Amidst the surge of distance learning during COVID-19, we are learning the importance of providing all types of learners quality eLearning solutions, whether they be learners in the public education system, on the collegiate level, or employees of a business or organization. While this pandemic has changed and will continue to change much about our world as we knew it, there is no denying the impact it will have on curriculum and instructional design. And for those of us in the business of learning, it’s time to get hot and heavy (if you haven’t already been) on developing effective eLearning solutions that work for all learners.
It should be clear at this point that what we do in a face-to-face learning environment does not necessarily translate well (or at all) to a digital classroom. You have to (re)design your curriculum and instruction specifically for digital use if you want your course to be successful. Regardless of the age of your learners or the content you are teaching or for what purpose, by creating personalized eLearning solutions, you can better accommodate all types of learners and better ensure that your curriculum will be engaging, interactive, and effective. So let’s take a look at four components you can personalize to enhance any eLearning solution: environment, sequence and navigation, content, and intervention and feedback.
Likely the easiest and quickest way to add a touch of personalization to eLearning is through the environment. If the learning management system allows for the options of customizing themes, fonts, backgrounds, and the like, encourage your learners to personalize their eLearning environment to suit their preferences. In addition, encourage course participants to add a profile picture or build an avatar—and do the same as the instructor. Being able to “see” each other helps create and strengthen a sense of community and connection between you and your learners, as well as between the learners themselves. Lastly, try to keep a more conversational tone in your text: try using “Now let’s click ‘Done’ to end this segment.” instead of “Click ‘Done’ to end.” In addition, speak directly to the learners; don’t be afraid to use more personal pronouns like “you,” “we,” “us,” etc. Try to keep your language more informal; think: replicating how you would speak to learners in person.
Sequence and Navigation
Personalizing sequence and navigation fosters inquisitiveness and empowers learners by giving them choice and voice in and ownership of their own learning process. By creating a self-paced or self-guided learning experience, you allow learners to progress through a course in ways that work best for them. You might choose to utilize mastery pathways, which set learners on a specific path determined by their performance on a pre-assessment component. This would allow you to differentiate for multiple levels of learners while still maintaining the ability for learners to move through the course at their own speed. You can also utilize a more nonlinear approach, like the Four Door (4D) Instructional Design model I mentioned in my previous blog. This approach not only allows learners to progress at their own pace, but to pick and choose what and how they learn as they are able to freely navigate all modules, components, and resources of the course.
Two additional things to keep in mind when personalizing the sequence and navigation of a course are the ability to return/review earlier content and recognizing individual competency. First, consider allowing learners to go back and review sections they may have missed or need more time on in order to comprehend the material. Allow for multiple attempts at activities and assessments, and consider removing time constraints; this can reduce feelings of intimidation and of being overwhelmed while simultaneously boosting learner confidence. Second, recognize individual competency in your learners by allowing them to skip certain segments or modules by providing them with the option to go directly to a “Test Your Knowledge” section. This allows learners to move past areas they have already mastered and devote more time to areas where real learning needs to occur.
When it comes to personalizing content, there are a lot of options instructors can choose from, but two things are essential to how you approach your content: provide variety and make it digestible. In your course, provide a variety of activities that will appeal to all learners (visual, auditory, reading-writing, and kinesthetic). The more ways you teach a single concept, the more effective the learning experience. All learners benefit from multiple approaches. In addition, provide options for assignments and assessments and provide choice for what kind of product learners produce to fulfill these assignments and assessments. Make your deliverable content more digestible by embracing the idea of microlearning; break content up into smaller chunks and keep lessons short and to the point. Consider breaking up a large text you want learners to read by splicing in short, relevant, informative videos (or other content). Vary the media you use in order to keep learners engaged, focused, and motivated. Consider adding an element of gamification to your course or utilizing interactive content to encourage active (rather than passive) participation.
Another way you can personalize your content is by always providing instructions/directions in multiple formats (written and audio/video). In addition, provide downloadable reference guides that include key concepts for each module that students can refer to on a needs-basis. Finally, don’t forget to add a social learning element to your content: build in opportunities for discussion boards and learner collaborations, and don’t be afraid to utilize video conferencing tools for whole/small group sessions—or even one-on-ones!
Intervention / Feedback
Because it may be more difficult to detect the exact moment when learner begins to struggle with content in a digital setting, a good rule of thumb for eLearning solutions is to assess learners early and often. This does not have to occur in a formal manner (it can be something as simple as an exit slip or one-question “quiz” at the end of a segment), but be sure to build in regular checkpoints so you know when to intervene. Set manageable milestones for your learners so they can see their progress; consider using a rewards system like badges to enhance motivation. In addition to using checkpoints as a way of determining which learners need help, use checkpoints as an opportunity to provide frequent feedback. Feedback can be personalized feedback directly from the instructor, but you can also utilize automatic grading on quizzes and low-stakes activities to provide instantaneous feedback to learners. Finally, just be available to learners and be transparent about when and how you are available to assist them.
I know this was a rather long-winded post, but if you’ve made it to the end, I hope you have found something helpful or at least some food for thought as you move forward with your distance learning ventures.
Please feel free to email me to share your thoughts on this post or to drop requests for future posts: firstname.lastname@example.org ! Until next time, friends!