Improve E-Learning Effectiveness: Track Duration

I cannot tell you how many times I have run reports in a learning management system that have shown learners who took five minutes and twenty seconds to complete an e-learning course that should have taken twenty minutes to complete. Obviously they just clicked “next” over and over until they got to the end. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We’ve done it because we were busy, because the content was not relevant, and because it was not interesting or engaging.

Duration Tracking

Frustrated, I decided to solve this problem by changing the settings in the authoring tool that I was using to not allow anyone to click next until the slide was completed. “That will teach them,” I thought. Now, the reports will show they went through the content. All of the of the content. I thought I was a genius. Then I realized the major problem with this solution: just because I force someone to listen to the audio, doesn’t mean they will learn anything or even pay attention. I suspect the backlash to being forced to sit through slides will include learners deciding to switch windows on their browser to read OMG! on Yahoo or to send another tweet.

Is it All or Nothing?
Is it either/or? All or nothing? Is it a simple choice of allowing people to skip to the end with no obstacles or forcing them to listen to every minute of every slide, including the same course navigation instruction slide that we include in every e-learning course? There must be a better way.

There is. Duration tracking.

Duration tracking is the total time spent in an e-learning course. It is recorded and stored in the learning management system. Reports can be run to find out how much time learners spend in a course. Mindflash has just added this functionality. It is a useful function for learning professionals for three main reasons. First, the compliance training you offer may require you have reliable tracking of time spent and of completion. Second, duration data may be useful as data that informs course effectiveness. Third, it is an objective way of holding people accountable for learning.

Compliance Training
There may be times in which you must report accurate and reliable tracking data for your e-learning courses. Compliance training is an example of when you may need to track completion and time spent in training. Duration tracking give you insight into how long people spend on the training, and that can be reported to whomever requires it.

Effectiveness Data
If you have designed a course that should take twenty minutes to complete, but your duration data shows that learners spend an average of four minutes in your course, it is likely learners do not find that course valuable. Numbers like this could prompt you to find out why people are speeding through the course, which could also motivate you to improve the course design so that it is engaging and relevant. Perhaps the course was not relevant and should not have been built in the first place. Duration data could help you focus on determining what learners really need and to design engaging learning in which people will want to spend time.

Hold People Accountable
No matter how great your e-learning designs are, there will always be those who will not take them seriously. Moreover, the very people who do not take these courses seriously, will complain that “they were never told about a certain process or policy change that was communicated in an e-learning module.” Do you know managers like this? I do. With duration tracking, you can run a report and show a manager that she spent three minutes in a course that should have taken twenty minutes to complete. In those three minutes, the manager likely did not take the time to absorb the information that was communicated. Duration tracking could motivate some to take the time necessary to learn what needs to be learned.

Not to Be Overlooked
Duration tracking is an often overlooked functionality of good e-learning that can help Learning experience (LX) designers accurately track how long people spend in training, and can provide data that could help designers improve the effectiveness of their e-learning designs. What do you think about duration tracking? Do you find it useful and valuable? In what other circumstances would you want to have duration data?

Bill Cushardauthorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance improvement (HPI) leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.