This post originally appeared on elearningindustry.com in August.
Earlier this summer, elearning professionals gathered in Portland, Ore. as part of BlueVolt’s annual LEAP Ahead conference. People from construction, government agencies, banking, and even an association for massage therapists participated in discussions, shared ideas and learned new skills to boost the effectiveness of their companies’ online training efforts.
One popular session was how to boost engagement in the virtual classroom using principles of the cognitive science of virtual learning. The session was led by virtual learning rock star (and fellow Oregonian) Roger Courville. Here were our top five useful tips from Roger’s session that anyone from any industry can start applying today to improve learner engagement and course effectiveness for their own elearning initiatives.
- The Grandma Test. Roger refers to this simple yet effective trick by challenging elearning developers to ask themselves, “would my Grandma get it?” Sounds simple, I know, but how much better would most online courses be if we all just took a step back to see if our grandmothers understand what we’re rambling on about? It’s a great place to start when you’re looking to improve learner engagement.
- Sweat the small stuff. Mobile is everywhere and most likely, your learners are interacting with your content (if not taking an entire course) on a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet. While the nuances for designing elearning courses for mobile are more than I can fit in here, the simple takeaway is: Think through the details. This is one instance where it’s okay to sweat the small stuff. For example, make sure your font size is appropriate for a mobile device and consider your choice of action words. Saying “click here” doesn’t apply to your learners on a mobile device.
- Don’t be afraid to assign homework before your online course. Have a product launch coming up? Record a product training session and archive the course for your learners. This will help facilitate dialogue and maximize learning without the distraction of having to go through all of a product’s features and benefits during the course. It also frees up time to help your learners absorb the bigger picture –such as, say, how the product performs against your competitors.
- Embrace space and time. Space and time is not just for fans (like me) of the show Cosmos. Make sure your slides are clean and not overly cluttered with bullets upon bullets of text! Make sure you give your learners room to breathe, to take in the information and process it. Facilitating discussion, taking breaks for Q&A sessions or responding to real-time questions via Twitter or chat are all great ways to boost engagement and help your learners understand the bigger picture of what you’re trying to teach – without getting buried in the details.
- Be human. Roger talks a lot about the social experience of virtual learning, which is arguably just as important as the learning content itself. Yes we spend hours creating intricate courses that fulfill all of our elearning objectives, but at the end of the day, if your learners don’t “get it,” you’re just wasting your time…and theirs. Find ways to be a real human during your course – take a few moments at the beginning of a webinar to introduce yourself and ask a few questions for the early birds on the call. Or warm up a pre-recorded video by sharing a few personal details about yourself. Break the ice. You’ll build a rapport with your learners, who hopefully, will keep coming back for more courses and actually learn a thing or two in the process.
For seasoned elearning experts and novices alike, some of these tips may seem obvious. But you’d be surprised at how many people can sometimes overlook the little things. Bottom line? Don’t ignore the power of cognitive science when designing your elearning courses to get the most out of your online training program. By focusing on boosting engagement and not just delivering content requirements, you’ll take your company’s elearning game to the next level.
Photo credit: Cliff on Flickr