e-learning in higher education

Instructional designers working in higher education have a ton of tools at their disposal. Learning management systems, educational apps, clickers, and other technologies allow for lots of creativity both inside and outside of the classroom.

At the University of Maryland, I partner with faculty to create engaging activities that help learners apply new skills and practice outside of the classroom. In addition to helping faculty with the tools listed above, we create custom videos and e-learning products for their courses. Both students and faculty have been wowed by the e-learning projects we have created for their classes. Faculty love how we can create a customized piece that requires students to demonstrate their skills; and students like that these assignments are engaging, useful, and fun.

Let’s look at a few ways you can use e-learning to enrich any higher ed course.

Create Simple Practice Activities

More and more instructors are choosing to flip or blend their classrooms. In both of these methods, some part of the instruction takes place outside of the classroom. Often accompanying these new structures is a monster in the form of hours and hours of video lectures. I don’t think I have to tell you how boring this gets. Students are likely to tune out quickly, especially with all the more interesting distractions they can access while online.

A simple way to lessen the need for “talking head” videos, and to allow students to move at their own pace, is to create short informational pieces that include fun interactivity. It’s quick and easy to create these kinds of information pieces in Articulate Storyline. And small bits of interactivity can go a long way when students are used to just passively watching videos.

Even if an instructor wants to include lecture videos, you can still add in interactive pieces. You can break up the video into several chunks and add interactions throughout. Inspire students to think about the lecture they’re watching by asking them to answer a question, make a small decision, or sort things into categories through a drag-and-drop.

Check out this piece on coupon bonds that I created for use in lieu of a lengthy instructor lecture video. Students can explore the different areas of a coupon bond and then make some simple calculations based on the information they find.

Create Custom Learning Scenarios

Textbook publishers often include “scenarios” in their materials. Unfortunately, these text-based scenarios rarely require any real application for students and end up feeling like busywork.

Storyline makes it easy to create custom scenarios that really bring decision-making situations to life. I collaborate with faculty members to create custom scenarios that highlight what they feel are the most important skills. This also gives you a chance to work with faculty to create a more challenging and rigorous learning activity.

I work in a business school, so we have lots of opportunities to create student scenarios. In one recent project, we cast the student as a consultant for a local bookstore. They had to evaluate information to decide what was important, use that information to make calculations, and then use their calculations to decide whether to open a new location. Check it out.

Scenarios such as this allow learners to apply the concepts they are learning to a realistic but risk-free situation. Similar activities could also be useful in education, psychology, science, engineering, or any course where the instructor might ask students to apply their learning to a real-world problem.

Make It Serial

There are some cool things you can do in a higher education setting that just aren’t possible in a workplace training environment. For example, right now I am working with a professor on a series of video interviews that surround a fictional company he is using for the course. Each week, students will be able to watch a video that discusses this same company but touches on the new concepts they are learning.

This same idea can be applied to interactive modules. In a psychology course, students may work on several issues with the same “client” over the course of the semester. In a STEM course, they may work on one problem that adds new dimensions each week. In an arts or literature course, students might use new information to analyze the same piece of work. Or, they might complete a similar analysis for a new work each week.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless! I have found that faculty are thrilled by even the most simple interactive exercise. It allows them to start thinking differently about what is possible online and gives me an opening to bring up even more creative options for course design. One last piece of advice: don’t be afraid to be silly! Students will be more likely to remember something that is a little campy over a super-polished piece.

Do you have more great ideas for using Articulate Storyline or Articulate Studio in higher ed? Share them below! And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for news and updates on all things e-learning.


Ashley Chiasson
Frances Steinberg
Miss Fairy