What is Microlearning?

Microlearning is “A short piece of learning, that addresses a specific practical skill, that is just ‘long enough’”.

So what’s the big deal about microlearning? Why are organisations investing time and resources into it? What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned workshop or eLearning module? There’s nothing inherently wrong with a workshop or a self-directed online learning module, they both serve a purpose. Whether you utilise one or the other depends on a whole number of things which is a debate for another time. We’re just interested in the ‘why’ of microlearning. The simplest answer is: we have terrible memories.

Back in 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus did some research on what he called ‘the forgetting curve’. The forgetting curve indicated that without some form of reinforcement over time, we forget a large percentage of what we have learned. For example, you attend a day’s learning workshop and after 4-5 days you have forgotten 80% of what you covered. That’s a pretty big loss of new information!

To combat this, researchers have proposed that learners should use the ‘spacing effect’ to assist them in remembering what they have learnt. The spacing effect is the phenomenon whereby learning is greater when studying is spread out over time, as opposed to studying the same amount of content in a single session. That is, it is better to use spaced presentation rather than massed presentation.

Researchers such as Will Thalheimer have taken this concept a step further and proposed a learning technique called spaced repetition that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material, in order to exploit the spacing effect. By having a spaced review of something we have learnt over time – less of the learnt content is forgotten.

So, does microlearning fit into this idea of spaced repetition? Yes, it does. Microlearning allows us to provide short review pieces that allow a learner to embed what they have learnt over a period of time.

Best practice microlearning in the workplace:

What has best practice shown regarding corporate learning that might gives us more information about why we could use microlearning?

  1. Microlearning is no good if it’s too short. People can’t and won’t engage fully. That’s why it’s impossible to give a time limit to microlearning, and part of the reason why our definition says that the learning should be ‘long enough’. That may be 3 minutes or it might be 10. The learning still needs to grab the learner’s attention. What’s in it for them? Why should they care?
  2. Content must be able to ‘stand alone’ It’s not just breaking an existing program into smaller units. This turns the training into a ‘start/stop’ process. The learning becomes inconsistent and fragmented, and there is the added effort on the learner to remember “where am I up to?” and “what did I review last time?”
  3. Workers have limited patience – they want to be able to finish a task and move on to the next one in a reasonable time frame. If they feel something is bogging them down and preventing them from getting on with their day, they will get frustrated and negative towards it fairly quickly.
  4. Even if they have more time for a task – it generally won’t happen – interruptions continue in the workplace because they have their ‘real jobs’ to do! Projects, customers, clients, meetings, communications etc. all are clamouring for their attention.

When microlearning keeps these practices in mind it can be effective and not add any additional burden on the learner. Heck they may even enjoy it!

What is and what is NOT microlearning?

Microlearning is NOT:

  • Chunking, breaking down, and ‘to be continued’ – Microlearning has to stand alone. If you’ve just chunked down a full program into smaller pieces with a ‘too be continued’, it’s too fragmented and too much of a cognitive demand for a learner to remember where they left off. Chunking down a 20-minute video into ten 2-minute videos just provides an increased annoyance factor of ‘what did I watch before?’ and ‘which video am I up to?’ Both questions eat into their small window of patience.
  • Video only – It could also be a job aid, a scenario, a couple of quick questions, a podcast, a mini module etc.
  • Less than 5 minutes – It could be if you discover that 5 minutes is ‘just long enough’, but time should not be the deciding factor.

Microlearning IS:

  • Just in time (not ‘just in case’)
  • Short and specific
  • A single focus – One idea/objective/concept/behaviour.
  • Immediately applicable – no theory/no extensive history/no backstories.
  • Available for the learner to access on their In other words, accessible on any platform – phone, desktop or even tablet, available at work and at home – what suits them?
  • Easy to find – not buried in the depths of your LMS/Intranet.
  • Great for review, practice or extension, all of which fit into spaced repetition well.

Check back soon to read my other posts on how to build microlearning with Articulate tools and how to use Birch Learning Platform for microlearning.

eLearning Tools Empower Your L&D Experts

One of the biggest concerns for organisations adopting an eLearning approach is that it will devalue the learning experience and overwhelm learners with poor quality programs. But we believe the exact opposite is true.

Instead, eLearning tools get your subject experts back on the front foot and delivering their expertise directly to those who need it. It removes complex, overly technical and long winded development from the equation. It allows your specialists to easily develop programs which are tailored specifically to their learners’ needs. Being directly engaged in the course development and design is great motivation and leads to a better quality course and better results.

Here are some benefits of having your L&D team take the in-house eLearning approach:

  • They know your audience and they know what works. On aggregate this leads to better outcomes.
  • Ease of use for those who don’t have a sound knowledge of IT. (although they still need to know how to structure a good learning experience!)
  • By making minor updates themselves, their courses can stay current whilst keeping costs down.
  • Speed of development means fewer resources are required both in terms of time and expertise.

