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3 Useful tips about adult learning to help with experience design

Before the health crisis of 2020, e-learning had already become the norm in many organizations. However, other types of learning interventions often complimented it. Whether these were workshops, team projects, or team-building exercises, there was almost always some kind of behavioral reinforcement after a training program ended.

Once most employees started working from home, things changed drastically for learning specialists. Not only were they faced with the necessity to design much-needed learning programs really fast, but there was also the question of gaining genuine engagement and making the information stick.

Read more: How to drive up learner engagement in digital training

3 Useful tips about adult learning to help with experience design

When the shift happened, learning specialists were in a pickle. Finding the right information and format was no longer enough. They had to move from being primarily content designers, focusing on the “what” of a learning unit, to acting as experience designers.

The focus was on the adult learner, with their specific needs and preferences. Exclusively virtual learning had to go beyond good completion rates. It's hard to measure learner engagement, but it's crucial for the success of any e-learning program. Here are some key experience design aspects to consider:

  1. Focus is the key to adult learning

    Children learn all the time and from pretty much every experience they have. Parents are often dumbfounded when their kids pick up and remember bits of information from conversations or events. They're like a sponge, absorbing everything.

    However, they can't solve complex tasks yet. When it comes to formal learning, adults have more discipline, but it’s still important to concentrate on focus.

    Going through e-learning material while skimming over e-mails on your phone leads to missing relevant information. Trainees have to be encouraged and motivated to focus on learning and leave everything else for another time.

  2. Building habits

    The main goal of corporate learning is usually behavioral change. Employees need to develop new habits or change current ones. This does not happen simply by providing the necessary information, regardless of how well you design content.

    Take healthy eating as an example. Most people know what they should be eating, yet anybody who managed to shift to a healthier lifestyle will tell you it takes a lot of repetition and positive habit reinforcement. In other words, if you want people to change something, they will need practice.

    Since we're talking about e-learning, the practice environments will also have to be virtual, but they need to exist, as does the motivation to use them to the fullest.

  3. The adult brain needs stimulation

    Let's look at our typical online behavior. Clicking and scrolling are second nature by now because it's part of implicit learning. We'll need to search for new stimuli somewhere else.

    Our brain is built for survival and efficiency. We can’t possibly assess and remember every piece of information that comes our way, so we have plenty of cognitive shortcuts. While these come in handy in general, they tend to be rather detrimental to learning. Our natural tendency is to skim through content and store only what we subjectively think is important.

    However, these cognitive shortcuts are not great at genuinely assessing the present or future relevance, so designers must think of ways to overcome them. Suggestive imagery that is changing with a high enough frequency is one of the most effective techniques.

Closing thoughts

There is a lot of new information coming from the field of neuroscience. The human brain is fascinating, and specialists still have a lot to uncover about its functioning. L&D professionals and designers have a lot to gain by tapping into the neuroscientific findings and applying them to content creation.