eLearning vs. Udemy

A generic definition of “eLearning” would be “any learning that happens via electronic media”. In this sense, Udemy courses fall under the umbrella of eLearning.  Udemy i a MOOC  (massive open online course) platform that has its own LMS (Learning Management System) that allows course creators to create and sell a course.

However, eLearning is an industry that goes well beyond the Udemy platform. eLearning has come to mean something slightly different than what Udemy courses offer.  Nowadays, the term “eLearning” and the “eLearning industry” generally refers to what we think of as “corporate training”, or, “online education” in a school setting, such as K-12 programs. 

These types of eLearning courses can be quite sophisticated. They are developed for very specific training objectives and outcomes and often have a very specific audience – for example, a course geared towards arming a company’s new salesforce with knowledge needed to go to market. Instructional design is a key element in creating eLearning courses. It is so important that people earn degrees in eLearning instructional design and make a living from doing it for large corporations and other organizations.

eLearning is delivered through proprietary learning management systems (LMS) such as Teachable, Thinkific, Docebo, TalentLMS and many others.  These LMS’s all offer a variety of features, tools and templates that allow for intricate and generally more complex, truly professional, instructional design than the Udemy platform.

So what does this mean for Udemy instructors? We think that there are some best practices that are used in professional eLearning instructional design that Udemy instructors could borrow in their own course design to differentiate and improve course quality. While course design principles used in mainstream eLearning are more or less the same as you would use to create a Udemy course, the emphasis is slightly more intense in several areas.

Udemy instructors can learn a few key lessons from these areas of emphasis and use them to  make their own courses more professional. We present 5 of these lessons in this article.

1. Really Monitor and Think About Your Course Evaluations

In eLearning training modules, the training must be tied to business or educational outcomes such as certifications, adoption of new business processes, new technology implementation, etc.  It’s not enough for the instructor to just impart knowledge via a video and hope the users (i.e. employees) can then put that knowledge to use. The focus in eLearning is on delivering measurable outcomes. If you don’t do this, you’re fired.

That is why in eLearning, course evaluations, or in Udemy-speak “reviews”, are a powerful tool that instructors constantly monitor. Elearning instructors must regularly take on board course and tutorial evaluations to identify if they are delivering outcomes or not and understand where they are succeeding or not.

As a Udemy instructor, this kind of focus on course accountability and improvement is not quite as prevalent.   As a Udemy instructor, you can stand out by making an extra effort to clearly understand and track how students are evaluating your Udemy course in terms of outcomes. What are they able to do with the skills you’ve delivered afterwards?   Can they create something? Do they get a job or promotion? Do they launch a new business?  If you understand clearly where you are succeeding and failing, you can better influence the outcomes for users of your course.

So continuously look back at your course learning goals and then compare those to what students are telling you in their reviews.  Make sure that your learning goals are tied to specific student outcomes and that those outcomes are being achieved. 

The most obvious way to measure outcomes is with quizzes and tests. You can also direct students to external testing platforms so that they can judge if the knowledge they acquired through your course is enough.  You might also help students self-evaluate by offering personal consultations and answering questions.

If you find a way to keep track of outcomes and course evaluation information, you can share the results with future learners, which will boost confidence in and engagement with your course.

2. Personalize the Learning Where Possible

It may be tempting on a platform such as Udemy, where it is possible to obtain thousands of students through organic search, to take a one size fits all approach in your course design.  However, in the eLearning industry (and everywhere else), the trend is towards personalization of course content. Personalization helps to drive engagement.

Think about how you might incorporate personalized learning into your Udemy course and find ways to answer the question many students will ask when going through your course – “why is this relevant to me?”.

While it would be difficult on Udemy to accomplish the level of personalization that many learning management systems offer, it is possible to find ways to add a bit of personalization to your Udemy course. One way is to make learning recommendations, much like Netflix makes movie recommendations.  For example, within your course, you can say to students, “if you fit profile ‘A’ then I recommend these 3 learning resources, however, if you fit profile ‘B’, then these 2 resources are recommended”, and so forth. 

You can also personalize your content based on profiles, such as beginner, intermediate or advanced, and offer quizzes or other content that meet these profiles from which students of various profiles can choose.   Another idea would be to make tailored suggestions for certain quiz score ranges regarding other courses to take, exercises to do, or resources to access to improve skills gaps.

A key focus of personalization for eLearning revolves around how and when students interact with the course.  You can simply encourage students to learn “on the go” and to come back to the course when it suits them. Provide some suggestions for doing so by highlighting quick to digest modules.  Finally, you can make yourself available for questions for students with a particular need (and really mean it).

While not entirely personalized in nature, all these methods lend a certain degree of personalization that will improve the student’s experience throughout your Udemy course.

3. Use Interactive eLearning Materials

With video training being the common method of delivering eLearning, and certainly the most popular method of teaching on Udemy, learning online risks becoming quite passive, like watching TV. Moreover, with all the distractions of today eLearning instructors recognize they need to work harder to keep students wanting to continue with their learning and complete the course.

