On average, you have seven seconds to grab your audience’s attention with online content that screams that it is absolutely for them. If it’s a piece of online learning, you then have to help and encourage that person to do something better or different as a result, because that’s the whole point, right? That’s quite a tall order when you think about it, but it’s what’s required if you want to make e-learning that works.

When it comes to developing great online learning content, the best place to start is not your content or technology. To design something that’s going to really hit your audience where it matters – their hearts and minds – you need to pull back a little.

The five Cs framework is a great tool for planning and delivering successful digital learning projects. When it comes to content development, three of the five Cs can make all the difference if you want to produce a learning experience that delivers real-life impact: capture, conceptualize and cultivate.

1. Capture: What’s the Problem?

Capturing needs is more than just considering the business or performance goal. Knowing the business goal, whether it’s to increase sales, reduce errors or improve productivity, is key for demonstrating ROI, but it won’t give your design its full shape or direction. You need to get under the skin of the problem right from the offset to make sure your content is focusing on the right things.

Here are three simple questions to ask at the start of any online learning project:

  • What’s the actual problem you are trying to fix? If you have the chance to run a design brainstorm with a room full of expert learning designers who didn’t know the background to your project, what problem statement would you give them to create a solution around?
  • Who is the audience, and in what context do they experience that problem? Create profiles to represent different users. Where do they struggle or succeed? How do they currently receive help? What might motivate them to change?
  • Why aren’t they already doing what you need them to do? Is it really a learning problem? Could it be a motivation issue, a lack of awareness or a managerial issue? Find the root, and fix it.

2. Conceptualize: Fail Fast, and Succeed Faster.

With your audience’s needs crystal-clear, it’s tempting to jump straight to content creation. Hold back. Content is not king! How will you make the content exciting, relevant, easy and personalized to your users? How will you hook them in? Spend time getting your overall concept in place, but not too much time. You can then create, curate and cull content to focus on what works for that design, not the other way around.

Here are three tips to help with conceptualizing e-learning design:

  • Sketch, wireframe and prototype. People respond best to something they can see and experience. Put ideas on the table, and try rapid prototyping. Don’t spend days – sometimes you can discount an idea in 10 minutes that would have taken a couple of hours to build out. Fail fast!
  • Heads together design better. Work with peers, clients, subject expert and users via collaborative tools and sessions to get the best results.
  • Cherry-pick content. If you do need some content to bring your concept to life, don’t bury your head in a 50-slide PowerPoint. Seek out the content that will actually connect with end users, like stories, surprises and scenarios to help you shape an experience, not a fact-dump.

3. Cultivate – Because No One Gets It Right the First Time.

With a design in place and supporting content built-out and tested, it’s go-live time. Chances are if you’ve done the above two steps well, your project will be getting the engagement and results you’d hoped for. But, pay attention. The content design process continues post-launch. Here’s how:

  • Check your data to assess how your content is performing. Is it meeting its user targets? What’s most popular? Most importantly, where are people falling off? Which pages are losing the audience’s interest or blocking their progress?
  • Build user feedback surveys into your design so you can capture live reviews and comments.
  • Fast fix. Make needed improvements on the fly and relaunch your content to ensure it continues to engage users and for longer.

Final Thoughts

To create e-learning that delivers real-life impact – e-learning that works – put content aside, and focus on discovering the kind of experience that is likely to work best for your audience and its needs. If you do get drawn into content early on, filter out what’s relevant and special to driving your outcome.