Training courses like our Certified Articulate Training allow teams to trial and evaluate authoring tools. Here, teams can play around with these tools without paying for them first, and learn how to structure a course so that it’s both meaningful and engaging. Additionally, course participants will:

  • See more clearly and from the learner’s perspective having attended a course themselves, they will get a much better feel for what works.
  • Be exposed to a wide variety of approaches. Methods and techniques are changing so fast.

What are your views on eLearning tools? What benefits have you seen? What concerns do you have?

Ten Ways to Design eLearning That Makes Sense

When I tell people that I make my living as an eLearning Designer, some people have a blank look on their face. So I usually ask ‘Have you ever done an online training course at work?’. And the response is usually ‘Oh yes, you write those courses do you?’. This inevitably leads to a discussion about what it was like learning online and whether it was a worthwhile and interesting experience. But more and more, I have been asking ‘Did the course make sense?’. It is a simple question, but it is ultimately one of the most fundamental questions to ask when measuring the effectiveness of an online course.

In the classroom setting, teachers and trainers have the advantage of asking the learners questions like:

  • Is that clear?
  • Does everyone understand that?
  • Are there any questions?
  • Would you like me to explain that again?

In other words, when we are training face-to-face we can check that the learners are keeping up and understanding the learning material.

How can we do a similar thing in eLearning? If we use a blended approach, learners can complete an online course or module, then meet face to face or in a webinar to check understanding and engage in discussion. This is probably the ideal situation for many learners.

But here I would like to focus on those courses that are designed purely for online delivery. In this case, the onus really is on the eLearning Designer/Instructional Designer to create a course that makes sense. We need to make sure the learning experience is meaningful and that learning objectives are met.

It may help to imagine that you are the teacher or trainer standing up in front of the class. What instructions do the learners need? What is the most logical way to present the learners with information? How can you explain something as clearly as possible? These are all useful questions to bear in mind.

Here are ten ways to design courses that make sense to learners.

  1. Always include a navigation screen at the start, even if you think the learners have done eLearning before. The navigation screen should have clear and simple instructions so any learner can easily progress through the course. By making navigation easy, learners can focus on the course content.
  2. Free up navigation. Make sure learners can easily go back to previous screens if they need to revise any material for a better understanding.
  3. Pay attention to the layout of each and every screen. Avoid cluttering screens with too much information. The screen should be pleasing to the eye and designed to draw the learner’s eye to the most important information.
  4. Draw on the experience of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Many of them have experience teaching the material face to face, and so you can ask them questions like ‘What did the learners struggle to understand the most in this section?’
  5. Include a glossary. Never assume that the learners will understand jargon, technical terms or acronyms. The glossary should be comprehensive and explain key terms in plain English. I like Articulate’s Engage Interaction Glossary because it places it at the top of every screen for easy access.
  6. Include regular quizzes or case studies to check the learners’ understanding of the content. Instead of having one huge test at the end of a course, it is better to have shorter tests at regular intervals throughout the course. Regular tests and quizzes are a good way for learners to measure their own understanding and build their confidence.
  7. Give learners the option of finding out more information if they need to. You could include a box on some screens saying “Want to know more? Click on this link to learn more about …..”
  8. Provide a contact person for questions. If the learners do have questions, is there someone they can contact? For example you could include the email address of the training manager within the organisation.
  9. Ask another person to check the course to see if it makes sense. If you have access to proofreaders or quality controllers, they can point out any content that is unclear. Alternatively you can ask a pilot group of learners to go through the course. Ask them specific questions such as ‘Was there any content that didn’t make sense?’
  10. Engage in continuous improvement. Even when you have published and released your course to learners, there is still the opportunity to gather feedback and make improvements to the course. You could include a survey asking learners if there was anything they found unclear. This is a great way for you to keep learning about the learners’ perspective and to remind yourself that you are designing courses for real people.

Looking for more ideas to design your eLearning courses, check out our Certified Articulate Training and eLearning Design Essentials workshops.

colour digital learning

Using Colour to Communicate in Digital Learning

Colour is important to the visual experience. It’s a powerful tool because it can change our mood. Think about a recent advertisement that grabbed your attention. It may have motivated you through the bold red colours it used, or it may have calmed you by using cool blue shades. Alternatively, you may have perceived the red as aggressive and perhaps the overuse of blue as cold. This also applies in digital learning.

Colour creates an environment that fosters learning as it plays a significant role in memory performance by enhancing the absorption of information and facilitating the thinking process. Using the right colours can influence the attention, attitude and feelings of people as they learn.

When designing your next course, this Colour Wheel of Emotions might come in handy as you choose your colour palette.

digital learningSource: https://www.aalabels.com

Blue for thought

Cool colours such as blue tend to have a calming effect. Blue is good for promoting high levels of thought as it calms learners as they’re presented with complicated or overwhelming information. Although blue is essentially a soothing colour, it can be perceived as cold and unfriendly if you use too much in your design. Try balancing it with other colours.

