How to help learners get the most out of their courses?

Jan 20, 2012

I was talking with an E-Learning Heroes member earlier today who has a neat opportunity.

She's putting together tips & recommendations for folks in her organization, to help them get the most out of their online learning experiences. What advice, resources, research, and recommendations can you share? In your experience, what are the top things that learners can and should do in order to make their learning effective & meaningful?

9 Replies
Chip Ritter

This is a great question! And I'm sure there will be a ton of great advice. In my experience, as the administrator of an LMS in previous point in my life, the biggest obstacle for me was convincing employees that they had the permission to take the time out of their day to participate in the learning offered. They felt that if the learning was ILT and it was mandatory and it removed them from their work stations that it was OK. However, the perception continued that if they were at their work stations that doing anything other than the work  usually accomplished there would be considered goofing off by managers and colleagues alike.

My advice would be to clear and consistent about your messaging around permission to participate in online learning. That one has the ability and is encouraged to take time out and focus on what is being presented and to engage in it fully without fear. Allow the phone to go voice mail. Allow the email to stack up a bit in the inbox. It'll still be there and you will get the normal work done. Being able to create that mental space and attitude will allow the for a more effective and meaningful experience for the learner.

Saenna B Ahman

In our organization we have seen the most success when learners understand the connection between what they're supposed to learn, and their actual job responsibilities. For both elearning and instructor led courses, we encourage people to do some 'processing' beforehand (even if only 1 or 2 minutes) on some basic questions such as : how will this learning experience improve my ability to serve my internal or external customers, or streamline my workflow? how might it change my ability to do a great job? how will i communicate what i've learned to others - such as my mgr, my co workers, my subordinates, etc.We have some job aids, printed as well as online, that walk through these sorts of questions in a visually pleasing way - kind of like an infographic.

For longer-term courses (multi-module online training, or any instructor-led event that lasts for more than an hour or so) we have a more extensive reflection exercise that we encourage people to do. Whenever possible, it involves having trainees check in with their managers before training and after training -  to gain support, communicate concerns, and talk about any non-training issues that could get in the way of them applying the things they've learned.

So basically i guess it's mostly about helping learners become very intentional about what they are learning, and getting manager involvement whenever posible.

I know it sounds cumbersome and costly, but when done right, it is really effective because it supports and validates the actual leaerning experience... and it's a lot less expensive to spend time & effort on things like ths as opposed to spending time/money on a whole bunch of "training" that doesn't produce results.  THese ideas come from a book called the Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, in case you would like to dig in more.

Bruce Graham

@Saenna's comment does it for me - connection.

It does not matter whether a piece of learning, "e" or otherwise is about work, about a hobby a school, or even an aspirational state.

The thing that makes learning interesting is when you, or that little voice in your head,says "I recognise that", or "I want to be that".

@Chip has also raised an issue that has massive implications in our industry, and I have never ever seen anyone else really addressing it seriously on public forum - the issue of "Can I have permission to turn the phone off?" As we enter a much more virtual and socially connected World, (which also applies in "the office"), a whole set of structures, rules, norms and mores will need to be developed that allow for learning to take place, yet accept the structure and control needed to run a business effectively.

These days - looking at YouTube can still be "working". Deconstruct any "TED" lecture and you have a "How to give an effective Presentation" course without the need for coffee-breaks and an expensive hotel room.

I remember the same quandary at Oracle 10+ years ago - we looked at having small "desk flags" that you raised when doing learning!

I guess the recommendations come into 2 categories - Instructional, and Environmental. Deliver the content in a variety of styles (without looking like an advert for the the Features and Functionality of your chosen .ppt version...), and deliver it in a variety of compelling and interesting styles (whatever is appropriate) that is "real" for each and every user. Once it is "real", you have to measure the ongoing behavioural change (in direct and specific ways the Board would understand and appreciate if possible), because if you can, you can usually get sponsorship for the (managerial) effort that it will take to mebed and encourage practice of the behaviour in the organisation - therby making it have a PURPOSE in the first place.

This job is a lot harder than many people think - "Bruce - you just put PowerPoint online - don't you?

Hope these ramblings are useful.


Jeff Kortenbosch

I just ran into this post from @connectthinking and it basically describes what I do with my SME's.

Checklist of e-learning quality

There are a couple of overarching things we need to achieve when working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs):

  • Help SMEs become discerning of what quality is. We can do this by exposing them to quality e-learning examples and critiquing these as a group (see checklist below).
  • Help SMEs realize that their content as they know it (copious pages of text) cannot all be included into an e-learn. E-learning requires instructional design that will help enable learners to understand and digest the content in a meaningful and time efficient way. Typically, content from the SME needs to be culled and then carefully chunked and sequenced for inclusion into the e-learn. Learners can be educated on how to access and use the ‘detail’ (such as a policy, guidelines etc) as and when they need it.

To help critique the quality of an e-learning course, here is a small checklist:

1.     Content needs to be succinct and concise, so that it is easy to digest and interesting. To get a concept of what I mean here, have a look at Cathy Moore’s excellent Slideshare Dump The Drone

2.     Lots of meaningful activity. There should be learning activities throughout the course to help learners build confidence in their understanding of the important concepts. Cathy Moore talks about leading with activity, and then introduce the content that reinforces the activity outcomes.

3.     The visual design needs to appear organized. There must be consistent use of font, space, color, graphics and multimedia. This puts the learner at ease and minimizes cognitive overload.

4.     Navigation must be consistent throughout the course and options kept to a minimum so as to not confuse the learner on what they need to do.

5.     Graphics and multimedia are thoughtfully used to create real-life context about the topic at hand. Use graphics to reduce text burden, such as flowcharts.
TIP: Be prepared to spend 50% of your development time on sourcing and creating congruent, meaningful graphics.

6.     Attention to detail. Make the learner feel as though the e-learning has been created with love by ensuring there are no typos, that text is properly aligned & consistently spaced, there is a consistent editorial style throughout etc.
TIP: Use plenty of testers to proof your e-learning course before going live.

There is, of course, a lot more to achieving quality e-learning. However, if you are able to at least have SMEs agree to ensure they achieve these six factors, then this will go a long way towards a quality outcome.

If you don’t have quality e-learning on-hand to critique with your SMEs, have a look at some e-learning provider websites for examples.

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