Three Things to Consider when Designing your next Learning Experience

When you’re developing an eLearning course, there is always an overload of “practical” stuff that you have to keep in mind. Development timelines, coordinating with subject matter experts, and making sure all the nuts and bolts are ready for the launch day of your course. 

In the midst of all the details, I like to stop and consider how I can make each course I develop more effective than the last. There’s always a new angle or strategy out there to consider. I’m sharing 3 ideas here and I hope you’ll try them out.

1. Learners need to take some time.

Twenty years ago national bestselling author, David Shenk, published a small book titled The End of Patience. On the first few pages he introduces two key issues as he sees them: The Problem with Hypertext and The Disease of Images. And, oh my goodness, today we know that in 1999, it was nothing like what it is now.

The message Shenk hammers out in this short-and-to-the-point work is that we live in a linear world, but engage in a world that has no boundaries; we forget our confines, or even that we are indeed, confined. He asks: Is faster really better? Are we much too eager to give up the technologies of the past (even though they worked well for us)? Just keep thinking, he seems to say; take time to mull things over and settle them into the appropriate spaces of your mind.

“A healthy imagination and other aspects of creative thinking are the surest signs that we’re pulling the information into our minds and interacting with it, that we’re converting the information into knowledge.” (Shenk, 1999, p7)

What does this have to do with teaching and learning?

Isn’t our universal hope for learners exactly that? To enable students to convert information into knowledge? We ask learners to think, experiment, ask questions, come to conclusions and share them. We hope they’ll see what others have to offer in the way of guidance and experience. Ultimately, we want them to come to a place where the learning settles in and becomes a part of them.

2. Be sure to build paths for interaction.

In an effort to embrace new technologies, elearning developers have created a virtual classroom (VC) using web conferencing technologies such as Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, WebEx or others. And this has been for mostly for good reasons: access, convenience, acceleration, and collaboration.  But Shank & Hyder (2019), significant players in the eLearning world, say that in our exuberance to open up the VC, we may have missed the biggest advantage it has to offer. 

Interactions, they contend, are essential for “deep processing” which leads to “application,” which lives at the top of the learning pyramid. Their advice? Take advantage of interaction and inclusion that can flourish in the VC. 

In other words, you may be missing the mark if your VC course isn’t utilizing the tools available for these key interactions: 

  • participant-to-participant
  • participant-to-instructor

“Well-designed VC instruction, aided by live communication using VC tools (such as text chat, audio chat, and polls), makes these interactions possible.” (Shank & Hyder, p47).

An example is the Whiteboard, a common VC tool, that can facilitate both of these types of interactions. ZOOM, a rising web-conferencing company who has embraced the educational world, discusses “whiteboarding” as a way to take advantage of the opportunities for collaboration and information sharing in a VC. These interactions are not lost when the session ends because the board can be saved and filed with course notes for later review or sharing.

Shank & Hyder go so far to say that once your course is developed, you should ask: “Could learners have the same experience viewing this as a prerecorded lecture?” And if your answer is “yes,” then it’s not really a best-fit for the virtual classroom.

3. Give your learners the power

Whether you design corporate training or a course for a degree program, strive to build the experience so that your learner will make the leap  from where they are to knowledge acquisition or skill development. 

In her presentation at an Association for Talent Development (ATD) Meeting Group in Michigan this month, instructional designer/trainer, Shariem Saterfield, told a group of instructional designers:

“Stop taking 100% ownership of the knowledge transfer process and start transferring knowledge acquisition to the learner.”  (Saterfield, 2019)

Saterfield went on to share three strategies for designing learning experiences in a way that allows your participants to take 100% ownership.

Add more self-study and guided learning journeys to your course.

Make learners do the work by giving them activities to complete, discussion forums to participate in, and resources to study before they participate in class. You may feel uncomfortable doing this at first (isn’t it too much to expect of the learner?) but in the end, your students will be prepared for what comes next—and have time to experience the deep learning necessary to apply what they’ve learned.

Include guest speakers and mentors in the training or course content, so that learners gain broad and practical perspectives. 

Students will increase their level of engagement when they see practitioners validating content and providing insights related to the curriculum. Exposure to actual problems and solutions that guests and mentors describe, motivates students to move from passive to active learning. 

Start building tutorials or job aids (instead of more courses) for common challenges, so learners can be self-sufficient. 

Rather than sitting through yet another training, learners can focus on a particular skill by following a short tutorial or job aid aligned to the completion of a task. The instruction can be repeated as often as needed and live as a resource for the future.

Giving the learners time, building paths for interactions, and setting students up to take responsibility for their learning are three important considerations before you start any learning design project. In my own story, (instructional designer, professor, student), I see the necessity for all three. If you aren’t already doing them, get started! 

You will honor your students by giving them the time they need for “deep processing,” motivate your students by giving them power, and keep them busy thinking and doing!

References:

Saterfield, S. (2019, September). ROI: Respect on investment: How to maximize your impact as a training organization. Presented at the West Michigan ATD Group Meeting, Grand Rapids, MI.

Shank, P. & Hyder, K. (2019. September/October). Take advantage of the virtual classroom’s major advantage. Training, 56(5), 47.

Shenk, D. (1999). The end of patience: Cautionary notes on the information revolution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

ZOOM. (2013, December) 2.5 Feature Spotlight: Whiteboarding [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2013/12/26/whiteboarding/

Author: Gwen Hersha, Instructional Designer

Gwen is fascinated with teaching and learning and loves designing ways of "doing it better." She finds joy in the everyday practicality of life: writing, teaching, gardening, and trying new things.

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