Green for concentration

Green is refreshing and easy on the eye. Being at the centre of the colour spectrum, it’s the colour of balance and is an ideal choice for maintaining learner concentration. Studies have found that consumers spend more time shopping in stores that are painted green. If you want to enhance your learners’ concentration levels, then go green!

Red for attention

If you want to direct your learners’ attention to a specific point or boost their motivation, then go with red. Red evokes a sense of urgency. According to a study on the effects of colours, red makes us vigilant and helps us to perform tasks where careful attention is required. Although red is attention grabbing, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive, so consider when and how you place it in your course.

Orange for stimulation

Since orange is a combination of red and yellow, it’s a warm colour, great for activating thinking and memory and, also preventing boredom. Try using orange particularly with content that can be perceived as dry and dull. It can be used to highlight key information and communicate activity. However, when using orange consider the brightness and saturation. Too bright, and you’ll give your audience a headache!

Tips for using colour

  1. Combine colours cleverly – don’t go overboard with colour. You’ll lose the effect of the colour palette if you use too many colours and your learner won’t know where to focus.
  2. Be consistent with the colours you use – this will help the learner to navigate the course.
  3. Select legible colour combinations – pay attention to the contrast between the text and background as it’s vital to the legibility of your content.
  4. Have a purpose for your colour palette – consider what mood you’re trying to achieve in your content. If you’re presenting your learners with complicated information, use blue and if you’re working with dry subject matter, consider using orange to engage.

I can hear you now asking about colours and company branding. When we design our courses, yes, more often than not we do face some limitations because of company branding guidelines. However, understanding how colours are perceived should make it easier for you as you choose the colour palette or accent colours as you work with the branding guidelines.

References

Adams FM, Osgood CE. A cross-cultural study of the affective meaning of color. J Cross Cult Psychol. 1973;4(2):135–156. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3743993/

Colour Affects. 2017. Colour Affects. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.colour-affects.co.uk/how-it-works. [Accessed 31 July 2017].

Nicole Eberhard. 2017. The psychology of colour and its role in e-learning. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hubblestudios.com/psychology-of-colour-role-in-e-learning/. [Accessed 31 July 2017].

Karla Gutierrez. 2017. The psychology of colour: How do colours influence learning? [ONLINE] Available at: http://info.shiftelearning.com/blog/how-do-colors-influence-learning. [Accessed 31 July 2017].

HumanNHealth. 2013. Effect of different colours on human mind and body. [ONLINE] Available at: https://humannhealth.com/effect-of-different-colors-on-human-mind-and-body/243/8/. [Accessed 31 July 2017].

Enhance Digital Learning Experiences with Video

I love a good vid. In this age of Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now and YouTube, you can be pretty much guaranteed to find something you want to watch that is engaging and entertaining. Pretty much any interest you have can be ‘googled’ and located not only for entertainment purposes but also for learning. Want to learn how to build a deck? There’s a vid for that. Want to learn how to cross-stitch? There’s a vid for that. Want to learn how to use photoshop? There’s literally millions of videos on how to do that! How about how to take a better picture? Yep you guessed it. There’s a vid for that.

Practically anything you want to learn these days can be located in a 3-5-minute video or series of videos. So why would you want to sit through an eLearning module that goes for an hour and a half? If you had the option to complete a 1 hour eLearning module on building a timber deck, compared to a 5-minute video which would you choose? I know which one I would choose.

Unlike a traditional presentation of information where you read about a procedure, view some diagrams or pictures about it, and then trying to apply it in a real situation, video enables you to see, listen and review application all in the one package. I can see how someone is holding the hammer while nailing the decking timbers, or how they are checking everything is level with their spirit level, or how they are marking out their measurements.

Video is an extremely powerful learning medium, because it gets a lot of information across in a short period of time, and the viewer is engaged through sight, sound and a ‘real life’ situation. The success of websites like YouTube are a testament to the popularity of video and show how this medium can be used effectively in a learning environment. So, what about our eLearning modules? As developers, what are some ways we can use video in our modules to capitalise on the learning power of the medium and provide an engaging experience?

Provide a personal touch
You can add a short video to an induction module welcoming new starters by the CEO, Executive team, HR team, direct manager etc. Great to put a face to a name! Also makes it easier for the new starter to know who they are looking for if they need to find a particular person. An induction module we created for APG & Co. included a personal greeting from the company’s CEO, welcoming the new starter to the organisation.

Observe a Process
The process might be an interpersonal one, showing an example discussion around a customer service encounter, or a performance management session etc, or even how to use a product.
For example, a module we put together for the Department of Primary Industries around how to put on and take off Personal Protective Equipment when doing a site inspection.

Another example is one we created for NSW Health Get Healthy Program which allowed learners to observe a process and then answer questions about what was done well, and what could have been done better. Check out the 15 minute brief health check demonstration topic.

