5 things that kill the completion rates of eLearning courses

There are many ways to look at the success of eLearning and training programmes. Ultimately behavioural change is the key measure of whether training has been successful or not. In order to achieve behavioural change though, your learners first have to complete the training. In a classroom environment you can tell whether people are ‘getting it’ by the way they interact and whether they complete exercises or tests correctly. In eLearning it’s harder because you are not actually there and it’s self-paced. The key with eLearning is to design and develop it in a way that makes people want to stick with it and get to the end, whilst also taking in the information.

So, what are the main ways in which the eLearning experience can be ruined and completion rates reduced? Here are the top five, in our experience, and how to avoid them.

Clicking next does not equal engagement

The headline here is that clicking next is not interaction! If your eLearning supplier is using the next button as a means of keeping people interested and engaged in a course, then you need to look for another supplier. The next button should simply be a means of progressing through the content. We’ve all been on the receiving end of learning where the only time you have to interact with the learning is clicking next. If this is how your eLearning looks then people will learn that they can click the next button and get to the end as quickly as possible, without investing any time in understanding the content. They’ll also try to guess the answers to the quiz without going through the content so they can finish and get back to their job. Have a look at the time it takes people to go through the course, this is very telling. It’s all very well if you’ve got 95% completion rates, but if it is taking learners 10 minutes to complete a one-hour course then you know that something is seriously wrong. Don’t rely on the next button to keep people engaged. Make the content more engaging full stop.

Heavy on text

As well as being on the end of the ‘click next’ type courses, we’ve also all been on the end of text-heavy courses, where you have to read through slide after slide of boring content, only clicking next to move onto yet another slide laden with more text. Yawn. It’s enough to send you to sleep within about three slides. It’s a given that there’ll be a lot of information to get across in an eLearning course, but how it’s delivered is critical to getting people to take action and change their behaviour. There are lots of ways to move away from text-based courses. Video is an obvious choice. You can embed videos in the learning to impart lots of information in an engaging way that people will enjoy. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood quality cinematography either. Audio is the thing that lets video down most of the time. If you’re creating talking head videos and the sound is bad, then the images might as well not be there. Captions are also important for accessibility.

As well as video, you can include other elements to make the course more engaging. It could be animations, podcasts or case studies. Mix the content up a bit and keep the learner guessing. There are also lots of interactions built into many authoring tools, such as fill in the blanks, drag and drop, click to reveal and many others. Use these to break up the content and you’ll never create a text-only course again. One word of warning though, the interactions have to achieve the aim of keeping the learner engaged and interested. Don’t just throw interactions in unless they are going to enhance the experience and make more sense of the content.

Inconsistent navigation

There’s nothing more frustrating, other than all-text eLearning, than reaching a point in the course where you don’t know what to do next. You must create the learning with the learner in mind. Remember, they won’t have been part of the actual design process in terms of the interface, although it’s always good to involve them where you can. Think of it from their point of view. You know where to go next because you’ve been involved in the design of the content if not the interface as well. The learners have not had this luxury. Once the initial navigation is there, run through it as if you are seeing it for the first time. This is important as you will come across transitions and other elements that don’t make sense. Of course, testing is really important, but you shouldn’t be uncovering glaring navigation problems at this stage.

Unclear objectives

At the beginning of the course, you must make it clear why the course is necessary and what people are going to learn, as well as what they’ll be able to do after they have finished the training. If you don’t set this out at the start, and remind people as they go along, then they’ll forget why they are doing the training and they’ll switch off.

Objectives also frame the training so the learner can see what is not going to be covered. This is equally as important as what they will learn. At the start of a classroom course, the most important thing is to understand what personal objectives the learners have. On rare occasions you’ll discover someone who shouldn’t be there because their objectives are out of line with the course objectives. Similarly in eLearning, it’s better for someone to recognise that perhaps the course is not right for them at the start than halfway through, or worse, at the end.

Jargon and acronyms

Business jargon has become the bane of many people’s work lives. Running things up the flagpole, touching base and sense checking are much over-used and mostly pointless phrases, and they certainly do not belong in eLearning. Acronyms are also used everywhere now and most businesses have their own acronyms for systems or processes. This is another area where learners can be made to feel left out and disengaged during the learning. Wherever possible, use normal language, not business jargon when designing the learning. Additionally, use long form versions instead of acronyms the first time they are used, and show the abbreviation in brackets. This way the learner can understand what is being said.

Glossaries are very helpful generally in businesses and can save a lot of embarrassment and wasted time for people, particularly if they are new. Have a glossary inside the eLearning module, or better still, have a dynamic, living glossary somewhere online and link to it from the eLearning. The glossary should be a last resort though, you should do everything you can to avoid breaking the flow of learning and taking the learner out of their ‘zone’. Having to go looking for explanations of jargon or asking a colleague will interrupt the learning experience and damage it.

About Lawford Knight

Lawford Knight is a training company with expertise in eLearning, classroom and blended learning. We understand how to design, develop and deliver training programmes that achieve real behavioural change. If you’re ready to work with a company that really understands how training works, please get in contact to discuss your next training requirement.

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