver computer-generated voice over that is great for use in the draft stages of your elearning project. One challenge with TTS is pronunciation. The “voice” reads and records very literally and may get pronunciations wrong. To ensure the best-possible output, spell the words the voice stumbles on phonetically, even if it looks funny to your human eyes. If you want an acronym to be pronounced as separate letters, try adding spaces between each of the letters. Watch out for odd contractions, extraneous punctuation, and other little gremlins that the TTS generator will “see” and read aloud. At first, you may feel that TTS sounds pretty awful, but in our experience, it’s a great stand-in for the more expensive and less convenient live voice over. Some people use it for final programs, and today’s TTS is sounding better and better, so give it a try. You may like it!

How do I write for live voice over?

By the time you’re recording your own live voice over or sending a script to a pro voice over artist, you want to feel that your script is truly done. Why? Because each change that’s required after the first round of recording is more inconvenient and less likely to sound like it fits with the rest of the voice over audio. Instead of trying to perfect a script and procuring live voice over in advance of building your elearning, it’s better to use TTS throughout the build as “scratch audio” so you can continue to polish your script. Small statements such as “Click Next to continue.” are easy to overlook in the original script writing phase, with their necessity becoming obvious during the building process. Do yourself a favor and save ordering live voice over until the program is near-final.

3. How to Design and Prototype Your eLearning Project

How do I incorporate interactivity into my design?

Interactivity in elearning programs is often referred to in terms of “levels.” At lower levels, the interactivity comes mainly in the form of viewer interaction with program navigation. At the highest level, the interactivity would be closer to that of a game, where all action and forward movement in a program is determined by choices made by the viewer. Most elearning falls somewhere in the middle between these two. Navigational interaction may be present, but there are also learning interactions, such as drag-and-drop exercises, click-to-reveal content delivery, and other activities that bring the viewer into the program experience. Your own choices about interactivity will be influenced by program content, project resources, and the expectations of your stakeholders. Make sure to give the matter some thought before jumping into program development.

What is an elearning prototype?

A prototype is typically a short but operational program used to show design approaches, content solutions, and general “look and feel” to a client or stakeholder. The prototype is typically delivered early in a project, before all the content is scripted and storyboards are prepared, because its purpose is to get stakeholder critiques and/or buy-in while it’s still very easy to change course and come up with different solutions.

What should I include in my elearning prototype?

For your prototype, use real content from your program source material. Avoid spending too much time on the opening slides (that is, program title, introduction, learning objectives, and navigation slides) that typically appear in an elearning program. Instead, take an interesting bit of content and show the ways you will be delivering it in the program. Add examples of any interactions that would be appropriate for your project, use the proposed color set and font selections throughout, and apply any templates or master slides you may be planning to use. You can “test” your stakeholders with creative solutions in the prototype to see what they push back on, but avoid including solutions that will be too costly to deliver program-wide or that you don’t feel 100% positive about. After you and your stakeholder have agreed to the prototype, you’ll have a good sense of the design direction for the program.

What does “rapid prototyping” refer to?

Building a prototype quickly at the start of a program ensures that the approach you’re taking is in-line with what stakeholders are expecting. Nothing is worse than spending dozens of hours building only to find out that stakeholders were looking for something different. A rapid prototype doesn’t need to have all of the components of a full course in terms of length or interactivity, but the goal should be to demonstrate both the design and general approach you plan to take. For example, for the design, what will a single slide look like in terms of color schemes, fonts, and use of graphic assets. For the approach, is the core of your solution a scenario, an interaction, or a more traditional click through course where the organization and design of the information is the most important element. Create the minimum amount required to show both the approach and the design. In terms of tools, you can use a simpler tool like PowerPoint rather than an authoring tool like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. Or, if you want to sketch it by hand, that’s fine too!

4. How to Visualize and Storyboard Your eLearning Projects

Is a storyboard required for developing elearning?

There is no requirement or preset format for an elearning storyboard, and many developers work directly from a text-based script to build program slides without the help of a storyboard. Storyboarding does have the advantage of allowing a set of design and visual decisions to be made all at once instead of on a slide-by-slide basis. A storyboard can be a place for trying out ideas more rapidly and efficiently than would be possible in the slide-building environment.

How do you make an elearning storyboard?

The process is straightforward: For each slide in your program, think through what will be present on the slide in terms of script, on-screen text, graphics, audio, and interaction. Capture that thinking either informally or formally using pen and paper, PowerPoint, or another tool that allows you to work quickly with both text and graphics.

How long does it take to make a storyboard for elearning?

It doesn’t have to take log to create a storyboard for elearning if it is just for your own reference as a developer. Simple stick figure sketches will get the job done. If you’re creating a more formal storyboard that will serve as a review document for stakeholders (gotta look good!) or as a guide for another person or team executing the program build, you should plan on spending nearly as much time on the storyboard as you did on the scriptwriting.

What is included in a storyboard?

