Templating eLearning...to what degree?

Hello All!

I am wanting to find out how your company addresses the idea of using templates in regards to eLearning courses.

Here's the background...

  • I've worked here for over 5 years and have been one of two only eLearning designers
  • we built a team of now 6 ID's - all create eLearning courses
  • we want to keep the creativity
  • we need to start having consistency without having it all look the same, same interaction, etc

However, we are getting asked to create more eLearning courses and want to create some consistency, with keeping creativity, but...to what extent?

How has your company implemented the use of templates in eLearning?  What solutions have you suggested? What ideas can you share?

Please let me know thoughts, what you have done at your company and any other ideas to share, it's all appreciated.

Thank you!

Kim Lorek

10 Replies
Tim Slade

Hi Kim,

This is a great question and is something I've struggled with this too. In my experience (mainly during my time working for Kohl's Department Stores), we managed to stay away from using the exact same template for every project. This allowed us to have fun and be creative from one project to the next. We felt this was important to keep things exciting and fresh for our learners.

However, when we had a topic that we'd cover over multiple eLearning courses, we'd keep the same template so that the learner(s) knew that the topics were related. This way, we're were able to have consistency in that sense.

Plus, there're many other ways to have "consistency" without having the same look and feel for every course. You can “template” the way you structure your courses or quizzes, etc. For example, always have a Learning Objectives slide at the beginning of every course, etc. This way, the learner still gets a sense of familiarity, without the same look and feel each time.

You can also “template” the way the course player looks - which I'd actually suggest, as you don't want the learner having to spend too much time figuring out how to use the course. This way your course content is unique, but the player template is consistent with the placement of the menu, tabs, player controls etc.

I hope that all makes sense!

Tim

Cheng Li

Hi Kim,

Very interesting topic.

I joined my company as an E-learning designer when my company just touched on the concept of E-learning. And of course, we didn't have any template for E-learning courses. Basically, every course that I have designed starts with a new look, design, etc. 

However, as I design more courses, I realize the problem of inconsistency. The lack of consistency created a learning barriers for our employees who didn't even yet have a clear of what E-learning is. Soon after I realized the barrier, I attempted to keep my courses consistent in terms of course layout, color scheme, and navigational functionality. The reasons that I keep those three areas consistent:

  1. the color scheme resonates the color of our company's theme
  2. Since E-learning is also known as virtual learning, I use a classroom setting picture as the basic layout. The setting has a desktop, a closet, and a projector. The closet is used as sort of a navigational panel. The projector is used as a demon presenter. And lastly the desktop creates simulation in order for practice.
  3. Keep the navigational functionality including Next, Back, Go to Main Page consistent

Keeping those areas consistent achieves my goals well. Learners do not need to develop new feelings and navigation functions every time they take a new course. This has largely reduces the learning barriers for those who are newbies to the E-learning.

Cheng

Pam Richmond

Using the same colors and fonts across courses is one simple way to keep the look-and-feel within the same family without greatly stifling creativity. You might want to allow for a handwritten font in addition to a standard "branded" font. Using a library of backgrounds is another easy method, and you can make that a very generous library as well.  Additionally, you can develop some common layouts but then allow developers to deviate if needed.

I agree that using the same player is a good idea, and I would be sure to include the logo, perhaps in the same size (and maybe location) across courses if you really want them to look similar.  A web search for "branding" will help you with some additional ideas, but fonts, colors, and a logo are a great start.

Bruce Graham

I have approached this by selling the concept of "The Style/Brand" (which contains the "things you must have"), the "Course", (which also has a list of things you must have, could have, and cannot have), and the "Content Presentation" - the creative part, which contains the delivery aspects and the bulk of the instructional design work.

In a commercial environment where I have repeat business, I want my Learners/Consumers to recognise it as "...our corporate learning", but want them to ask "I wonder what they are going to do that's fun today?".

Steve Flowers

We went round and round a bit in my last job about consistency of template. There were A LOT of problems with deliverables we'd receive from vendors. Some great work but it was almost always effort to reinvent the design in some way. This resulted in quite a few problems:

  1. Consistency in style and brand. It was tough to tell if the tools were coming from the same organization when things were always so drastically different.
  2. Consistency of navigation. Some programs placed navigation buttons in different locations, used different cues for things people were able to do in the program, or produced different opportunities within the navigation of the program. This was a big problem and the one we wanted to solve first.
  3. Balance of effort was out of whack. The navigation chrome often outshone the experience within the frame. This made it seem like teams were trying to impress with decoration and not substance. In the end, this would often result in turd-polish and a misplacement of effort. We wanted to make sure folks put their effort on the experience within the container, not making the container the most noticeable thing about the program.
  4. Many folks wanted to constrain a design to a proportion (800x600, etc). This itself produced problems when the design could have benefitted from another frame size. 
  5. The template would almost always take on a C-shell shape with a big branded header that served little to no value to the experience. It made stakeholders feel like they had done the branding deed and developers feel like they are meeting the cookie cutter conditions, but this presentation serves little utility to the actual learning experience.

