One of the most common requests I get as an instructional designer is: “Can you update this old e-learning course?” The short answer I always give is “maybe.” That’s because there’s a lot to consider before agreeing to update an older course. E-learning courses convey critical information to learners using a mixture of design theory and in-depth content. They also represent your company’s culture and brand. For these reasons, the decision to save or scrap an e-learning course shouldn’t be taken lightly.

When you’re short on time, it’s tempting to take the easy route and just give that old e-learning course a quick republish. Sometimes I simply tweak the language to better represent the company brand before I republish the course. Other times, the language and graphics are so outdated it’s better to redesign it from scratch.

So how do you decide when to save an e-learning course or just scrap it? Below are six areas I like to focus on to help me decide the best course of action.

1. The Course Navigation and Links

First things, first: The course needs to function for learners or there’s no point in giving them training! That’s why you should check the next, back, play, menu, volume, and any other navigation functions of the course. Make sure any links in the course work and go to the right content. If the navigation is fully functional, great! Your job is going to be a lot easier. However, if the navigation is no longer working, consider the following:

Save it if ...

Scrap it if ...

You can easily enable the built-in player and delete the onscreen buttons.

The navigation is custom for a branching scenario and can’t be handled with the built-in player. In this case, consider rebuilding the course.

 

If you decide to scrap it, make sure you still look at the following areas. That way you capture other updates as you rebuild the course!

2. Frequency of Use

Let’s say your e-learning course is software training that’s accessed daily by sales associates. That’s pretty critical to the business. In this case, you might not want to go through the process of rebuilding it. Rebuilding it can take time, and there might be sensitive updates that need to be made now and not later. Instead, develop a plan to make small updates gradually and scale up to the final product!  

Save it if ...

Scrap it if ...

The course is used often. In this case, it’s probably easier to update it. Also, if it’s used a lot and is highly visible in your org, odds are it has more current content and visuals! If it desperately needs an overhaul, you can always make critical updates while you undertake a more substantial rework. 

The course is used infrequently. Courses that are not used a lot tend to be out of date. Also, if it isn’t being used, there’s no problem taking time to rebuild it and make it better!

3. Dated Content

Courses on evolving topics—like COVID-19 safety protocols—tend to become quickly outdated. For courses that have seriously outdated content, it might be easier to start over instead of updating them. However, make sure you look at what type of content needs updating. If it’s the name of something—company, form, person, etc.—it can be quick and easy to find and replace an outdated term. However, if the content is not in line with current practices or doesn’t align with the organization’s tone, it might be better to start over with freshly written material. 

Save it if ...

Scrap it if ...

The out-of-date content can easily be fixed by doing a “find and replace” on words. 


Pro Tip: In Rise 360 you can do a quick Ctrl+F for the page you are on and in Storyline 360 simply go to the home tab and click on the “Find/Replace” button.

The content no longer aligns with the law, company policies, the tone of the brand, or current practices.

 

If you decide to start from scratch, make sure you choose the right app for the job. If a course requires a lot of ongoing maintenance, consider building it in Rise 360 so it’s quick and easy to update.

4. The Amount of Content

I find older e-learning courses and compliance courses tend to be longer and more content-heavy. If your course has too much content, one thing you can do is split it into two courses—or even three! As you look at the course, just make sure you keep the following in mind.

Save it if ...

Scrap it if ...

The content aligns to the learning objectives and you can easily break it into a multipart course.

The content does not align to the learning objectives or is redundant and not helpful. 

5. Visual Design

A company’s brand is the first thing a learner sees. Font style, color scheme, even the logo are all highly visible aspects of the company brand. E-learning courses, just like other forms of communication with employees, should reflect your company’s current branding. However, depending on how the original course was built, updating its visual design might be challenging. 

If the course uses slide masters, or was created in Storyline 360 and uses the media library, you can quickly replace a logo or change the color scheme. If it was built in Rise 360, simply go to settings to change the logo, color, and font. However, if each slide is built with its own color palette and font, going through and updating each slide  might not be worth it. Instead consider creating a new course in Rise 360. Or use the media library in Storyline 360.

Save it if ...

Scrap it if ...

The course is set up using the media library or master slides and can easily be updated. OR if the course was built in Rise 360 and you can quickly update the logo, color, and font!

Each slide is custom and would need to be updated by hand. 

6. Scope of Effort

Whether you save or scrap a course simply comes down to how much work it takes to update it. Trying to save a course that has too much content, outdated branding, and broken navigation might take longer than simply starting over. By starting from scratch, you can create an awesome-looking course with current content and images—maybe even in a different app. 

At the end of the day, a new course might wow your learners and save you time! However, if you don’t have the luxury of spending on updating the course, rebuilding it might not make sense for you. Bottom line: always weigh your priorities against your timeline and budget. Then decide what is best on a project-by-project basis. When trying to decide if it will take longer to save a course than rebuild it, keep the following in mind.

Save it if … 

Scrap it if … 

The content is in good shape and the course just needs some easy cosmetic updates. 

The content is out of date, the branding and graphics are not easily updated, and the navigation is broken or confusing.

What’s Next

Deciding whether to save an e-learning course or start over is a careful balance between desired perfection and practicality. Taking these items into consideration can help guide your decision-making. But remember, every project is different. Adapting your approach and maintaining a flexible outlook are all aspects of good instructional design! 

Have tips on how you approach updating or rebuilding an e-learning course? Share them with a comment, below! 

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