E-Learning for Legal Organizations, Explained

Law firms and legal departments often rely on technology to create cost-effective training options. Mistakes can be costly, though. If you choose the wrong platform or make incorrect assumptions, both you and your program could lose credibility.

In the second half of an interview with Holly MacDonald, driving force behind Canadian e-learning innovation consultancy Spark &+Co, we learn what to consider when creating an e-learning module, and which trends might help sustain progress. (The first half of the interview discussed what individual lawyers should look for when selecting an e-learning course.)

Q. Which mistakes do organizations commonly make when designing e-learning for in-house training?

These are the mistakes I see most often:

  1. Starting with the PowerPoint files and just adding clip art and/or narration to create a very quick course. We have a saying in the industry: “Telling Ain’t Training”.
    • What do you want people to DO differently at the end of the course? Work backwards from there.
  2. Trying to cram everything into a single course
    • A self-paced e-learning module with three learning objectives is usually succinct enough to hold attention and become successful
  3. Having the most knowledgeable person act as the subject matter expert
    • Instructional designers would refer to the “Conscious Competence Ladder”. Experts are often at the highest rung on the ladder – their knowledge is so ingrained that they can forget the process necessary to accumulate and apply it. Select an instructor who is closer to the audience’s level of competency.
  4. Champagne taste on a beer budget
    • Be strategic. Spend money when it’s critical to do things right and an investment in future needs. Save your pennies in other areas.
  5. Trying too hard to control the creative process
    • Templates are efficient, but if they don’t suit the learning objective, don’t use them. One organization insisted that developers limit their course design to a small number of templates. But as a result, every course looked identical; the instruction ended up as “white noise” – neither effective, nor memorable.
  6. Underestimating how long it takes to build a course. In our experience, it typically takes about 13 weeks.
    • Fast, cheap or good – pick two of these priorities and let them guide how the course is created
  7. Filling screens with a lot of text. It gets boring. Fast. And if the narrator just reads what is on the screen, it’s the kiss of death for your content.
    • Use graphics to illustrate what the narrator is saying
  8. Asking an instructional designer to “make us a course”.
    • A good instructional designer should be as concerned about spending your budget as wisely as you are.
    • We’ve discovered that some clients think they need a course when what they really need is a simple “job aid”. (This saved one of our clients $20,000). Find a consultant, not a course developer.

Q. How much should an organization budget for an e-learning module?

Like most creative work, it depends! A basic module can range from $10,000 to the hundreds of thousands for a gamified or video heavy or virtual reality approach.

The following resources are often used to create e-learning. It’s a good idea to account for them in a budget, even if you don’t initially think you’ll need them.

Holly MacDonald of Spark + Co.

Holly MacDonald of
Spark + Co.

  • A graphic designer for custom graphics
  • An illustrator for custom icons, screen elements, characters
  • Professional voice over narration
  • A videographer for custom shot and produced video
  • A photographer for custom photos
  • Instructional designer
  • E-learning developer
  • Technical expert to support integration to the learning management system or hosting site
  • A project manager to pull it all together

If you keep the scope small and don’t have a lot of custom media, you can develop a single course on a manageable budget. The good part about e-learning is that you will end up with a re-usable asset; eventually, it will generate a return on your investment.

If you plan on making a serious investment in long-term training capabilities, consider a Learning Management System that hosts and tracks your courses and contains authoring tools. The expense can be significant, but it can also dramatically reduce travel and room rentals, not to mention the impact on opportunity cost. Rather than travelling for three days to attend an in-person workshop, an employee could take a short online module and perhaps complete a reflective or group activity to accompany it. Again, the medium should suit the learning objective.

Q. Are there any interesting or innovative developments in e-learning platforms that you’ve observed?

The trends that I’m most interested in are:

  • Subscription learning delivered via email on a schedule. From an instructional perspective, lessons that can be layered on top of each other with time in between to reflect and internalize are often the most successful.
  • Interactive video – these are like “choose your own adventure” movies. You can present a scenario and at a critical point in the video, it pauses and asks you what to do next. The video then plays out your chosen next step and can provide you with another choice to make to see how the whole experience plays out. You can also (as an instructional designer) add in feedback to reinforce key lessons.
  • Augmented reality – these are a bit “out there”, but creating simulations and adding instructional overlays to a viewers field of vision is pretty exciting stuff! These sorts of simulators have been used in military, flight schools and medical professions, but with the onset of Google Glass, Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headsets, there may be more pedestrian applications in store.
  • Gamification has been a hot trend, but when poorly done, it ends up being “game-y” and ineffective in instructing people. We’re monitoring developments to see which applications make sense. Many e-learning courses include already include game elements (beat the clock, matching items, drag and drop, etc).

E-learning continues to evolve as organizations combine technology and expertise to create effective training options to fit their budgets, culture and strategy. To learn more about Holly MacDonald, visit her website at Spark + Co or follow her on Twitter @sparkandco.

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