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The Evaluation Center at WMU Week: Developing Evaluation Elearning: Our Journey and Lessons Learned by Kelly Robertson and Lori Wingate

Hello, we are Kelly Robertson and Lori Wingate. We work at The Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University. We’re here to tell you about our journey into new territory – developing elearning – and our lessons learned along the way. Valeo is The Evaluation Center’s new evaluation elearning program. We worked to combine evaluation theory, proven practices, and insights from experienced evaluators to create succinct, engaging courses designed for working professionals (not for academic credit).

The Evaluation Center has a long tradition of offering practical, accessible, and high-quality materials and activities to help people conduct and use evaluation (e.g., Evaluation Checklist Project, EvaluATE,  Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, Evaluation Cafe). Based on this history, we felt we were well-positioned to create a practical, high-impact elearning program. We were not expecting the steep learning curve we encountered.

Lessons Learned

Here are our key insights, for anyone thinking about venturing into elearning or wondering what goes into developing elearning.

  • Good elearning content cannot be directly copied-and-pasted from existing webinars, presentations, or lectures. Good elearning is engaging and helps learners build their skills through practice and informative feedback. Early on, we realized our content was shaping up to be a very good ebook, not great elearning. So, we scratched that content and went back to the drawing board. Simply put, content area expertise is not enough to develop effective elearning.
  • Instructional design is not a DIY activity. We read about instructional design and elearning. We attended workshops. We talked to experts. Ultimately, we realized we needed to step out of the instructional design role and engage a professional skilled in developing elearning for adult learners. While this meant backtracking somewhat, it was also liberating because it we could focus on the content without needing to learn instructional design and elearning from the ground up.
  • A website is not sufficient for delivering elearning. Early in the development process, we figured out that we needed a learning management system (LMS) that allowed for seamless registration and payment. We realized our University’s LMS wasn’t going to be sufficient for external users. A major challenge in getting our elearning program ready to launch was finding an affordable LMS that could meet PCI compliance standards – to our surprise, not all LMSs can supply evidence that they meet these critical standards to ensure the security of customers’ payment information.

We are grateful for the support we received from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop our course on evaluation approaches. Not only did they provide funding, but we had the opportunity to engage with instructional design and content experts and pilot the version of this course with CDC personnel.

It’s been a long journey. We’ve learned a lot and it wasn’t easy. But we think the three courses we’re launching with will be a great addition to the online learning options available to evaluators, and we’re excited to create new courses. Check out Valeo and let us know what you think so far.

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