Since there is no preset format for an elearning storyboard, details about what might be included are pretty open-ended. For some people, simply printing out the script and sketching with some markers creates a document that serves as a guide for building. For others, the storyboard may be a required (or expected) step in the stakeholder review process. In that case, it is helpful to show what will be happening on a slide — the script for the slide, the on-slide text, notes about any user interactions that may be present, and, of course, graphics that show what will appear on the slides.

How can I make sure my storyboard effective?

Interestingly enough, effective storyboards — especially if they will be reviewed by stakeholders — are simple storyboards. Clear visualizations with a minimum of question-raising details will help decision-makers stay focused. For example, a storyboard that says “character may appear in color or grayscale” will be confusing. Instead, make a decision, stick with it, and show only characters that match your choice. In general, effective storyboards are the ones that convey your great ideas for a program and “sell” them a little, too, so make your storyboard a good messenger for your project.

5. How to Develop and Build Your eLearning Project

How do you develop an elearning course?

An elearning course effectively marries subject-matter content with visuals, audio, and interactivity to deliver a multimedia learning experience. These courses are typically developed in software applications referred to as “elearning authoring tools” that are slide-based like PowerPoint. Videos and screen recordings (or “screencasts”) can also be used to create elearning.

How long does it take to create elearning?

The answer to this question depends on many factors, so it’s difficult to pin down a single estimate. Simple elearning programs can be executed on a rapid turnaround of a few days, but others will take months. Well before determining how long it will take to create a given program, it’s important to define the scope of the program, understand learner needs and requirements, develop a sense of how sophisticated the final deliverable must be, and get to know your stakeholders’ requirements, expectations, and involvement in the program.

How do I create an online training program?

A general sequence of activities that lead to completing the program creation process is given by the acronym ADDIE. Begin by Analyzing the learning that must take place and matching content to those objectives. Next, Design the program both graphically and in terms of sequencing, scriptwriting, and, optionally, storyboarding. Complete the Development phase next, using an elearning authoring tool, screencasting program, PowerPoint, or other method. Implement the program, making it available to learners. And finally, Evaluate the program in terms of its effectiveness in delivering the expected learning outcomes. ADDIE should be considered an iterative process and setting an early expectation for reviews and revisions will help ensure that you create the best online training program possible.

What is the best elearning software?

We’re not in a spot to take sides on the elearning software question because we find that all elearning software does a solid job delivering on the promise of making it possible to build good looking programs and publish for online delivery.

Can I create elearning in PowerPoint?

Yes, you can. You’ll be able to create attractive and informative slides quite easily in PowerPoint, and can publish your final program to video, PDF, and other platforms. To publish from PowerPoint to a file suitable for a learning management system (LMS), you’ll need an add-in such as iSpring, Articulate Studio, or Adobe Presenter.

Where can I find graphics to use in my elearning?

There are many Internet sources for graphics, but we find that searching for just the right thing eats up project time. Instead, consider becoming a member of a dedicated library of elearning assets like the one offered by eLearningArt. We offer a large and growing collection of templates, cutout photo characters, illustrated characters, and graphic elements, and everything is curated specifically for use on elearning and slide-based projects. This is a real timesaver and lets you build better projects faster.

6. Publish and Deliver Your eLearning Project

What is a learning management system (LMS)?

An LMS is a software application that is designed to host elearning programs and allow tracking of learner interactions with those programs. Most LMSs use a software protocol referred to as SCORM. It sounds very technical, but SCORM’s role is to complete the handshake between the program you publish and the LMS on which you host it. There are many different LMS providers and specifications vary. Be sure to learn all you can about the LMS with which you work.

How do I host an elearning program on my website?

If you don’t care about tracking the results of a course to a system like an LMS, it’s actually pretty simple. If you’re using a popular authoring tool like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate, you’ll usually have an option to “publish to web” At that point, your course is really just just a self contained set of html pages in a single folder. Depending on your web hosting platform, you may be doing that directly via your content management system (or “CMS,” such as WordPress) via a plugin, or you may use an FTP (file-transfer protocol). Once you’ve uploaded the published folder to your website, you can grab a link to the program’s launch file, and share that link with your viewers.

What is the best way to deliver large files to my client?

For course development and final published files, delivery via cloud storage such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive works well. Note, though, that these file systems do not allow published courses to play from within their systems. As such to deliver a published project for client review, you must do one of the following: Post the project to your own website and share a link, send a zipped version of the published course via email or cloud-drive link, use a review site such as Articulate Review, or set up an Amazon Web Services platform.

How can I test my SCORM published program?

You can (and should) test your SCORM-published program before calling it finally complete. If you have access to an LMS, test the program there in a non-public environment. If you do not have access to an LMS, SCORM Cloud offers free basic-level access to their LMS environment. Upload your zipped, SCORM-published program to your library there, and view, test, and troubleshoot to your heart’s content.

Get your free download!