10 Things You Could Create Instead of an E-Learning Course


I recently purchased my first random orbital sander for a furniture refinishing project. I found that it worked very well, removing decades of mustard-colored paint with minimal effort. In fact, it worked so well that everywhere I look I see potential refinishing projects where I can use my new sander to take something old or dull and jazz it up a bit!

Our innate tendency to focus on using familiar tools—regardless of whether they’re the best fit for the project—is known as the “Law of the Instrument.” Maslow famously summarized the effect as follows: 

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is the hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

In my experience, this statement applies just as well to the world of training, a world often saddled with finite resources and limited tools for reaching learners—most typically instructor-led training, job aids, or e-learning courses. And when tool options are restricted and every project needs to be delivered “yesterday,” it’s understandable how folks end up framing them all as e-learning courses. Today’s authoring tools make e-learning course creation so much faster and easier, why not just import that content, publish it as a course, and call it done?

Unfortunately, lengthy e-learning courses aren’t always the best approach. In fact, a course is often overkill, particularly when the risk of a learner failing to perform a task doesn’t put the organization (or its patrons) in jeopardy. Forcing someone to take a course on a fairly low-risk topic would be a bit like me enrolling in a carpentry school to learn how to use my new sander.

So next time you’re faced with a stack of content and a looming deadline, take a few moments to consider what else you can create with the resources you have, instead of, or in addition to, an e-learning course.

I came up with a few alternatives to the e-learning course hammer (so you don’t have to!):

  1. Not sure how to integrate a compelling but lengthy case study into the training mix? Turn it into a quick, skill-based practice scenario learners can complete on their own.
  2. Have a training manual full of instructor-led activities? Turn them into a series of short independent-study exercises that folks can complete online.
  3. Time to update that out-of-date training video? Instead of a costly professionally produced training video, ask learners to submit their own video best practices with their webcams. And, if amateur video isn’t your thing? Edit all of the user-generated videos into a few “best of” tips videos organized around specific topics aligned to learning outcomes. This example of curated TED Talks built with Rise should give you a few ideas.
  4. Need people to complete a form correctly? Create an entertaining interactive tour like this one from Jackie VanNice.
  5. Not sure what to do with an old job aid? Redesign it into a learner-customizable job aid or a hybrid tool like a mouse pad that acts as a shortcut key chart.
  6. Have some expert advice to share? Consider recording a series of short audio podcasts, each featuring a topic expert. This approach can be a great way to augment larger training or organizational change initiatives. For examples on using podcasts, check out these awesome contributions from the E-Learning Heroes community.
  7. Too much data? Bring that big data down to earth by creating an interactive infographic. Interactive infographics are a great way to make data more tangible and personal to learners. Check out the brilliant community examples in this weekly e-learning challenge for some serious info-design inspiration.
  8. Is your software’s quick-reference guide anything but quick? Resist the urge to turn all of that content into a course and instead create a library of short (five minutes or less) “how to” videos targeting critical tasks. Don’t miss this helpful article for some great software simulation and screencasting pointers.
  9. Tempted to turn those bullet-heavy, text-laden PowerPoint slides into another click-and-read course? Not so fast. Try morphing the most critical slides into a series of branching scenarios or an app-like decision-making tool that supports performance.
  10. How can you make policies and procedures, checklists, forms, or other important resources more accessible and helpful to learners? Use your authoring tool to create an online repository. Rise is great for putting some structure around important documentation. Check out this example for a creative way to gather and organize safety information.

How are you embracing alternatives to e-learning courses? What ways are you pushing the envelope with your authoring tools? Share your experiences with a community of e-learning peers by posting in our Building Better Courses forum, or leaving us a comment below.

And remember to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. 

Lauren Franza
Trina Rimmer

Hi Ivana. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment on my article. I've broken down my responses to your questions to, hopefully, elaborate a bit more. First, a short independent-study exercise could take a lot of forms depending on the nature of the material so it's hard for me to be provide a precise illustration of the concept, because it's rather open to interpretation. For instance, one example of this approach might be the use of a hard copy scenario or case study with questions completed by learners. A manager might distribute this activity to their team members to help coach them on more nuanced aspects of their work, or to prompt deeper discussion of complex topics. Later, the manager might get everyone together face-to-face to lead a discussion about their reactions to... Expand

Trina Rimmer