Some time ago, I was cast as a chorus member in a musical. I could sing and read music, but I didn’t have any experience dancing. So, I was a beginner for one set of skills, but not for the other. Everyone had to learn everything together though, despite the fact that we were at different stages of learning. Trying to create one-size-fits-all eLearning can lead to similar difficulties. When learners feel alienated or overly frustrated it can actually impair their ability to learn. Let’s look at the differences between how new and experienced learners process information.
I wasn’t the only person without a background in dance. But our choreographer didn’t seem to realize that her instructions to “grapevine” or “step ball change” didn’t mean anything to us. So we asked her to slow down and show us how to do each step piece-by-piece. To her, each of the instructions conveyed a lot of information because she knew what they meant. We didn’t know, so they weren’t detailed enough for us.
When you create eLearning for beginners:
- Spend time showing them how they’ll benefit and get them motivated
- Start by showing them the pieces first, don’t jump right into the process
- Go over the big picture first, then dive into the specifics
- Show every single step and sub-step, don’t leave anything out
- Give audio or text explanations with process visuals, beginners aren’t likely to see the connections right away
- Use line drawings instead of photos for directions and diagrams, this makes it easier to focus on the essentials
- Key takeaway: Beginners need to build mental models from scratch. They start with individual pieces and then slowly learn how they’re connected to one another.
For Experienced Learners
I wasn’t the only person with a background in music. So we had to grin and bear it every time the music director slowed down to explain where we were or what the symbols on the page meant. He was doing a good job, since some of the chorus members were new to this. Still, we wanted to skip to the hard stuff. We already knew this, so there was too much detail for us.
When you create eLearning for experienced learners:
- Don’t spend too much time on benefits and motivation, they already know the value
- Don’t bother showing the pieces
- Give a brief reminder of the big picture, then dive into the specifics
- Only show the exact parts they need, they already know the context
- In most cases you don’t need to explain how a process visual works, an experienced learner will recognize familiar concepts
- Give them less instruction and more opportunity to practice, they’re interested in application
- Key takeaway: Experienced learners already have mental models. They don’t consciously think about the pieces, their minds jump straight to the connections. They want to see how new information fits with, or changes, their existing knowledge.
One-size-fits-all eLearning may sound like a good thing, but that isn’t always the case. Consider making two separate courses if your target audience has mixed skill levels. That way you can get the experienced crowd back to work faster and avoid confusing the newcomers. Have you worked on or taken a course that would have been better if it was tailored to different skill levels? Leave your thoughts 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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