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Writing an Effective E-Learning Course

Writing an Effective E-Learning Course

Guest post by Sean Dixon

When writing scripts for online courses, I look at what I’m writing about as though I’m seeing it for the first time. I need to empty myself of my assumptions about the material, my biases about it, and even my enthusiasm for it. I can’t assume anyone reading a course I write will share those assumptions and biases or that enthusiasm. But more importantly, all of that gets in the way of me being able to see the subject itself, how it might appear to someone whose only bias about it might be a general bias against the act of learning itself.

Do people want to learn? Yes and no. If people want to know about something, then yes, they’ll want to learn about it. It’s an obvious point, but the real issue here is choice. If people choose what they learn about, then yes, they’ll want to learn, even if it’s only which new phone has the best features or most comprehensive plan, where they can find the best Thai food in town, or what LeBron James is up to. They’ll even learn about the subject in exhaustive detail, voluntarily seeking out a staggering amount of information even if it’s tediously written and poorly presented. But people don’t often want to learn when they have no choice in the matter and when the subject is not up to them. If you were an engaged student, then this might not apply to you, but most people don’t enjoy feeling forced to learn. They resist it, even in the act of doing it. And I think the assumption you have to make is that the students you need to reach are these, the passive resistors.

I’m convinced this is the barrier I most need to overcome when I write. It’s not a lack of intelligence or ability that’s my enemy. It’s a lack of volition on the part of the student. I’m also convinced that what goes a long way toward breaking this barrier down is to take myself out of the equation as much as possible. It’s not about me. My own enthusiasm for the subject doesn’t matter. If I try to force that enthusiasm on readers who don’t share it—which I should assume is most readers—that immediately throws up a barrier that doesn’t need to be there. It’s me against them. What matters is to recognize how the subject is likely to appear to anyone encountering the subject for the first time, and then give these readers enough room to approach the subject on their own terms.

To do that, I need to choose the most relevant details about the subject and then show what’s relevant about them. Why should anyone want to know it? Every subject has its own reason for existing. I need to find that built-in relevance and present it to the reader without the obstacle of my own point of view getting in the way. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve mainly written scripts in which I adopt the voices of characters who are nothing like me, which helps me throw off the burden of my own perspective. But even when I haven’t written from a character’s point of view, I’ve had to understand the subject as though I were someone else before I could write about it at all. Only by getting myself out of the way can I begin to see how someone else might respond to the subject at hand.

Sean Dixon has worked as an editor and writer for almost 20 years. He has helped plan, manage, and edit numerous books and online courses on a variety of topics, including programming, software design, consumer technology, health and nutrition, medical assisting, business management, and economics. In addition to editing, he has written scripts for courses on reading comprehension, student and career success strategies, and critical thinking, and instructional materials supporting online courseware.