I still remember my first time writing for e-learning. It involved a lot of squinting, deleting, and scribbling in my notebook. At first, I wasn’t really sure why I was struggling. I had done plenty of copywriting in my career. I’d dutifully made an action map, but it was a challenge to translate it into a storyboard: a document outlining text, graphics, narration, and interactions. I kept mentally repeating my project manager’s advice, “Find a way other than paragraphs to tell the story.” After a lot of coaching and collaboration, I got the storyboards where they needed to be. While writing for e-learning does require strong copywriting skills, it was a whole new beast for me—and may be for some of you as well. Perhaps these lessons I’ve learned can help you tame the beast.
I had to learn to resist paragraphs and strive for interactive experiences. There are some wonderful e-learning blogs out there where you can get inspiration. You can learn about challenges and tips from more experienced writers and look for lots of examples of finished courses, such as those found in the Articulate E-Learning Community.
Embrace Review Cycles
Because e-learning incorporates objectives, facts, stories, media, assessments, and technology, it’s not always clear how to put the pieces together. After other team members have commented, edited, and made suggestions, my work is always better for it. Our developers also infuse expertise and perspective into the final product. Sometimes it is easy to feel protective of this “baby” you just created, causing resistance to the feedback. Even with the most experienced writers, different perspectives can help make our work stronger.
Sketch. A lot.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to draw it out first. I have half a sketch book filled with ideas for storyboards. For a digital approach, consider using Inkflow. I find myself reaching for my iPad mini or sketchbook instinctively during writing or brainstorming.
Learn How E-Learning Software Thinks
Many authoring tools use variables, counters, and if-then statements. These tools can make the learning richer. With these tools, you can help the learner see consequences to action in a branching scenario or earn points towards a goal in a gamified course. These advanced logic features can seem complex and intimidating to a writer. But in reality, we use them in our thinking as well–we just may not realize it. Think of a variable as anything you want to keep track and use later. Think of a counter as anything you need to measure. I use if-then logic to help the learner better understand the consequences of his or her actions in the real world. Programming logic is now one of my favorite story-telling tools. The more you understand what these tools can do, the more you can use them to enhance your storyboards. Scratch is a free and fun way to explore programming logic.
Rethink What “Interactive” Means
In the copywriting world, “interactive” generally means you are creating content for the web. It means the audience will have to click a few buttons to get the content. Good e-learning takes interactivity to new heights. Truly interactive e-learning draws the people directly into the material. It makes them think, makes them try, makes them care.
Find a Good Team and Stick Around
There’s no substitute for building skills. Writing for e-learning is about more than words and syntax. It hinges on mastering a new way of thinking. A good team offers feedback that is actionable and inspires this new approach. If you’re lucky enough to be in this situation, soak up as much experience as you can. It won’t happen overnight, but one day you’ll find ideas for interactions flying through your brain.
For me, there was a palpable learning curve to writing for e-learning, but it’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve found that it’s the most creative work I’ve done. What’s helping you on your journey?