When it comes to delivering outcomes, the primary means of doing this in eLearning is through interactive content. Study after study has shown that interactive engagement improves the capacity to learn. 

Interactive content in the eLearning world means that the user must actively engage in problem solving, making decisions, looking for information, testing assumptions and taking risks.  For example, if you are teaching the Weighted Average Cost calculation, you need to explain and show it, but then put the student in a position whereby they must decide when and how to use it and do the calculations, applying it to a real situation.  Alternatively, you might provide a case study to analyze and then provide general information on how to self-assess based on critical elements.

Group discussions are another key element of interactive learning used in eLearning. While you don’t have this capability directly in Udemy, you can create a Facebook group or other external discussion forum for students to go to if they want to discuss the course further. 

You can also make use of interactive quizzes after each session as a module assessment.  Using a variety of visuals that are entertaining and help learners to stay on task and be pulled into your topic is also a good method that is used prolifically in eLearning.

4.  Video Best Practices

As mentioned before, eLearning makes extensive use of videos. So to avoid student passivity eLearning instructional design practices focus on creating videos that generate an eLearning buzz for what can sometimes be dry content (compliance law anyone?).   As a Udemy instructor, you should also be attempting to create a buzz not only with your landing page and introductory videos, but also throughout the instructional videos – something that is often forgotten once the lecturing starts.

In the eLearning industry video best practices suggest that you should mix up the types of videos in your course using categories such as: watch and learn, practice, applying the learning, and learning summaries. This is slightly different to the continuous talking head, lecturing style you often see in Udemy courses. But it makes sense to try and mix up the style of your instructional videos to encourage active learning and engagement.

eLearning is also big on the application of the microlearning concept by creating short “bites” of video.   While videos lasting a few seconds may not be practical for your entire Udemy course, including the microlearning concept here and there breaks up learning into digestible pieces and keeps the pace of your course from being a monotonous string of 5-minute videos. It also aids course completion.  If a student is on the go, he can look at a video that is 2 minutes long, digest it quickly and feel as if he is making progress.

eLearning also makes use of video transcripts. Accompanying videos with transcripts is a good idea because it makes it easier for somebody who has already watched the video clip to find a place he wants to pay special attention to.  Also, not everyone likes watching endless videos. Remember that personalization is of growing importance?  Some people prefer to receive information in a different way, so it’s important to account for this by providing transcripts. 

Finally, it is not uncommon to find videos captions in eLearning tutorials.  This is yet another way to enhance learning and adapt videos to different learner styles in your Udemy course.

5. Use The Right Kind and Right Level of Interactivity

eLearning LMS software provides for all kinds of interactivity templates. This often leads instructors to create too much interactivity or choose the wrong kind of interactivity in an effort to use as many templates as possible. 

Udemy does not provide for interactivity templates, but instructors should always be mindful of giving too many quizzes, endless downloads, etc. in an effort to create an engaging course.  That said you must be looking for ways to create appropriate opportunities to interact with course material and instruction.

eLearning instructors often use Bloom’s Taxonomy to determine what kind of learning they are imparting and appropriate interaction.  Below is a diagram of Bloom’s 6 cognitive (learning) domains mapped to the types of action, or interactivity, that is appropriate to engage in. These are highlighted inside the lightbulb.

Source: TeachThought.com

Finding ways to help students engage in some of these actions while doing your Udemy course modules could really serve to promote the achievement of learning objectives and provide differentiated learning.

So when creating ways for students to interact with your course material keep in mind that not every learning interaction serves the same purpose. Not every learning point requires a quiz.  Any interaction used in your Udemy course should be based on the kind of knowledge that you are looking to impart and should help to guide the student towards achieving the course learning objectives.

For instance, if you are looking at imparting factual knowledge, such as technology jargon, then a simple memorize-and-recall quiz might work the best. But if you want to impart procedural knowledge, such as guiding students through the steps for installing some technology, then, a screen simulation would be helpful.

Lastly, working Bloom’s taxonomy into your course can help students feel the benefits and progress of their learning efforts.  You can continuously frame things in terms of these six cognitive domains (without using too much technical jargon) reminding them of what skill level they are achieving and pointing out that by engaging in certain activities whether within your course or outside of it, that they are moving up the skills hierarchy.

Why Are These 5 eLearning Lessons Important?

Let’s face it. Udemy instructors can get away with a “one size fits all”, one lengthy talking head video, or kind of lock, stock, and barrel teaching approach.  And the Udemy LMS does not offer all the bells and whistles that other learning management systems do so you may feel limited in what you can offer in the way of course engagement.   

But with over 100,000 courses on Udemy, finding ways to differentiate your teaching style and materials is critical to lesson #1 – Getting Evaluations.  You need good evaluations to sell more on Udemy. 

Each of these 5 eLearning lessons represents some way to go that extra mile to create a better learning experience for your students – in essence to teach in a more professional manner and be recognized for this in your reviews/evaluations.  This should be a goal for all Udemy instructors – especially if you aspire to make it into Udemy for Business.

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