Designing eLearning Content to Maximize Engagement

Sarah Marshall

At worst, virtual learning can be tedious and boring. But there are reliable approaches to set yourself up for success; learn more by following these steps.

COVID-19 and the widespread adoption of remote work in 2020 forced employers to quickly reevaluate how they design and deliver training programs. And while it’s even more important during this time of rapid change for government agencies to close digital skill gaps so employees can continue career development, agency leaders are also struggling with budget cuts and increased pressure to justify every training dollar spent. 

eLearning to the Rescue

It comes in a variety of names and formats - eLearning, web-based learning, virtual training, online education, distance learning, blended learning - but regardless of what it’s called, it provides significant advantages over in-person classroom instruction. More cost-effective and easier to scale, it’s also more convenient, flexible, and accessible for employees. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report, 74% of learners prefer to train in their spare time, at their own pace.

However, there’s more to it than just posting your slide deck online - successfully designing and launching an eLearning platform requires a different, more strategic approach than live instruction.

Tips for Maximizing Success and Engagement

At worst, virtual learning can be tedious and boring. But there are reliable approaches to set yourself up for success, maximize ROI, and keep the overall learning experience engaging and enjoyable:

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  • Know Your Audience. Do a deep dive into your target audience, their learning styles and needs, when and how they will complete training, and what they want to get out of it. Then design your user experience (UX) and content around that. The better your virtual training meets your participants’ needs, the more successful it will be. 

  • Set Goals and Metrics. You definitely want participants to enjoy your course, but unfortunately you can’t use intangible factors like participant excitement to justify the investment or identify needed refinements. Instead, focus on actionable results: What do you want people to do as a result of the training? How will you measure success? 

  • Ensure Accessibility. Accessibility is important for all organizations, but government agencies should pay special attention to Section 508 compliance, which affects everything from color palettes and image selection to closed captioning and even content reading level, to ensure that all participants are able to benefit from the full learning experience.

  • Keep Content Fresh and Engaging. Make sure your content is concise or you’ll lose participants’ attention quickly. Use a conversational tone and straightforward language (here’s a great article on writing microcopy). Include only key points on slides, elaborating through narration. 

  • Build in Interactivity. Put yourself in your participants’ shoes. What would make them want to take your training instead of just reading the slide deck? Fun, interactive elements can increase engagement exponentially. Tactics will vary based on platform capabilities, but can include features like knowledge checks, polls, activities, breakout rooms, games, whiteboards, discussions, and Q&A sessions. 

  • Invest in Quality Audio and Graphics. High-quality visual and audio content can be extremely powerful in its ability to project professionalism and credibility as well as boost learning and information retention. Avoid monotone narrators in favor of professional voiceover artists, and enliven your content with animations and interactive graphics when possible.

Best Practices in Action
Yes&, loves helping government clients navigate the nuances of eLearning. Below are two examples of how we helped clients through unexpected twists and turns over the past year.

We were in the process of developing recruitment branding and marketing strategy for the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) when COVID-19 hit, forcing a pivot to virtual recruitment events. Many recruiters had little experience with virtual recruitment, so Yes& developed two comprehensive eLearning modules that covered best practices for virtual engagement, from presenting professionally in a virtual environment to communications and measuring event ROI. 

Yes& created a detailed script and storyboards, arranged professional voiceover narration, developed custom graphics and animations, and incorporated learning self-checks to reinforce key points. Each module was designed to optimize training for varied learning styles by incorporating written, oral, and visual instructional components in a dynamic and engaging format. We then programmed and tested the modules for Section 508 and SCORM compliance to ensure they would be fully accessible to all participants and could be hosted on DCAA’s learning management system (LMS).

Because we had recently developed a new Brand Identity for DCAA Recruitment, we also took the opportunity to incorporate the new brand guidelines - from logos to colors to image treatments and key messaging - into the design of each module. This gave the eLearning modules a dual purpose - not only did they educate about virtual recruitment best practices, but they also served to actively reinforce the new brand identity internally. 

Yes& was also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Grants Program Directorate (FEMA GPD) to overhaul its live training program for Grants Management Technical Assistance (GMTA), rewriting and redesigning 13 content modules and seven interactive grand administration scenarios for the course. When the pandemic hit, the extensive research we already had under our belts allowed us to help the GMTA team quickly shift to a fully digital delivery and adapt the course for 170 hours of remote instruction to 600+ grant recipients. Using the Adobe Connect platform, we customized an interface to make it feel more like a classroom by featuring “pods” to share documents and links. To help participants navigate the logistics of the platform - like logging in and connecting microphones - we also incorporated a series of easy-to-read instructional graphics that aligned with FEMA and DHS style guidelines.

By streamlining the traditional curriculum and adding interactive assignments and activities like role-playing scenarios, we kept students engaged and countered content-overload. We also ensured all digital course materials were Section 508-compliant and accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Key takeaway: Online learning is not going away anytime soon. With the trend toward more permanent telework and the high value that younger generations are increasingly placing on professional development as an integrated career component, government agencies must evolve their training strategies to stay competitive and “future-proof” their workforce, or risk becoming obsolete.

Yes& can help you stay ahead of the curve by planning, designing, and launching custom eLearning programs for your team or organization. Contact us to learn more today!

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Sarah Marshall