From certification courses to employee training modules to livestreamed conference content, professionals from every industry and every age bracket are embracing online education opportunities. A recent forecast report from online learning platform Docebo shows that the e-learning industry has grown by 900 percent since 2000.
But just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean they’re doing it right. To better understand how to satisfy adult learners’ appetites for knowledge, we turned to the short list for best e-learning/online education programs in the 2016 International & European Association Awards: the Société Internationale d’Urologie (SIU), for SIU Academy; CompTIA, for its Executive Certificate Program; and — the winner in the category — the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), for ACCA-X. Here’s what we learned:
1. FEEDBACK IS THE ULTIMATE FUEL
Each organization is open to changing course based on users’ behavior and preferences. “Our student feedback and learning experience is also central to the success of the program,” said Reza Ali, ACCA’s director of new ventures. “We’re continuously monitoring our survey responses.”
“We are very dependent on our members as subject-matter experts, and they’re really engaged in the review and assessment process of each [online] course,” said Kelly Ricker, CMP, senior vice president of events and education for CompTIA. “It gives us a chance to regroup and make adjustments before launching new courses to our entire membership.”
2. EMBRACE AN ANYTIME, ANY-DEVICE APPROACH
Online learning used to involve being chained to one location for one-hour webinars, but according to Merveille De Souza, project manager for SIU Academy, the desktop leash no longer exists. That’s why she stresses the importance of a mobile-first approach to engagement with SIU’s 43,000 registered users.
“The world is evolving,” De Souza said. “Even in the most remote countries, people have multiple devices, and they expect to be able to get information at all times. So if they can’t access the course material on their mobile devices, there is a good chance they won’t come back.” She added: “Whether our members are learning while they’re waiting to board a plane or taking advantage of a few minutes between patients, we want to be able to provide it to them.”
Both Ricker and Ali agree. “We aim to make our courses completely self-paced, with the ability to log in anywhere, anytime,” Ricker said. “If you have a lunch break in your work day and want to get through 20 or 30 minutes of material, you can take advantage of your time and then return to finish when you have another break.”
3. TRY TO BE LESS SERIOUS
While completing an online certification course is serious business, creating an engaging e-learning program starts with having fun. “We try to inject some humor into the material to make it feel like infotainment,” Ricker said. “E-learning doesn’t have to feel too intense. We want to make sure that each user captures the key objectives. When it’s time for the final assessment, it’s time to get serious.”
“You have to be more creative when building e-learning courses,” De Souza said. “A PowerPoint presentation on a desktop will not engage a younger generation of students. You need to find a way to capture your audience’s attention and keep them hooked.”
4. BE READY TO SPEND
While surveying students, curating content, and creating engagement all are crucial to online education, none of them is possible without the right budget. “All of this is very expensive and can be very pricey,” De Souza said. “Securing industry partner support is what allows us to develop more content.”
For meeting professionals looking to secure approval to build a new e-learning program or overhaul their existing learning-management systems, Ricker offers this advice: “Make sure your decision makers understand that e-learning is not cheap. And really good e-learning will require a serious investment.”