26 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About eLearning

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and tell your younger self what you’ve learned so far about eLearning? That’s the premise behind John Araiza’s short little book, 26 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About eLearning. There were 4 “things” that really resonated with me.

A Quick Read with Loads of Great Information

26 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About eLearning is a short, 29 page Kindle book designed for those just starting out on their eLearning development journeys. It’s also available as a 36 minute audiobook. I suspect it would be good for experienced eLearning developers, too, if only to serve as a handy checklist for each new project.

As a voice talent specializing in eLearning, I have no plans to become an eLearning developer myself. But I’ve always felt it’s a good idea to learn as much as I can about my client’s business. This book definitely helped me understand the industry better than I did before I started.

With that in mind, here are my top 4 takeaways from the book. The numbers below correspond to how Araiza numbered them.

#5: You Can’t Force People to Learn

It’s like the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. According to Araiza, if adults want to learn something, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.

I experienced this myself when I was training employees in the classroom for one of the biggest banks in the country. In ILT, the instructor can usually spot the ones who are just taking up space and only along for the ride. With eLearning, it’s a little bit tougher. But it can be done. The good news, according to Araiza, is that most of the people who don’t pay attention to training will eventually weed themselves out of the company anyway. I’ve seen this happen many times, also.

#9: People Love to Practice, But They Hate to Fail

Araiza points out that you can read all the books you want about golf, but reading alone won’t make you a great golfer. You have to go out on the driving range and the golf course and practice what you’ve learned. The same concept applies to eLearning.

Studies have shown that new information must be retrieved 3 times within 30 days to make learning “stick.” Araiza recommends presenting the foundation of the course, and then making every attempt to have the learner apply what they just learned right away. This way, the learner is able to practice their new skills in a controlled environment. A controlled environment is critical, because it gives learners a safe place to practice their new skills without any ramifications if they fail.

#19 eLearning Is Nothing Without Instructional Design

According to Araiza, if you’re interested in eLearning and don’t know anything about Instructional Design, drop everything and learn the basics of Instructional Design. Instructional Design allows you to arrange the course so it will have the most impact on the learner. There are hundreds of theories of Instructional Design out there, and Araiza recommends finding the ones that you connect with and applying them to your courses. Bad Instructional Design in a classroom can be saved by a great trainer, but bad Instructional Design in an eLearning course will make it difficult, if not impossible, to engage the learner.

#22: Watch Over Someone’s Shoulder While They Take Your Course

Did you ever sit behind someone and watch them while they take one of your courses? Test marketers at giant corporations do something similar to this to determine how prospective buyers will use their product and how intuitive it is to operate. They’ll spend thousands and thousands of dollars to make sure a product is tweaked just right before they send it out to the market. In eLearning, however, you don’t have to spend that kind of money. Just gather up a couple of employees and have them take the course while you watch them.

Never assume that your course is easy to follow and simple to navigate. Of course you can do it, you’re the one who designed the course! But it can be a real eye-opener to watch someone with no familiarity with the course whatsoever navigate (or…attempt to navigate) through it.

The 3 Biggest Takeaways from My First ATD Meeting

Back in the day when I owned a radio station (and yes, there really was a time when giant corporations didn’t own them all,) I always encouraged my sales reps to learn as much as they could about their clients’ businesses so they could understand the challenges of running those businesses from their clients’ point of view. I urged my sales people to go as far as to ask their clients for copies of the trade magazines they read so they could learn more about their clients’ industries.  Whether it was a car dealer, a furniture store, or a restaurant, I wanted our sales people to be a sustaining resource for their clients. It was part of the consultant-sales approach we used that set us apart from the “We’re #1”  and “Our rates are cheaper” approaches the other stations used.

Whether you are developing eLearning content for an internal client, an external client, or, in my case, providing the voice for that eLearning content, I still think it’s a good idea to have an understanding of your client’s business and the challenges they face.

So, with that in mind, I headed off to my very first ATD meeting, held at the Alamo Café. It’s a well-known Mexican food restaurant here in San Antonio that inspired the food porn you see above. And no, the 3 biggest takeaways weren’t the 3 enchiladas!

Here are the 3 biggest takeaways I got from the meeting:

1. A study by Microsoft-Canada showed that in only 13 years, the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. (By comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds.) As you can imagine, this has major implications for both training and learning.

2. A good source for free images and videos for your e-Learning projects is After the meeting, I visited the website myself, and found the images to be of very high quality. They are copyright free, royalty free, and attribution is not required.

3. As much as 80% of what is learned is forgotten in 30 days. This is because the brain needs 3 or more instances of retrieval in 30 days in order to make learning “stick.” One way to get 3 instances of retrieval is to test the learner 3 times in 30 days. Although the speaker didn’t say it, I took this to mean that the traditional e-Learning method of having a learner sit through a page-turner and then take a test at the end may not result in much retention.

So there you have it. My introduction to ATD. And a rewarding one it was! Many thanks to James Hilburn, Technical Design and Development Lead at SWBC, for an excellent presentation.

 About the Author

Greg Thomas is a 25-year veteran of the voiceover industry who specializes in e-Learning, corporate narration, and commercials.

e-Learning clients have reported that his narration increased the liveliness and interactivity quotient of their courses. His deep, warm voice has been heard on thousands of projects for clients in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, including Verizon, Irwin Vice Grips, DuPont Pioneer, and the New York Red Bulls Soccer Team. He also has ILT experience as a classroom trainer for a Fortune 100 company, and understands first-hand the importance of keeping training engaging and interesting. His studio is approved by the World Voices Organization, a member-driven international association of voice actors. You can reach Greg at He usually responds within 24 hours.

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