Are your e-learning courses underperforming? Here are four ways to elevate your courses to increase both member interest and engagement in the new year.

4 Ways to Elevate Your Next Association E-Learning Course

It’s your job to provide worthwhile networking and professional development opportunities that keep members engaged year after year. High engagement means increased revenue and membership… low engagement for multiple years in a row could mean your association is struggling in numerous ways.

However, providing those opportunities can be expensive. The last thing you want to do is invest in custom-creating a new e-learning course only to have few members (if any) purchase it. Just like a forgotten instrument, treadmill, or book gathering dust in the corner of your closet, courses that members don’t complete provide little value for your organization.

Whether lack of personalization, relevance, or even accessibility, there are several reasons why you might be seeing low engagement with your e-learning courses.

If you’re investing in custom e-learning course development, these courses need to be top-tier and worth the investment. Here are four tips to elevate your next e-learning project and increase engagement all at once.

Create content that helps members do their jobs better.

What’s the story behind your industry? Who was the Benjamin Franklin, Milton Hershey, or other innovator who made the initial discovery that led to the roles your members serve in today?

We’d guess that there’s a storied history that led to what your industry looks like today. It can be tempting to include tidbits of that story throughout your courses (or, take a deep dive into it at the start of each course). Don’t do this! Remember—what’s interesting isn’t always helpful.

Focus on creating courses that will actively help members be more effective in their day-to-day roles. To do so:

  • Incorporate tips that are specific to your members’ experiences. Take OSHA compliance, for example. Workplace safety guidelines can differ drastically depending on if your members work in offices or construction sites. Adjust your compliance training to align with what your members actually experience in their roles, rather than providing generic best practices.
  • Keep courses updated. Consider the past two years. Chances are, a lot has changed across your industry. From working from home to new office safety procedures, we’d guess that life looks substantially different for your members. That’s how quickly parts of your courses can become outdated! Regularly update your courses to provide valuable information for members as the world changes.
  • Remove “fluff.” This is where your history lesson falls. Take a critical look at each line of information you include in the course. Ask yourself how this will directly help learners do their jobs better. If you can’t think of a direct action that the information will improve, cut it!

Creating useful content is by far the most important tip to elevate your e-learning courses. You can overcome most obstacles with slight updates to your courses—but if the content inherently is not helpful to members, you’re behind the starting line.

Prioritize accessibility for all learners.

Have you ever watched a movie in which a door gets stuck, and the main character jiggles the handle incessantly until the handle inevitably falls off? Then, a comedic montage ensues as the character waits for someone to set them free.

The character wasn’t able to open the door. This wasn’t because they didn’t know how to use a door—but that when the handle fell off, they no longer had access to the tools to use the door. If you create an e-learning course that’s not accessible, you’re replicating that experience: you’re providing educational materials with no “door handle” for learners to access them.

There are a few key tenets to keep in mind when it comes to accessibility in e-learning:

  • Accessible Graphic Design: Select a design theme with sufficient color contrast, which is helpful for learners with visual impairments. Don’t use light gray text over a white background, for example, as it may be challenging to read the text.
  • Descriptions of Visuals: Use alternative text for all images, illustrations, videos, and animations. This text alternative should describe the visual content, helping users who can’t discern the image to better understand it. Additionally, include closed captions for all audio elements so individuals who have hearing impairments can read the content.
  • Navigation: Design your course so that it can be navigated using a keyboard. This will help individuals with mobility impairments, as they’ll be able to press the “Tab” key to go from page to page and press the “Enter” key to activate any buttons. If your course can be navigated with a keyboard, individuals using assistive technology (such as an eye tracker) will also be able to maneuver through the content as well.

All learners, including those with visual and hearing impairments, deserve to have a positive experience with your course. Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought. Instead, make it a priority from the start.

Consider ways that members can personalize their learning experiences.

Let’s say you’re going shopping for a new suit. When you arrive at the store, the fitting attendant presents you with only one option—a plain black, boxy suit. For others, that might be the perfect fit… but it’s not your style. You soon discover that it’s the only suit that the store offers. Would you stay there? No!

The same idea applies to your e-learning courses. While your association is a collective, it’s full of individual members. Each member will have slightly different interests, learning needs and styles, and goals. These individuals will see your courses as significantly more valuable when they’re personalized to their experiences.

There are a number of ways to “personalize” e-learning courses to make them more relevant and valuable on an individual level.

For example, you could create supplementary microlearning courses that expand upon topics that are skimmed over in a larger course. If learners take the larger course and are curious, they can check out your micro-course offerings for more information on specific topics.

You could also build out “Choose Your Own Adventure” branching scenarios. Essentially, you’d build the course like a tree, and learners would click to navigate down “branches” and learn more about topics that interest them. The point is, you need to create a customized experience that reels your learners in until they’ve finished the course.

Remember that content should be both educational and engaging.

Step into one of your learner’s shoes for a minute. Are you a busy healthcare professional, currently tackling your normal duties with the unhelpful addition of a global pandemic? Or, are you a marketing professional who normally would work in an office setting… but now your office is in your home, and you’re working double the time to make up for lost sales in the past year?

The idea here is that, regardless of what role your members serve in, one thing remains true—they’re busy. Very, very busy. That brings us to a hard truth: if a training course isn’t explicitly required (such as for a certification), your members may not want to purchase it. They just don’t have the time to make the purchase worthwhile!

It’s up to you to make a compelling argument for investing in ongoing professional development courses. Do that by making courses that are both educational and engaging.

Keep the following tips in mind to ramp up the interest in your e-learning courses:

  • Use scenario-based learning to immerse members in the course. Let’s say you’re discussing video conferencing best practices. Rather than listing out the tips, have members participate in a simulated Zoom meeting. They’ll be able to practice how to use the mute button (an essential skill) and be immersed in the course.
  • Empower members to practice key skills with gamification. You can create a multi-level e-learning game through which members can learn a specific skill and practice it, while having fun. Each level could cover a different skill or even get more challenging as the learner progresses through the game.
  • Consider innovative, interactive methods to display information. What’s more likely to help you remember the steps in a process: reading them on a page or dragging-and-dropping them to sort them in the correct order? The second one. Consider how you can make each part of your course interactive to keep learners engaged.

With these tips, courses won’t just be helpful to have, but enjoyable as well. It’s easier to make time for things you enjoy doing!

When it comes down to it, elevating your association’s e-learning courses simply means making them as useful as possible for members. When they see value in the courses, they’ll keep purchasing them and you’ll see engagement rise.

These tips are a great starting point. Good luck!