Case Studies
Another great way to use videos is to play out a case study. Rather then the learner read through a document describing the situation, the learner is able to watch it ‘live’ as the situation unfurls, and how the situation should be dealt with as best practice. For example the team I worked with created a series of videos for a financial institution to cover of the best practice way of completing a personal loan for a customer. This included all of the must ask questions required to process the loan as efficiently as possible, and showed the learner all of the expected legal obligations they needed to cover off while completing the transaction. The feedback was it was invaluable for the learners to see the required behaviour modelled, and it assisted them in understanding the various requirements.

Another example from our APG & Co induction video around ladder usage and safety. What was quite a graphic video allowed the learner to see the consequences of falling from height, and what sort of safety precautions should have been in place to avoid it. The module then went on to discuss how APG & Co. manage ladder safety.

Scenarios
What about a ‘choose your own adventure’ branching video scenario? The learner watches a situation occurring, and in various places the video pauses and they need to make a decision. When they make a decision, the next video shows them the consequences of their decision, and may prompt them to make further choices with other consequences. It is those choices and consequences that provide the learning experience, and assist the learner in gaining the new knowledge required.

Video can be as simple or complex as you like
It all comes down to your experience and the resources you have available. Start small and build to bigger and better engaging scenarios as you get more comfortable with producing video and as resources become available.
Have fun with it! You don’t need to be Hollywood to create great learning videos, with good instructional design you can create video on the cheap that is effective, and has the learning impact you are after.

Watch this video. It’s more involved with more professional production values, but both are used effectively to engage the learner and get them involved in the story. When you are starting out with video keep in short and sweet but visually exciting for its 2-3 minutes, don’t just use a talking head – boring! Get your visual design hat on. A great example of this is the videos produced by Commoncraft – short and visually engaging while explaining quite involved concepts.

To learn more about enhancing your digital learning with video watch my recent webinar here.

Now take a look at some ways we can use video in Articulate Storyline to create interactive and engaging learning experiences.

The Importance of Good UI in Digital Learning

I’m a huge fan of cooking shows such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules and one of the expressions they use when judging dishes on these programs is that people eat with their eyes. What they mean is that the presentation is the first thing people see which creates an impression even before they’ve tasted the food. This analogy is much the same in the world of digital learning, as people can be turned off just by the look of an eLearning module or LMS interface.

The User Interface or UI refers to both the look-and-feel and functionality of the eLearning module or LMS menu. This means that your colour palate, navigation, images, icons and layout are all contribute to the overall UI. A well-designed website is easy to use and requires no instruction thereby minimising the amount of extraneous cognitive load on users. The same should apply to digital learning because if people are frustrated due to a lack of intuitiveness, it will take away from the objectives of the piece. The UI is not just making the screen looking pretty, it’s a tool to guide people through the learning experience.

Here’s some tips for improved UI design:

Make the Navigation Clear
Make sure it’s obvious what people need to do next. How to they move forward? If they need to click on all objects before moving ahead, let them know otherwise they may think there’s a problem if the module won’t advance. Also, remove any items that are not needed. One of my pet peeves is when I see a previous button on the first slide of a module. If something isn’t needed or doesn’t do anything remove it!

Make it Familiar
Many people who complete eLearning modules use the internet at work and home so are used to certain elements that are used in website design such as a ‘X’ used to close a window or blue, underline text for a hyperlink. Use these same standards in your eLearning as people are already familiar with them.

Consistency is Key
My colleague Matt Blackstock has written some great posts about making your visual design C.R.A.P. otherwise known as using Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Applying these principles will also improve you UI design. Some examples of consistency include keeping navigation elements in the same place across your module and making clickable objects (such as buttons) the same style, so one colour if the button is active and another colour if it’s inactive or been clicked on.

Don’t forget Mobile
If your eLearning will be viewed or your LMS accessed via mobile devices, it changes things when it comes to UI. Screens are smaller, and interactions are performed using fingers so keep the design free from too many elements and make sure all items can be operated via mobile devices.

Test, Test and Test
It’s always good practice to test your work both as you build it and at the end to ensure everything works the way you intended. When testing, you should always do the opposite or try a different way than you intended and see if everything still works. If you can, organise a pilot group of testers watch them as they use your module. Don’t forget to test in different browsers and devices too.

One final point is that it’s best to apply good UI design during the build phase as it is much easier than trying to go back re-design at the end.

What are your tips for good UI design?

Compliance doesn’t have to be boring

I’m sure you’ve experienced this situation before. When you mention mandatory compliance eLearning you’re greeted with a sigh and can see employees automatically disengage. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can turn your compliance training into an experience that employees actually want to complete.

