Converting Instructor-Led Training to E-learning or Distance Learning: Keys to success

We receive frequent requests to convert ILT courses to e-learning or distance learning. And sometimes I think that people perceive the process will go something like this:

  1. We start with a 126 slide PowerPoint presentation.
  2. We insert the presentation into a conversion machine.
  3. An engaging, effective e-learning course comes out on the other side. (and includes all 126 slides.)

I’m exaggerating a little to make my point, but even I can be convinced that starting from an existing course can be faster, and that’s not always the case. In my experience, here are a few realities I have found to be true:

  • It’s difficult to let go of the slides. Allow for a mourning period. Sometimes subject matter experts (SMEs) think that we’ll be able to translate their slides “as is” to an e-learning course.
    • This is not usually true. It’s my job to help the team realize that a clear slide for an ILT course may be very confusing in an online environment.
    • One way that I help the team through this grieving process is with the e-learning course design document. For each screen we plan to have, I’ll insert thumbnails of the slides that will be used to build those screens. That way the team knows that the information isn’t being trashed.
  • You’re probably going to have to cut some of the content. There is usually content that doesn’t make it into the e-learning course due to time constraints or because it can’t be translated online effectively.

  • In theory, the e-learning version of the course should be about ½ of the ILT version. (See Tony Karrer’s blog for some good info on this math.) But it doesn’t always work exactly. I recently had a project where we translated a 16 hour ILT course into a 45 minute e-learning course. Obviously, something had to go.
  • One approach to determine what can go is through a “slide-sort”. We have a face to face meeting with the team. We print off each slide and lay them out on a conference table. Then, as a team, we evaluate what stays and if the order gets adjusted. It’s a good way for the SME to 1) realize just how many slides they have and 2) identify the impact of their changes on the rest of the course content.
  • Translating activities online is going to take longer than you think. Since I’m not a programmer by trade, it can be easy to look at an ILT worksheet or activity and say, “Yes, we can translate that into a great online activity by….” And while that might be true, it isn’t always a quick process.
  • A good example is the below activity we developed for a recent ILT to distance learning conversion. In the ILT course, learners used fun-size bags of M&Ms to learn about basic statistical concepts. I thought, “we can make that an online activity!” And we did. While this is a slick interaction, we dealt with several unknowns throughout development, from how much to randomize the colors of the candies, to how learners will share their results with their instructors. Click the image below to test out the activity for yourself.

  • Someone has to capture what the instructor “says”. I’ve submitted an e-learning script to a SME for review and heard back, “But that’s not what I say when I teach the class.” It’s important to the team to not just convert the content, but also the discussions and points made by the facilitator. Obviously, not everything a facilitator says can be kept in the e-learning course, but be sure and find out what happens in the class. It is frequently those discussions that are what you really want to keep, rather than slides full of bullet points. You can capture this by:
  • Observing a class, taking lots of notes, and talking with the learners in the room.
  • Interviewing the facilitator. A good way is to walk with them slide by slide and have them share the key points as well as frequently asked questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to express your professional opinion. As a joint team, we need to have open, frank discussions about what the best approach is to the e-learning or distance learning version of the course. Sometimes the course needs to be almost completely redesigned, especially if the ILT version wasn’t instructionally sound.

Those are just a few of my guiding principles when dealing with ILT conversions. What would you add to the list?