Contextual learning Then it exploded.

By itself, this sentence doesn’t say much. What exploded and was it supposed to? Why did it blow up? Are we talking about a car in an action movie, a firework, or some leftovers that were microwaved for too long? Without context the information is meaningless.

eLearning works the same way. Making your association’s learning contextual will not only help your members make sense of information, it will also help them remember it. That’s because context answers the classic questions: who, what, where, why, when, and how. Let’s take a look at five ways your association can add context to its eLearning.

1.      Provide Clear Descriptions

The first thing a potential learner sees about an eLearning offering is usually a promotion or description. That introduction should provide all of the essential information and, ideally, grab people’s attention. For instance, if you post a webinar recording the description could include the title, host’s name, date and place it was recorded, and a brief summary of the topics it covers. Even that basic context says a lot more than posting the same video and just titling it “Webinar Recording.”

2.      Use Examples

There are many different ways to use examples.  They may be the most effective and versatile tools in your context-adding arsenal. Examples provide specific details that help learners grasp general, abstract concepts. In doing so, they make the ideas easier to remember. Let’s say that an association’s eLearning explains how to fill out a specific form and stresses that it’s important to do it correctly. That’s generic. If a short story shows the consequences of filling it out incorrectly (maybe someone gets fired) that’s specific, and more compelling.

3.      Offer It When and Where It’s Needed

It might seem straightforward, but you’d be surprised how often help or learning isn’t where it’s needed, when it’s needed. Ideally, learners should be able to find the answers they need without leaving what they’re doing. Keeping an instruction manual with the machine it’s for or having a help button in an eLearning course are both good examples. Providing a contact e-mail address or phone number can also be helpful.

4.      Add Social Components

Context is all about seeing how pieces fit into the big picture. The most important context for your members is, “How does this affect me?” Discussions and comments let learners ask their own questions, look for and give advice, and share their experiences. It’s a good way to get them actively involved in their learning. There isn’t much better context than being able to ask, “But what do I do if ____?” and then getting a response tailored to your situation.

5.      Include a Familiar Face, Voice, or Quote

You want your learners to see that the information or skills in the eLearning are valuable to someone who’s accomplished in the field. Note that it should be someone they recognize and respect. Throwing in a testimonial from a random professional counts as an example, but it lacks personal appeal. You can have a quote from Dr. Smartypants that says, “Inertia is a property of matter.” But if your members don’t know who Dr. Smartypants is the quote doesn’t provide as much context. If the same quote is attributed to Bill Nye the Science Guy, and your members know who he is and like him, you’ll have their attention.

The volcano science project successfully “exploded” when the student added vinegar.

Context makes a huge difference. It can completely change someone’s understanding of a sentence, let alone an idea. Providing context for your association’s eLearning offerings will help your members comprehend the information and recall it when and where they need it. It shows how valuable the content can be and lets the learners see how it can be applied practically, sometimes even in their own lives. How do you add context to your courses? Let me know in the comments section.

If you’d like to learn more about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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