Here are some tips:

  1. Instead of just focusing on the policies and highlighting what’s contained in each, engage employees by focusing on when the policies need to be followed and why they matter. Provide examples of what could happen if they don’t follow the policies. There are consequences that occur if policy isn’t followed – the consequence can be the opening of your training. This is how you can get employees emotionally engaged.
  2. Your training can list many policies and procedures or only highlight a few, but in either situation, can employees actually apply what they’ve learned in the real world? Instead of a knowledge assessment at the end of the training, why not involve the employees throughout the training through relevant real-life scenarios?
  3. Make the training convenient. Everyone is busy and the demands on employees is on the increase, so consider “Just-In-Time” compliance training. Provide resources that employees can access at the moment of need. If resources are readily available at the point of need, employees are more likely to retain the information. They are using the information and acquiring the skills when faced with a real-life situation on the job.
  4. Make it mobile friendly. Everything is mobile, so compliance training should be mobile too. Provide employees the opportunity to access the training when it suits them. Also, try to avoid cognitive overload and make the training bite sized (especially for mobile).
  5. If possible, make it social. Use social media groups and online forums where employees are invited to post questions and ideas and upload content. Get the discussions happening and incite a collaborative environment. Two heads are better than one!

I’m sure there are many other ways that we can create compliance training that isn’t met with a sigh. When tasked with creating compliance training, I try to think of myself as the learner and take it from there.

Using Adult Learning Principles in Digital Learning

When developing digital learning content, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the learner.  Two essential questions to consider are:

  • ‘Who are the learners?
  • ‘What will motivate them to learn?’

The tools today are packed with features to make learning exciting and easier to use with templates ready to get you started quickly. But for those of us designing courses for adult learners, it’s helpful to understand adult learning principles too since this is not an automated function of any tool.

Malcolm Knowles pioneered the study of adult learning (called andragogy) in the 1970s, identifying the following six adult learning principles.

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adult learners like to be respected

These principles are an excellent summary of how adults learn.

PRINCIPLE 1: Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

According to research, “adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them”.

Adult learners like to feel a sense of control over their own learning. Online learning gives adults the choice to log on and learn at a time convenient to them. But what if they log on, and then have no freedom to navigate through the course in their own way? If possible, I like to give learners options to move around the course freely. It is best not to lock down the navigation which may lead to frustration and impede the learning process.

It can be argued that some learners will just click through to the end without reading each screen. To address this problem, I recommend putting in a Case Study or Quick Quiz at the end of each section to check their understanding. This will encourage them to go back to previous screens and take a closer look if they need to.  You could lock the Quiz or Test so they have to pass before progressing. For more information about navigation options, read Tom Kulhmann’s post on the Rapid E-Learning Blog.

But what about if the client asks you to lock down the navigation?

Some managers want their staff to click and read every item on a screen before progressing to the next screen. The good news is that self-directed learning is not just about navigation. If you have to lock down the navigation, there are other ways you can encourage self-directed learning. An important guideline is to lead the learner toward inquiry before supplying them with too many facts. Facts are often presented in the form of bullet points but this may not be the best way to facilitate learning. In fact if bullet points are over-used, it is a sure way for the learner to switch off. Instead try creating a real life problem (case study) that the student has to solve for themselves. You can supply a few facts or resources that they have to draw on to solve the problem. Then provide guidance or feedback after they have submitted a solution. In this way the learner is motivated to learn within a meaningful context. The learner has to think for themselves—and remember, adults like to solve problems and think things through for themselves. It is more likely that they will remember the information if they have had to apply it to a realistic workplace scenario.

PRINCIPLE 2: Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

Even if you do not personally know the learners you are designing for, you can be sure that as adults, they have a wide range of knowledge and experience to bring to the course. Try to draw on this experience from time to time in the course.

When I start designing a new section in a course, I like to ask the learners a few questions to draw on their pre-existing experiences. By drawing on the learners’ current knowledge or experience, you are orienting them to the new topic and making the course more personal.

This example is from our Equal Employment Opportunity course. Near the start of the course, I asked learners to think about two questions: “What does EEO mean to you?” and “Have you (or someone you know) ever been discriminated against in a workplace?”.  I inserted a green box for the questions with the title ‘Reflection’. The same green box format appears several times in the course and asks the learner different questions for reflection. This is a good way to acknowledge their experience and by doing so, show them respect.

PRINCIPLE 3: Adults are goal oriented

Adult learners need to have a goal to work towards when undertaking online learning. Some adult learners undertake online training by choice. They already have a goal, for example to change careers or get a promotion. Other learners do an online course because their boss has told them they have to. In both cases, adult learners like to know how they will benefit from doing the course. In the first few screens they should be able to answer the question “How will doing the course make my job/life easier?”

As eLearning designers, we need to convince the learner that the course will be worth their while. Although clear learning objectives are a start, there is more that we can do. For example you could open the course with a scenario that they could realistically face in their workplace. Then ask “Would you know what to do in this situation?”. The idea here is to identify a gap in their knowledge which helps to motivate the learner to fill the gap. In other words, do the course!

