Looking Ahead: Future-Proofing eLearning in 2019 and Beyond

Written By

Joanne Astorga

January 15, 2019

As we begin the new year, many L&D executives and managers are starting to examine their refreshed eLearning budgets. Whether yours has been expanded, reduced, or simply maintained at past levels, how can you get the longest shelf life for your eLearning projects in 2019? These six considerations will help future-proof your organization’s eLearning in 2019 and beyond.

1. Broaden access to eLearning

One of the most obvious ways to achieve a higher return on investment for an eLearning course is to offer it to a larger number of people. There are several ways to do so.

  • Incorporate universal design for learning (UDL) into the learning solution by offering content in different forms, such as combining graphic-rich eLearning courses with plain-text versions of the content; allowing for cultural differences in content and activities; and breaking large eLearning programs into smaller, chunked microlearning for low-bandwidth environments.
  • Ensure that all eLearning is fully accessible and meets WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility standards or higher. Even if a target audience requires excellent vision and hearing to do their job, other employees in adjacent positions, such as supervisors, auditors, or legal counsel, should be able to tab through the eLearning course content (if they have physical limitations and cannot use a mouse or touchpad), listen to the course content with a screen reader (if they are hearing impaired), and/or have access to closed captioning or transcripts for all audio and video components (if they are visually impaired).
  • Consider “bundled” eLearning programs that feature parts and pieces (e.g., explainer videos, microlearning, eBooks, and performance support) that can be offered separately and on different platforms. For example, explainer videos can be consumed individually online or viewed as a group in classrooms, while residing both in a learning management system and on a corporate intranet or video streaming site. Similarly, eBooks and performance support (checklists, FAQs, user guides) can be offered separately to learners who don’t need to complete an entire eLearning program.

How does broadening access to your eLearning future-proof it? You won’t have to retrofit the learning solution when a new group needs access to it. What’s more, the broader the access to the course, the better your ROI will be.

2. Make eLearning responsive to all screen sizes

We can no longer design for desktops alone. To have a shelf life of at least three years (a reasonable goal) and be accessible to as many people as possible, you must ensure that any eLearning your organization develops in 2019 is fully and truly responsive. That means that all content in each eLearning course must be accessible from mobile phones, tablets, and desktops/laptops.

This requires extra effort and separate versions depending on the authoring tool you use, but it also means that you will not have to retrofit the course with a new version in 2020 or 2021.

How does building responsive eLearning future-proof it? By taking into account different preferences for where people start and continue their learning, you won’t have to create new and separate versions when target groups receive or choose a different screen size for their workplace learning.

3. Ensure that eLearning is representative of your current and future workforce

Executives are usually keenly aware of the challenges of finding and keeping talent, and should be mindful that talented employees want to see themselves reflected in their organization’s eLearning. However, eLearning graphic designers may not be aware (although they should be) of an organization’s current and desired demographics, so inclusive diversity—not just representation—needs to be a requirement for all eLearning.

Specifically, ensure that your teams are balancing the gender split of real or fictitious employees and supervisors appearing in courses; consider gender-neutral language to respect LGBTQ audiences; and challenge your teams and yourself to consider any unconscious biases that your eLearning may be perpetuating. Not applicable, you say? Think about the last time you saw the ubiquitous handshake image at work: what did it say about the gender and background of people in power in your workplace?

How does creating diverse and inclusive eLearning future-proof it? By ensuring that it stays relevant, reflective, and aspirational for different groups within your workforce who are considering other positions within your organization.

4. Take a cost-effective approach to updating eLearning

This is especially relevant if your organization does not create a lot of eLearning, and does not have an internal L&D team of instructional designers, graphic designers, and/or courseware developers.

Balance the annual cost of monthly licensing fees for authoring tools with the number of courses that require updating. In a small organization, does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars to maintain a software license just in case a handful of courses need edits two or three years from now? What else could your team do with that money?

In my workplace, we encounter many organizations that are paying far more than they should for simple content or graphic updates because they don’t calculate the cost of those updates. If they did, they would a) be shocked, and b) likely decide to find a solution that does not require a monthly license, such as open-source tools or third-party eLearning specialists.

How does calculating the cost of updates to eLearning future-proof it? By adopting cost-effective approaches for maintenance of eLearning courses, L&D executives are not only taking a prudent approach to spending decisions, they are also stretching their budgets to do more for less, and finding ways to create more eLearning in the future.

5. Ascertain who owns the eLearning source files

Identify who will be editing the eLearning when content, graphics, or technology changes warrant an update, and perhaps more importantly, confirm that you are complying with your organization’s information technology, cybersecurity, and intellectual property policies.

Keep in mind that while you may have access to the content files your team created using cloud-based authoring tools, the software terms of service may not grant you ownership of the actual source files. If your organization can live with having corporate information residing on servers outside of its firewall, so be it. Otherwise, you may want to consider another commercial tool or an open-source solution that gives you ownership of your files—especially if the eLearning addresses proprietary or sensitive topics.

How does confirming ownership of your eLearning source files future-proof the course? By ensuring that your organization does in fact own the files it creates, future L&D teams will have free and easy access to the files they need when updates are required.

6. Migrate Flash-based content

In 2017 Adobe announced that it would stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to (…) new open formats.

I’m assuming that your organization already has a contingency plan in place for any eLearning that still has Flash-based content. In case you don’t, you’ll need to act quickly to migrate Flash-based content to another mobile-friendly format, ideally HTML5.

How does migrating Flash-based content future-proof your eLearning? By ensuring that your legacy eLearning courses are compatible with today’s smartphones and browsers, you will both extend the shelf life and widen the access of those courses (which in turn boosts their ROI).

In conclusion

Effective eLearning takes time, effort, and money, and it behooves eLearning specialists to ensure that we future-proof our projects in 2019 and beyond. We owe it to the organizations we work for to spend their resources carefully, with an eye to the longest shelf life possible for our training products.

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