Digital sustainability: Creating courses that can stand the test of time

Josh Willcock explains why thinking about sustainable eLearning design from the start can save hours of work in the future. He shares his top tips for future proofing when designing eLearning courses.

As digital transformation has accelerated, more and more organisations are adding learning resources onto their online learning portals, creating and managing more of their own content than ever before.

Adding your own resources onto your learning management system means you can offer bespoke resources for your organisation’s specific requirements, alongside an existing eLearning library. Curating and uploading relevant resources is a great way to share knowledge, and creating and customising courses makes for a tailored learning experience.

These days you can quickly create a wealth of learning resources and courses, with little budget – this is often the fun part! But maintaining them will become an unforgiving task if you don’t think about future proofing from the start.

Designing courses to stand the test of time
In education, most courses are created with a fixed end date in mind, such as an academic year or to align with an apprenticeship. But when we design courses for workplace learning there’s often no exact timeframe. Legislation and learning objectives may need to be updated over time, and sometimes you’ll want all learners to undertake a new course, but more often than not any updates are small. You might want to refresh learning resources for new learners, but how do you update existing learners without adding to their workload?

Rather than creating a whole new course, and expecting everyone to re-do everything, you can add new elements, such as a new PDF, SCORM file or video. Adding resources to an existing course means you can be more flexible to everyone’s needs – including your own. 

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    Structuring courses in a way which allows learning content to be updated can mean that a course could serve you for many years without a lot of additional work. This makes for a much better learning experience too – it’s frustrating for anyone to have to complete what feels like the same course multiple times. Compliance teams may question why some people have completed different versions, and reporting also becomes a lot trickier when you have multiple versions.

    Structuring courses in a flexible way from the start means they can bend and adapt to ever changing needs. It means that you can make small amendments without having to keep starting from scratch. Working in this way also speeds up revisions – which keeps compliance teams happy. Managers and staff will be happier too if people only have to re-do part of a course or particular elements. 

    Best practice
    When designing a course, consider what learners are being asked to complete. For example, you may want to create a knowledge check quiz at the end of a course. If you build this into an eLearning SCORM-compliant course and you change the quiz in the future, you will lose your learners’ history. Course completion dates would also be removed.

    Rather than integrating the quiz into the SCORM file, It would be much better to build a simple, stand alone three question quiz. The quiz could be set up so that it is only accessible after the course has been completed. Changing the original SCORM file at some point in the future wouldn’t then affect the historical data that you have collected from the quiz.

    You could even hide the old SCORM eLearning course – keeping it for reporting – and replace it with a new one, setting the existing quiz so that it is only accessible when the new SCORM has been completed. Learners wouldn’t know there had been any changes made.

    Benefits of future proofing
    Supporting organisational objectives by developing skills and knowledge, and curating and creating learning resources to achieve this, is a huge task. Having to constantly go back and revise everything can be frustrating and time consuming – and is usually not as exciting as creating something that is totally new. 

    Designing with the future in mind frees you up to focus on priorities and passions, rather than revisions. Ultimately, carefully considering how courses are designed can make a huge difference to the amount of work required to make small amendments. Implementing these processes and principles from the start can save you hours of work.

    Top tips for sustainable design:

    • Structure courses flexibly from the start, so that you can add in extra elements – such as a PDF, SCORM or video, when necessary
    • Create stand alone quizzes at the end of courses – that are not integrated into the SCORM file – to ensure that you can keep tracking data
    • Link course completions to the last activities in the chain having been completed, rather than the whole chain. You don’t need to track every single step
    • Set diary dates, as part of a rolling programme to check course content, to ensure that all elements are still relevant and up to date
    • Enlist the help of subject matter experts to ensure that content is accurate and reflects the organisation’s current views
    • Speak to your account manager at the Charity Learning Consortium for more information about designing courses with the future in mind
    Sarah Burrell

    About Josh Willcock
    Josh Willcock is the Head of Technology at the Charity Learning Consortium. With a degree in design and valuable experience in technology giants, Josh joined the Consortium in 2014. He created the RoadMap feature set, fixes bugs, and regularly contributes to the Moodle Community.

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