The best marketers know their audience—what their needs and wants are, what problems they have to solve. The best teachers empathize with students, the best doctors with patients, and so on. But you get the point. Professionals who do their best work don’t contemplate their navels.
As an eLearning professional, you can only do your best work by considering students first. If you want to offer them something meaningful, then focus on them. Listen to what they tell you, intuit what they don’t. It shouldn't be that difficult if you know how their brain works. Here are some good pointers to start with.
1) Don’t Reinvent the Design Wheel
The graphic designer Jason Santa Maria was once quoted saying: “Design is not about innovation. Design is about communication. Innovation in design is usually a wonderful byproduct or direct result of a particular need. Design that seeks to foremost be innovative will commonly fall apart under its own stylistic girth.”
The idea is to avoid the temptation of innovating for the sake of innovation or reinvention. Learners simply want what works and they want you to make it easy for them to find what they want and accomplish what they want to do.
So don’t complicate things. Simplify your course and organize it around the expectations of your students. Care for usable navigation, readable fonts, and extremely useful and engaging interface. Your design should be user-friendly and user-focused.
2) Clear, brief and scannable eLearning screens, please!
Adult learners are especially busy nowadays. They juggle multiple roles—parent, sibling, spouse, worker—and all of them just want one thing: Achieve their educational goals as soon as possible.
Because their time is very limited, students are interested in straightforward information. They want the essentials, the solution to a problem, the relevant details. Complicate things and learners will likely get frustrated. Also, research has shown that learners are only able to pay attention to the material for about nine to ten minutes at a time. Anything longer than this may result to learner distraction and fatigue.
3) Offer valuable, immediately usable, and practical information… Get that wrong, and they'll disconnect.
Adult learners invest time learning because they’re looking forward to get something useful out of it. They want something valuable not only in theory but also in practice. Offer them something practical and you’ll get their attention. They’ll appreciate it if they can apply what they learn at work or in their personal lives. They’re naturally attracted to valuable content.
The question is how to enable learners see a connection between what they’re hearing and what they want to achieve outside the (virtual) classroom. Your role as an educator is to allow them to see such connection. Define goals and course objectives clearly from the very beginning. Show them how they can apply new knowledge or skills.
4) Use the same social conventions that you would use with real people.
The easiest way to talk to people or get their attention is to use their language and, more importantly, to link new information to already existing information. Start by writing in a conversational tone. It’s much more effective than a formal tone in terms of engagement. Also, this type of tone demands that you use common or recognizable words. Too much jargon or technical terms will only distract learners because they’ll focus less on the message and more on the odd word.
5) Treat Autonomous Adults Like Autonomous Adults.
Who’s in control? Self-directed learners want to feel that they are in control. They want eLearning professionals to respect their independence and capability in making crucial learning decisions. They want you to recognize their ability to take responsibility for themselves.
The challenge for instructors is to allow students to take an active role in their studies, to allow them to choose or consider several options. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Allow students to learn in a sequence that works for them. Make the course structure flexible, not linear. Include next, previous, course home, start lesson, and other important buttons.
- Allow students to control the pace of the course. Remember, adult learners play other roles too. Don’t make them drop their priorities outside the class in order to accommodate your schedule.
- Trust that students are capable of choosing their own paths. Give them several ways to access content: menu, index, search, course map.
6) Instead of static presentations, create challenges.
Lack of challenge usually bore students and turn them into passive observers. Without any meaningful challenge or goal, learners won’t see any reason to get involved with the course. They may be able to complete assignment imposed on them, but they won’t likely be stimulated by the course.
Animations are only as good as the goals they’re trying to achieve. They have to be actually engaging or mentally stimulating. Interactivity, after all, doesn’t always translate to deep learner engagement. But you can use animations to attract learners and keep them curious.