instructional-designerAs instructional designers we are all eager to whip up an online course for just about any topic – putting our course development skills to work.

While this enthusiasm is often appreciated, sometimes a complete elearning module isn’t necessarily needed.

In fact, there are times when building a complete course is actually counterproductive.

So how can you tell if a formal online course is needed?

Unfortunately there isn’t a hard-set rule. You have to look at a variety of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Message urgency
  • Audience size
  • Amount of content

Message Urgency

Sometimes an organization needs to make an important announcement about a critical change. The change may also require employees to perform tasks in a way that is different than they have done in the past.

It seems like a good idea to create a course to teach people what to do. But when time is money, this isn’t going to be the best solution. At times like this, it’s better to create a concise job aid detailing (at a high level) the reason for the change followed by instructions for what to do going forward.

Afterwards it may make sense to create training on the subject, but when time is of the essence you can’t afford to built out an entire course.

Audience Size

One of the major advantages of elearning is that it can be delivered consistently to a large group of people, cutting down on training costs and time commitments. However, at a certain point elearning is actually less cost-effective. This is especially true if the audience size is rather small.

In circumstances where the target audience is small in number (perhaps anything under ~100), then it may make more sense to conduct live training. If the audience is spread out, then a a couple of webinars might be the way to go.

Amount of Content

This seems obvious but surprisingly is overlooked. Instructional designers are occasionally guilty of putting too much information into a course just in the effort to bolster it up.

Consider the main message of the course and if it can be communicated effectively in a way other than elearning. Sometimes a simple email series, conference call, or job aid can have more impact.

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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter


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I really love how you have very balanced content on your blog. Most people just leave it the cons and focus on selling their products. This blog post proves you are not of the kind.

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