So as an exercise, we pushed out a few discussion starters that removed elements from the equation and added back in the values that were important to both the organization and the user of the tools we produced. See page 142 and 143 (Page 72+ of Appendix E) of the document linked below for the template description we came up with. It's a guideline. The main focus we aimed for with the guideline was to refocus the effort on the moments of the experience and to allow the utility of the navigation shell to fade from focus, letting the experience take center stage. We didn't expect folks would follow it exclusively -- change is a process, standards evolve, and every problem has some unique quality. 

http://www.uscg.mil/forcecom/training/docs/training_SOP7_Sep11.pdf

The template defined 3 zones. The global navigation zone, the local navigation zone, and the stage zone. You'll see in the template that we put all of the utility (global and local) template elements at the bottom of the screen. This includes the status, titles, global navigation features, and local navigation features. This might be difficult in some tools, so we would often see global navigation at the top. 

The feature element of the experience should always be the stage zone, in my opinion. We built out some local suggestions (not prescriptions) for types of distributions within the stage zone. This, again in my opinion, is where the creative energy should be spent 

Nancy Woinoski

@Steve you have out down yourself this time. I think you just saved a lot of organizations 100's of hours trying to figure out their design standards.  I agree with what you said about the navigation chrome. I've never understood why people want to draw focus to the interface. "turd-polish" is the perfect way to describe it. 

I had to laugh when you mentioned the C-shaped shell. I can't count the number of times I've seen this. The branding takes up over half the frame. I guess the best you can say for it is that it's consistent.

Holly MacDonald

A couple of things that might add to your thought process.

I created a design document for a client and it includes

  • the role that we "cast" the built-in characters as in their courses. So, we had a couple of customer service reps, a couple of managers who would only ever be in those "roles" in their courses. 
  • guiding principles around design choices to give the designer an idea of why to use a design element and what we are trying to achieve with it. 
  • use of shapes/icons across courses to provide subtle continuity
  • I also used Tom's layouts to indicate "process screen", "branched scenario", etc for that client

Hope that helps

Holly

Kim Lorek

Hello All!

Thank you for all your replies, it's much appreciated!

Here's some more for your heads to ponder:

  • we do have a template that includes the intro page, the why/what and objectives
  • we have branding guidelines we need to follow, use the same fonts, colors
  • we also have a branded course player with the logo
  • our quizzes are the same, same results slide, etc

The question I was asking is how do we use templates for the "meat" of the course without it looking like the same course? Or, do you keep the shell the same as well as certain "elements" that you need to include (like the objectives, end slide, etc) and just have guidelines for development?  Use the same interactions? Tabbed?

We have six other designers now and how do we "rope" them in without templating EVERYTHING??

Thoughts?

Kim

Nancy Woinoski

Hi Kim - develop a good set of guidelines for the content and maybe use something like Holly is suggesting. Create layouts for different types of interactions.

As for making sure the designers tow the line you might want to introduce "desk-checks" into your process. I used to manage a team of 30 designers at Nortel and one of the things I adopted from the Software develop team there was desk-check reviews.  You can make this a formal process or keep it simple but all it boils down to is having team members check one another's work against your guidelines/standards while still in development to catch inconsistencies.

Sarah Redmond

Hi Kim,

If you have the consistency in the opening, the navigation, the colours and the fonts, then it sounds like your designers aren't feeling like they are being given free license to work as they will with the rest of the content? As to whether things should be tabbed, interactions kept to format etc, the more you dictate, the less creativity people will have however for those who have come from an ID background of F2F, this is often a daunting process as creativity on a page is vastly different to that in eLearning.

My way around it in my last two companies has been to create things that are "out there", then create a stock standard template and let people know that their courses have to be somewhere in the middle. Monthly or regular meetings to brainstorm ideas as well as a weekly catch up over email to show things people are working on and get ideas are the best - a collaborative office is the best antidote to boring courses!