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Why content design is critical for all types of learners

Getting children and teenagers to learn is a pretty difficult thing. Regardless of the season, there always seems to be something more fun to do: playing Marco Polo in the pool while sipping very unhealthy sugary drinks, watching sports on TV, carving pumpkins, getting into a snowball fight or having chronically upset birds protecting their imaginary eggs from the no more realistic green pigs.

When having to teach adults, you’d think it would be easier. Well, not quite.

The good thing is, they will not shot snotty remarks and leave slamming the door. Most often than not, they will go through the entire learning process. But it’s still pretty difficult to make it an experience that is both pleasant and useful.

Why content design is critical for learner engagement

And you might think that when online training is on the table, engaging users would prove even harder than in a face-to-face interaction; that would be incorrect. By using e-learning in business training you can reach everybody in the company and if your courses are designed right, there is no challenge in getting them to stick with you.

Here are some tips on how to do that.

  • Go digital and micro

    I mean, make sure the learners are not stuck in front of a computer and keep it short.

    In the old days — the days of snowball fights and pumpkin carving — the library was the place to go in search of resources and wisdom. It took a lot of time and one had to go through a lot of irrelevant material in order to get to what was really of interest. Today, there is the internet and what’s great about that is: it is everywhere.

    Allowing employees to access online courses from their desks at work as well as from their personal computers, tablets and mobile phones will lead to greater engagement. In a recent study by LMS software research site Software Advice, 48% of learners said they would be more likely to use an LMS with smartphone or tablet access. Smartphones have become a huge part of our lives. We use them for communication, entertainment and weather forecasts, so learning also needs to get right in there.

    Of course, going mobile also implies designing the units in such a way as to be easily digested on any type of device. But this is a positive thing: 58% of employees would be more likely to use their company’s online learning tools if the content was broken up into multiple, shorter units. Micro-learning is not only cost-effective but also time-effective and... well... efficient.

  • Include something for everyone

    There are several types of learners out there and for an online course to achieve a high success rate, it needs to reach all of them. Including videos and clearly structured information will work wonderfully for visual learners but don’t ignore the audio component of the course as there are those who best understand and retain information by hearing it.

    Kinetic learners might seem harder to reach in e-learning as they learn by experience. However, proposing little experiments before giving out the information will allow them to try first hand how something works and draw their own conclusions. Regardless if these prove valid or not, the information acquisition will be far greater than if they just read information off a screen or hear it in a witty animated script.

    Last but not least, there is the practical bunch. They need to be showed and told how the information is relevant for their work as well as for their lives. Content can be aligned within a scenario so learners can access it as needed. A way to do it is by presenting a chapter of a real-life scenario using characters of various roles, then putting in icons for different role groups. This way learners can select the one they identify with to access information that directly relates to them.

  • Gamify the learning experience

    So kids would prefer going for Marco Polo in the pool, snowballing, watching games or blowing up biologically incorrect colored pigs rather than going to the library to learn something. Why? Because games are engaging and fun while library time is quiet and dull. Maybe adults don’t say it as openly, but they prefer the same things.

    Gamification in e-learning makes for an effective informal teaching environment and allows learners to practice real-life situations and challenges without the threat of real fail.

    In video games, the hero always gets to start over if at some level he meets a mean old purple elephant with tentacles that ends up taking 80% of his life — all right so maybe not the best example, I must admit I am not an assiduous video game player. But the point stays the same: if a certain task can be re-done it leads to a more engaged learning experience that facilitates increased information retention.

    Gamification also gives the opportunity for instant feedback so that learners can easily see what they know or what they should know. This type of clarity facilitates better learner engagement and thereby better recall and retention.

    Points, badges, and leader-boards are what make games awesome. Using them in e-learning will bring some of that awesomeness but it’s important to keep in mind that gamification is about a lot more than just those surface level benefits. It can actually drive strong behavioral change, especially when combined with spaced repetition.

So, to conclude: if you go mobile, make sure the content is designed in such a way as to reach all learner types and add that special ingredient that makes everyone want to participate — good old fashion fun — engagement will prove no challenge at all.