As adult learners practice new skills, they need feedback about how they are progressing toward their goals. The timing of feedback is important: immediate feedback facilitates learning the most. The longer the interval between performance and feedback, the less likely it is that feedback will have a positive effect on learning. In eLearning we can provide feedback to an adult learner immediately after a skill has been performed. Using a tool like Articulate Storyline , its easy to provide feedback by question or at a deeper level by each individual response

It is also important to acknowledge goal completion; for example ‘Congratulations you passed the test’ or ‘Well done – you have completed Section One of the course’. Another option is to use gaming elements by awarding badges. This kind of encouragement gives the learner a sense of completion and satisfaction.

Principle 4: Adults are relevancy oriented

Adult learners are usually time-poor. Whether they are undertaking the course at work, on the train, or at home, typically there are dozens of other things they could be doing with their time. So it is important not to waste their time with unnecessary information or irrelevant screens.

When I am selecting course content, I ask myself “Will this help the learner achieve the course objectives?”. If the answer is yes, then it is included. If the answer is no, then I leave it out. Sometimes it is helpful to print out the course objectives and keep them next to the keyboard or on the wall in front of you.  By keeping the course objectives at the forefront, you are more likely to keep on track with the most relevant course content.

In addition, adult learners want to see the relevance of what they are learning to their own experience. Always choose images that you think the learners will be able to identify with. For example if you are designing a course about Workplace Bullying for the mining sector, choose images of miners, mine sites and other environments that the learners will be familiar with.

Case studies also need to be relevant to the learners’ experiences. In some cases you might have to talk to a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to gather ideas for realistic workplace scenarios. The more you can relate the content to the everyday experiences of the learner, the more likely they are to see the relevance of the course and engage with the learning experience.

Principle 5: Adults are practical

Adult learners like to apply newly-acquired knowledge in practical ways. They prefer to be active participants in the learning experience. That’s why there should be plenty of interactivity in eLearning courses. Quizzes, surveys, challenges, discussions, research projects – all of these practical activities help to facilitate learning.

The desire for interactivity is not much different from child learners—however there is one important difference: adults need to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills in their working life. In other words, they are undergoing training that will help them in practical ways to perform their jobs more effectively.

What does this mean for eLearning designers? It means you should write in a very clear, precise and direct way. Instructions must be crystal clear so learners can easily follow them. Avoid overly formal language that will only alienate the learners. Follow the principles of plain english.

It means the course should include plenty of practical advice that learners can implement immediately. Tips are an excellent way to do this. By sprinkling several practical tips throughout the course, it breaks up the content and brings the focus to a very practical level. I suggest using a Quick Tip throughout the course.  It brightens up the course, by breaking up content and allows learners to follow expert advice.

Principle 6: Adult learners like to be respected

I think this last principle actually sums up all the six adult learning principles. Put yourself in the shoes of the learner, take care in your eLearning design, ask questions about their own knowledge and experience. Things to consider to avoid disrespecting your adult learners include restricting the navigation, repetition of warning messages, narrating on screen text word for word, poor graphic design.

‘Respect your learner’ is an excellent mantra for any teacher, trainer or course designer.

If you’re want to learn more about using adult learning principles in eLearning then consider our Certified Articulate Training and eLearning Design Essentials course.

learning styles

Learning Styles in eLearning

Learning design is all about designing the right learning for the right audience, catering for different learning styles and maximising the opportunities for effective learning.

Effective learning design helps create engagement, and leads to emotional and intellectual connection with content to build practical, valuable skills which can be immediately applied in relevant situations.

A learning style describes the way that you, as an individual, prefer to learn. There are many models that claim to analyse individual learning preferences. Some take into account your personality, others your emotions. A popular one, the Honey and Mumford Learning styles inventory, is based on the way you approach new learning experiences.

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford developed their learning styles system as a variation on the Kolb Learning Cycle model.  For example, when buying a new gadget do you?

  • read the manual
  • try pushing all the buttons to see what happens
  • find someone to explain to you how it works
  • watch others using it.

Although many people exhibit clear preferences for one of these styles most have a combination of two or more. The benefit for those supporting learning of knowing learners’ preferred styles is that learning experiences can be tailored to maximise their impact.

Activists: Their philosophy is: ‘I’ll try anything once’.

People who prefer the Experience stage of Kolb’s cycle, ‘Activists’, enjoy involving themselves fully and without bias in new experiences. They enjoy the here and now and are happy to be dominated by immediate experiences. They are open-minded, not sceptical, and this tends to make them enthusiastic about anything new.

Strengths

  • flexible and open minded
  • happy to have a go
  • happy to be exposed to new situations
  • optimistic about anything new and therefore unlikely to resist change
Warnings

  • tendency to take the immediately obvious action without thinking
  • often take unnecessary risks
  • rush into action without sufficient preparation
  • get bored with implementation/ consolidation

 

Activists in eLearning

There needs to be plenty to look at and with video and audio segments as well as animation, activists won’t get bored.  The experience isn’t passive, activist learners will be clicking around exploring conversations and taking quizzes and exercises as they work through the material, giving them the opportunities they need to discover new experiences and place themselves at the centre of their learning.

eLearning also helps activists to guard against their weaknesses. By trying out new ideas in the safe environment offered by a well designed eLearning framework they can learn about the risks inherent in situations, and discover the benefits of planning and preparation.

