Instructional designers are often given the task of turning manuals into eLearning. That sounds easy enough given that the manuals are already a finished product that say what they need to say. But we know that there are core differences between these types of resources; that’s why it’s usually not the best approach to dump a stack of manuals on a new employee. Manuals are intended to communicate specific steps in the briefest way possible. They are structured to be easily referenced and are mostly print focused. They assume you already know what to do with the information they are presenting. eLearning, on the other hand, is intended to be an experience that brings the learner to the point where they can do something they couldn’t before. So, we’ll look at converting manuals into eLearning by adding engagement; ways to keep the learner’s interest and attention.
Here are some areas to consider in when looking for opportunities to add engagement to some otherwise dry manuals. And to do it without change the accuracy of the information being taught.
Structure & Guidance
Structure is the order you present your content and how you transition between concepts. Learners remember things they were previously told about (priming), things that appear at the beginning and end of a list (primacy and recency effects), and things that are grouped together logically (segmenting). Learners also benefit from context, stating where the knowledge is relevant and what you should already know before starting the course.
These and many other learning effects can be used to structure your content. Consider how you can use segment and order the information. Furthermore, provide details on what you’ll learn in this course and what you should already know before getting started.
- Break up and order your content in a way that makes sense to learners
- Use introduction and summary activities to bookend chapters
- Navigate and transition through each topic to tell a story or illustrate a workflow
If formal communication is the barebones text of the manual (the absolute minimum of what you need to know), informal communication is everything else around that. These are the pieces that explain the concepts or share personal anecdotes. Where formal communication is succinct and accurate (like a dictionary definition), informal communication can highlight, clarify, or provide motivation. Think about how you would explain a concept in person to someone who isn’t getting it right away– you wouldn’t tell the learner to just read the definition over and over again. Instead, find ways to add a personal touch where it might be needed most.
- Include additional explanations in a casual tone separate from the “main” readings
- Share anecdotes and stories that complement the materials
- Suggest common mistakes and how to avoid them
Multimedia means simply using more than one media to communicate your information. Undoubtedly, some knowledge work best as videos, infographics, or simulations. You wouldn’t try to teach someone to tie their shoe using plain text. In the same way, we want to find the best way to illustrate your concepts beyond text. Visual diagrams, infographics, and animations are better at showing processes and relationships. These kinds of multimedia, when used correctly, are much more likely to stick with the learner.
- Present important concepts using multimedia that fits
- Create infographics that learners can keep as a job-aid for later
- Ensure your multimedia is aligned with Mayer’s principles of multimedia learning
Feedback provides immediate information to the learner in response to an action. Consider how often teachers ask their students “do you get it?”. They do this to ensure the learner is following along and to gauge if more explanation is needed. It also produces new opportunities to teach when learners have their brains working on a challenge. Think of your eLearning course as a kind of teacher that anticipates when to check-in on its learners. Find ways to add feedback events in your training.
- Prompt learners to get their input throughout the content with interactive elements
- Give meaningful feedback beyond right and wrong
- Show outcomes based on the learner’s response
Application shows how the knowledge being taught is used in a new situation and context. It’s important for learners to see theoretical concepts applied in reality, possible variations, and repetition of consistent elements. Altogether, these experiences help learners understand the knowledge far more than just reading the usual manual descriptions and steps.
- Use case studies and examples to illustrate concepts in action
- Provide practice problems and questions the learner can use repeatedly
Assessment involves checking that the learner actually understands what they need to. This helps prevent learners from moving on unless the have adequate knowledge of the materials. Formative assessments are used along the way to find out areas where the learner needs improvement. Summative assessments occur at the end to confirm the learner understands the content.
- Add knowledge check questions along the way to keep learners on the right track
- Use quizzes and exams at the end of chapters to prove learners know their stuff
While it may seem to be a simple and common task, converting manuals into eLearning gets at the core value of instructional design. Manuals serve an important purpose in every organization, but they do not satisfy training requirements by themselves. That’s why we suggest converting manuals into eLearning by adding engagement and .
The next time you are given a manual and are asked to “you know, make it engaging”, try comparing your materials with areas above. Hopefully they inspire ideas that build on the core materials with a little extra engagement.