Best Practices: Working with Text-Based (PDF) Courses

  • Posted on January 14, 2016   Shazia Wajid

    Web-based training has taken the teaching world by storm. It has changed the way we learn. Google “online courses” and you will come across more than 10 million results. Each day, thousands of students sign up and acquire required skills easily and effectively with the help of elearning courses. The growing trend of online education has also opened many doors of opportunity for authors, trainers, teachers, and skilled professionals. If you have some amazing training content that you want to teach online, you can do so easily by transforming it into an eLearning course. This blog discusses a few best practices on working with text-based (PDF) courses.

    What are text-based courses?

    Text-based courses are purely content-orientated courses with content presented in an online format, requiring students to read the training material and successfully complete quizzes and/or a final exam.

    Text-based courses are ideal for lengthy training material you want to deliver online. The advantage of text-based courses is that it enables student to download the training material and access it without relying on the internet. Also, text-based courses allow students to refer to the learning material whenever required.

    Best Practices

    Just like any course, PDF-based courses need to be created keeping the learner in mind. As online course developers, our primary motive should be to present an effective training course while keeping the cognitive load to a minimum.  Here are few tips to help you do so:

    Create a template

    Before you begin uploading your PDF into your course authoring tool, it is always a great idea to analyze it. Ask yourself:

    • Is the content up to the mark?
    • Is the look and feel of the entire content consistent?
    • Is all information in place (course description, learning objectives, topic name, headings, additional resources, glossary of terms, etc.)?
    • Are any edits required?

    If your files lack consistency, create a standard course material template in a Word doc, add the text, make necessary adjustments, and then export it into a PDF format to be used in the course. This practice will save time and allow you to maintain consistency throughout the course.

    Less is more

    The most important goal when creating an online course is to help students understand the course content as best you can. You need to review your training material and create an understandable, well-structured course out of it. Identify your content, distribute it into digestible sections (lessons/modules/topics), identify the learning objectives of each section, and insert them at the beginning of the course. Clearly outlined learning outcomes help in the selection of appropriate content, learning activities, and methods of assessments.

    Guide the learners

    Provide step-by-step instructions in your courses to avoid common questions such as:

    • How to access and download the course material?
    • What software is required to view the PDF?
    • What am I required to do once I have finished reading a lesson and/or the course?
    • Is there any time limit to read the course content?
    • Are there activities or games within the course?
    • Will there be a final exam?
    • What are the criteria to complete the course?

    Clear directions at the beginning of the course avoid confusions and keep the learner on track.

    Add relevant scenes

    Text-based courses are a bit different from interactive courses, but it doesn’t mean they should lack the finesse of a usual course. Add proper orientation scenes at the beginning of the course such as course introduction, author information, important instructions, and conclude the training with relevant screens such as course summary, final exams, end of course instructions, and so forth.

    Use proper naming convention for your files

    Name your course material well so that you can easily locate them in your authoring tool. Similarly, properly named files allow students to refer to them without wasting time. Use file versions to avoid duplication in search results.  Here’s a sample file name for reference: Lesson name_Topic Name_File number_v01.pdf

    Check the hyperlinks

    When working with PDFs, always ensure that all links in the documents are working properly. Visit each link and update incorrect or broken links to websites. This also applies to all the links mentioned in the “Additional Information” section of the course.

    Use fonts wisely

    Course authoring tools usually come with standard font types, styles, and sizes, however, in text-based courses, all of these elements are dependent on an author’s choice. Use standard font types such as Helvetica, Bodoni, Garamond, and New Times Roman to improve the reading experience of your course PDF’s. Choose dark colors such as black, blue or dark red, so that the learner can read them easily online and in printed format.

    Keep the content alive with interactivity

    Keep your learners attentive throughout the courses by following heavy content with engaging elements such as short videos, activities, short quizzes, and games.

    Last, but not the least!

    Text-based courses are an excellent source to help your learners build their knowledge. Effective use of instructional design coupled with efficient course authoring software can easily convert offline training content into an exciting online course. What are you waiting for? Author a course today!

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