 

Reflectors: When they act, it is part of a wide picture which includes the past as well as the present and others’ observations as well as their own.

People who prefer the ‘Review’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Reflectors, like to sit back to ponder experiences and observe them from many different perspectives. They are thoughtful people who like to consider all possible angles and implications before making a move. They prefer to take a back seat in meetings and discussions. They enjoy observing action. They listen to others and get the drift of the discussion before making their own points. They tend to adopt a low profile and have a slightly distant, tolerant, unruffled air about them.

Strengths

  • thorough and methodical
  • thoughtful
  • good at listening to others assimilating information
  • rarely jump to conclusions

 

Warnings

  • tendency to hold back from direct participation
  • slow to make up their minds and reach a decision
  • tendency to be too cautious and not take enough risks
  • not-assertive, they are not particularly forthcoming and lack ‘small talk’

 

Reflectors in eLearning

Reflectors can take information on board in bite-sized chunks or work through larger sections before taking a break. This allows learners to think about what they’ve discovered, looking for examples in their own lives, and forming their own views before returning to the Module. There’s no rush, and having a system that remembers how far the learner has got so they can return directly to the last topic they studied is beneficial. A Learning Journal facility allows learners to jot down notes as they go along, which they can return to later.

eLearning can help reflectors to make the most of their learning style, building confidence in their skills and knowledge at their own pace, allowing them to take more informed decisions independently.

 

Theorists: They prefer to maximise certainty and feel uncomfortable with subjective judgements, lateral thinking and anything flippant.

People who prefer the ‘Conclude’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Theorists, adapt and integrate observations into complex but logically sound theories. They think problems through in a vertical, step-by-step logical way. They assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories. They tend to be perfectionists who won’t rest easy until things are tidy and fit into a rational scheme. They like to analyse and synthesize. They are keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking. Their philosophy prizes rationality and logic. This is their ‘mental set’ and they rigidly reject anything that doesn’t fit with it.

Strengths

  • logical ‘vertical’ thinking
  • rational and objective
  • good at asking probing questions
  • disciplined approach
Warnings

  • restricted in lateral thinking
  • low tolerance for uncertainty, disorder and ambiguity
  • intolerant of anything subjective or intuitive
  • full of ‘shoulds, oughts and musts’

 

Theorists in eLearning

eLearning needs to have modules with clear concepts and theories which can be tested and remembered. Where additional research may help theorists to gain additional knowledge, reading lists should be included to assist theorists to explore concepts in greater detail. Key thinkers on each topic can be identified so that learners can anchor their knowledge to academic research. By including models, acronyms, and clear logical concepts well designed eLearning gives theorists the structure and clarity they need. Warnings can be included to identify the limitations of theories and their application in the real world, helping theorists to build their knowledge whilst maintaining their ability to take a contingency approach.

 

Pragmatists: Their philosophy is: ‘There is always a better way’ and ‘If it works it’s good’.

People who prefer the ‘Apply’ stage of Kolb’s cycle, Pragmatists, are keen on trying out ideas, theories and techniques to see if they work in practice. They positively search out new ideas and take the first opportunity to experiment with applications. They are the sort of people who return from management courses brimming with new ideas that they want to try out in practice.

They like to get on with things and act quickly and confidently on ideas that attract them. They tend to be impatient with ruminating and open-ended discussions. They are essentially practical down-to-earth people who like making practical decisions and solving problems. They respond to problems and opportunities ‘as a challenge’.

Strengths

  • keen to test things in practice
  • practical, down to earth, realistic
  • business-like get straight to the point
  • technique oriented
Warnings

  • tendency to reject anything without an obvious application
  • not very interested in theory or basic principles

 

Pragmatists in eLearning

For pragmatists, the content should be arranged in clear, easily identifiable modules designed to deal with everyday challenges. Within each module the material can be accessed at an element level, allowing pragmatists to access the sections they need to address the issues they are facing now. Practical examples of how to apply new knowledge are included, along with handy downloadable forms and checklists to enable easy application.

Exercises allow pragmatists to take the concepts and profile themselves and their teams against them, and strategies for dealing with individual situations are included to keep the learning real. By including case studies and anecdotes well designed eLearning enables pragmatists to better retain and apply information about concepts.

Direct vs Consultative Digital Content Development

There is a multitude of ways to do a simple task, like measuring a piece of string, you would expect there to be an exponentially wider array of approaches to a more complex task, like developing a piece of digital learning content.

And there is. We see this building content for clients and for the clients we consult with and the clients we train. We are reminded every day that everyone is different, everyone experiences the world in a different way and everyone has different expectations around the areas of a project that should carry the most weight.

