So, it seems like everyone’s  going back to school… including me. I’ve been teaching college English and Humanities as an adjunct since 1991, and after last Fall, I needed a  serious sabbatical. I was questioning my ‘part-time profession.’  Standing in the shadows of those great educators that shaped my life, I  asked myself: “Can teaching online really make a difference to someone’s  life?” Not certain that I could answer that, I took a break to  re-assess.


The Great Education Debate

There’s a  continued debate about online versus instructor-led training. In the  business world, where I live and breathe during the daylight hours,  Human Resources and Training departments across the globe bemoan the  continued corporate push towards eLearning. They’ve led workshops and  in-class instruction, and they see this movement to online as a way to  improve not the quality of the education, but the economics. And I’ll  admit that I felt this way too when I began teaching online. As I  designed my courses for online delivery, I saw myself losing the  opportunity to be in the classroom, to interact with my students to  perhaps influence them, as I had been influenced. I suppose that led to  my hiatus. I was drained. In order to try and replicate the very best of  an in-class experience, my eLearning design took more and more time,  with less and less perceived personal gratification.


Student-centric learning

Let’s  try to look at this debate dispassionately. What is the goal of the educational process? To expose the learner to some content, yes, but  it’s also to: provide access to a community of learning that encourages  personal reflection and active engagement; to expose learners to  alternate opinions and perspectives; and to encourage a love of learning  that will prompt students to continue their study, even after the class  is over. Can all this be accomplished, online?

Instructors and  teachers are often natural performers. They enjoy being the center of  attention. The best classes I’ve ever attended were more “performance”  than they were instructional. And this is great. It’s a critical component of education — exposing learners to content and to someone with an enthusiastic love of learning. Do we need to lose that?  eLearning is by definition more student-focused. It has to be. Often,  there is no set class meeting time or day, and there may be no  instructor at the front of the class. So how can we create powerful  learning in a student-centric way?


Top Ten ELearning Design Tips

So here are my top ten tips to encourage student-centric learning:

1. Speak to me.

This  doesn’t just mean write second-person to the learner, but it means  doing your homework as an eLearning designer to continually evaluate the  content: “does the learner really need or want to know this?” If it  doesn’t meet that test, then it’s not student-centric.

2. Keep it relevant.

This  relates back to number 1, but warrants repetition. Continually make  connections between the content and the learner. Why should I care? What  does this have to do with me? If you are creating sales training,  answer the question: “How will this increase my sales?” This is what the  learner needs to know to keep the content relevant and engaging.

3. Tell the story

Most  of us had a high school teacher who told the most interesting stories.  I’ll bet, looking back, that’s what you remember, rather than what was  on the test. Don’t lose that. Use scenario-based instruction to create a  story of context for the content. Think in terms of what situations  would exist that would require the learner to remember the content.  Create those situations in your eLearning.

4. Encourage exploration.

As  an educator, your first inclination might be to teach everything, which  leads to boring eLearning that features lots of “click next to  continue” instruction. Instead, design a “streamline” version of your  course, with peripheral content available through weblinks and  resources. You’ll be surprised how many learners will access these and  retain more than they would otherwise.

5. Allow for practice.

The  rule of thumb in eLearning design is meaningful interaction every five  to eight screens. Even if these are only questions on the previous  topic, make sure to create opportunities for the learner to practice  applying the concepts.

6. Create community

This can  be difficult in an online environment, but it is extremely helpful to  provide forums, blogs and discussion boards that encourage learners to  connect with others involved in the class. Allow them to relate their  own stories or challenges to offer the other learners a chance to  establish relevance from someone other than you.

7. Allow for reflection.

This  is one of the most overlooked facets of eLearning. Reflection is the  process by which the learner carefully considers the content and decides  how it applies. This can be accomplished by crafting discussion board  questions, rather than answers. Have your learning community come up  with the answers, after they’ve had time to reflect on their response.

8. Adapt to learning styles

We  know that different learners have different learning styles — visual,  aural, tactile, etc. Try to accommodate these through the instruction.  Design visuals or animations that directly reinforce the ideas you are  trying to communicate. Use voice-over narration, along with text  captioning to accommodate that style. Incorporate games and activities  that will engage tactile learners.

9. Keep it short.

The  standard seems to be that moving online will reduce training time by  approximately 25%. This usually results from objectively analyzing your  content and editing what the learner doesn’t need to know. Keep your  narration direct and succinct. Streamline your delivery. Keep the  content relevant, and shorter can be better.

10. Evaluate!

So  often after designing an eLearning course for a client, I’ll ask the  training department how it’s going, and they have no idea. The ADDIE  model was supposed to be cyclical, where the “Evaluate” phase  establishes improvements that are integrated into another “Analyze”  phase. Keep a “Lessons Learned” file active during the course, that you  commit to returning to at least six months later. This will force you to  continually improve the course and keep the instruction current.


The continued debate

Which  one’s better — online or instructor-led. I was fortunate enough to  attend one of those “small liberal arts colleges back east,” so that has  been my prejudice. But in teaching online, I have students who are  single moms, soldiers in Iraq, people struggling to survive. Without online learning, they wouldn’t have access to an education at all. So  maybe that’s the greatest reason for creating the best learning  environment we can – online or in-class.

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

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