But fundamentally, even though there is this very wide array of approaches, success of any digital learning project is directly related to the development of understanding between the different parties involved. Through the sharing of information and open and honest communication. This understanding takes into consideration all the elements of the stakeholders, their knowledge, skills, experiences, preferences and environment, and adjusts itself around these to attain the best relationship and result. Having acknowledged that there are intrinsic and unique aspects of all eLearning projects we must also mention there are some broad components of content development that allow us to categorise the type of development required and adjust our approach to that development.

We have chosen the analogy of Direct v’s Consultative because it best describes the differences in working with the expectations of a client.

Let me clarify what I mean by each term:

  • Direct – the content is designed and built based on the clients stated requirements, the developer uses their experience to adapt existing concepts to suit the content being built ie. the developer makes the call about interactivity or screen layout as they develop.
  • Consultative – all aspects of the content build are noted, considered, discussed and agreed upon prior to and during development ie. the client at all times has the final say in any development decisions before they are implemented.

At B Online Learning we have aligned our development approach around these concepts. We find this gives us the range we require when it comes to providing our clients with a solution that best suits their knowledge, skills, experience, budget and environment but ultimately the solution will match the expectations of the client.

Here are some examples of projects using both models to further illustrate the concept.

Direct Project

A direct approach is where the content to be developed into eLearning is known and understood by the client and/or a client side SME.  They may already have a storyboard or the content is already in an easy to convert format. Also, the look and feel and the degree to which the information is to be redesigned to be interactive can be discussed and agreed prior to the commencement of work. Typically this approach suits an information push out project.

Of course, things can change during development and because of this we anchor all development in a 4-stage review model that keeps the client informed and provides them with specific feedback windows.

Typically these stages are:

  • Visual template and interactive concepts
    • Review and feedback from client
  • First full review of the whole course end to end
    • Review and feedback from client
  • Second review of the whole course end to end (and sign off on external media scripting, e.g. professional voiceover)
    • Review and feedback from client
  • Final review and sign off

Consultative Project

The consultative approach uses the same 4-stage development and delivery model, however it overlays a significant amount more client consultation and discussion to commence the project and throughout the development process.

Projects of a considerable scale (10+ content modules), content projects where the actual content is unknown or partially understood by the project stakeholders and projects that require a considerable investment in purpose built media elements such as video production, gamification or on screen animation usually work best as a consultative project. Typically this approach suits a project aligned to increased performance goals.

B Online Learning considers factors to actively partner with the client to discuss, workshop, uncover, document and subsequently advise the client on the best way forward.

For instance, when running a consultative project we commence the project with a consultation workshop that is designed to both gather the requirements for the content to be built and to inform the clients project team of knowledge gaps that may be present and commence brainstorming the solution.

Here is an example of a basic workshop agenda (the agenda is customised to the client’s needs as identified through the quoting and proposal process):

  • Audience Definition
    • How many people and audiences
    • Location
    • Accessibility (PC, Mobile, Laptop, Apple, Android etc )
    • PC Literacy
    • Socio economic background
    • Job Roll(s)
  • Content source
    • Learning outcomes
    • Content styles that serve these outcomes
    • Existing training
    • Identifying gaps and where to source gap information – Documentation, SME’s, media
    • Preparation of missing content
      • When will it be ready
      • Who will prepare it
    • Is formal assessment required
  • Content build
    • Branding and visual template
      • Existing or develop new
      • User interface
    • Instructional design approaches
    • Media and graphic design elements
      • Photos
      • Illustrations
      • Video (existing or production)
      • Graphs
      • Infographics
      • Animation
      • Characters (production, stock photo or illustrated)
      • Professional audio
    • Interactivity
      • Level
      • Types
      • Frequency
      • Standardisation
    • Assessment techniques
    • Special content features – e.g. certificate generation, javascript
  • Delivery
    • Delivery mechanism
      • LMS
      • Weblink
      • CD
    • Standards eg xAPI, Scorm or AICC

This same degree of enhanced client contact is extended throughout the duration of the project through the use of:

  • Standard communication channels email and phone
  • Face to face meetings and review workshops
  • Web conferences
  • Shared online resource areas

As such the 4-stage development process for a consultation build could look like this:

  • Visual template and interactive concepts
    • Conduct online meeting to showcase the template design and features to the client’s project team, marketing and branding team and SME’s
  • First full review of the whole course end to end
    • Send a review link and document to the project team for them to individually review the content
    • Follow up the individual review with an onsite workshop that walks the project team through the content and discusses and combines individual reviewer changes and feedback on the spot.
  • Second review of the whole course end to end (and sign off of external media scripting for development, e.g. voiceover scripting)
    • Review and feedback from client
    • Co-ordinate members of the project team to attend the recording of these media elements to ensure the outcome is fit for purpose
  • Final review and sign off
    • Review and feedback from client

We believe very strongly that even though everyone and every project will be different, we can still provide the best experience and solution possible by providing a Direct or Consultative experience that can truly exceed expectations.

Interested in our content development solutions? Please get in touch with us.

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