Why is learning so hard?
Why do most people perceive learning as the most boring activity? Or, worst yet, a difficult and a challenging task that is procrastinated?
Despite utilizing best practices in the design and development of an online course, learners still experience a degree of dissatisfaction. The most critical period of engaging and “winning over” learners is the initial few days of attendance. How will you capture your new learners’ attention? How will you sell future courses to them?
Stein & Calvin (2009) present three concerns of the novice online learner: technical limitations, grammatical errors in typing and separation/isolation feelings.
The inexperienced online learners need multiple support channels to encourage their participation and retention in the course. Unlike a traditional classroom, where college freshmen undergo the “sink or swim” experience that makes them scramble for balance and competence, online learners do not have the same tactic. They need ample guidance to overcome the fear of the unknown, the lack of trust and their self-esteem being in question. The first few days in an online course are critical to adapting to the online space of the new learner. Instructors and moderators can engage peers to support them in many ways.
Consequences of being bored
Boredom is a major hurdle in learning. It leads to disengagement, loss of rapport and miscommunication. Watkins (2005) in his book “75 eLearning activities: making online learning interactive” mentions productive ideas that lead to stronger online ties and the building of a community of practice.
For starters, in order to connect learners from varying backgrounds, the mentor needs to analyze the introductions they receive from each learner. Group similar learners under appropriate descriptions. For example, some learners may be working in schools, while others may be in a corporate training environment. The mentor can create “discussion groups” that learners can identify with and join regularly. Talking about concerns at work and gaps in knowledge can connect learners intimately. Mentors can take advantage of this connection by assigning them to work on group projects together. This alleviates mistrust and self-consciousness.
To overcome technical barriers, mentors can create yet another technical expert group. Here, avid technology users can volunteer to guide other learners for a few points in the course. Mentors can encourage all learners to produce an “icebreaker” video in which learners talk about themselves, their aims for the course and how they expect to apply their new knowledge at work. An online learning environment does not have to be as scary as novice learners perceive it to be!
There are several ways of escaping boredom:
If there is anything that shows in an online learning environment, it is emotions. If there is one element that compels a learner to stay on task or to complete a task, it is emotions. eLearning developers and instructional designers know this secret. The use of games in a learning environment, the gamification badges of success, the quality of feedback during activities, the use of colors and images – all contribute to affect the feelings of a learner. Think about the words passion, aspiration, determination, anxiety, regret, discouragement, confidence and even aversion – all describe an emotional state of an individual. Mentors can detect and label emotions to particular statements in general discussions and chat rooms. They can keep the environment positive by sensing troublesome as well as productive signals. The aim here is to modify all emotions into positive thoughts and actions. This can be done with the aid of positive words that include words of praise, words of wisdom, words on progress and words that set higher expectations from each learner (Cleveland-Innes & Campbell, 2012). Particularly words that address directly the learner.
The screen designed for eLearning will determine the degree of engagement and the course completion achieved by the eLearning course. Screen design should be emotionally captivating and intellectually entertaining. We outline the best practices for screen design from the Department of Learning:
- Place graphics to the left and text to the right of the screen (portrait) or place graphics so they appear at the top and the text at the bottom (landscape) of the screen.
- Present information in a top-down, left to right instructional format.
- Provide learners with the necessary information in the fewest possible steps and in the shortest time possible.
- Avoid “timed” effects. If one or more events are to happen on a screen, the learner should initiate the event when prompted to do so by the courseware.
- Address one concept, procedure, or item of instruction per screen. Screens should also maintain a consistent writing style chosen for the target audience.
- Use color consistently in text and graphics.
- Choose colors in a web-based training course to represent a clear and consistent meaning. Two distinct colors should not be used for the same purpose. Use color consistently for cueing learners to additional information.
- Colors must be compliant with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, or ethnicity when using visual elements, text, and audio.
- Use existing sources of content or media when available. Ensure appropriate copyright permissions have been obtained.
We all love a good story! Is it possible to narrate a story in an eLearning course? Sure, just make it relevant to your work context. In simple terms, create a scenario with characters that deal with a workplace conflict. Create a “hero” who solves this conflict for the characters. Include the conflict in the scenario in the form of a vignette complete with photos of real people. Enable your learners to relate intimately to the scenario. Allow opportunity for reflection and room for attitude change. As a manager for training, you can reinforce transfer of learning positively, by acknowledging and recognizing the employee. It’s not as tough as it sounds. Remember your last D.C comic? Were you an Archie comic fan? Use speech and thought bubbles as well as narrator boxes in your eLearning courses to make them compelling. You can also create a character “in distress” who is helped by the learner, by answering questions correctly.
Gamification has come a long way in establishing learner engagement. Badges and icons with positive and empowering messages/images motivate learners to collect points to achieve them. Gamification is a successful effective learning strategy (by the way, TalentLMS has this feature built-in for you). Furthermore, this strategy creates an online presence, a social connectivity atmosphere in which positive thoughts and constructive ideas are exchanged – all for more badges and points. Also, the research company Gartner predicts that “by 2015, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay, or Amazon, and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.”
Interaction features in eLearning courses lead to engaging and deeper learning. Interactivity can be provided in the form of navigation buttons and question & answer sessions between the course avatar and the learner. An advanced form of interactivity is called “adaptive learning”. Here, the course adapts to the capability of the learner. Interactivity creates a sense of responsibility in the learner. This holds especially true for instances where learners supply their names, that are used to address them throughout the course. Interactivity can also be applied in situations where informal “drill and practice” opportunities are needed to reinforce the learning goals in the course. This creates efficient learning sessions. Interactivity is a great boredom bashing tool!
Two theories are our favorite when teaching online. Constructivist and behaviorist learning theories. Think of your teaching materials complementing the knowledge schema (the pre-existing knowledge) in your learners. In order to accomplish higher level thinking, try to build new lessons on the previous ones. Prior to offering the new lesson, create a “pop quiz” in a game-like manner that literally pops on the screen: “TRIVIA: This sentence can be completed with which one of the following phrases…”. This trigger question, as we like to call it, stimulates cognitive resonance, construction of new meaning and retrieval of older perceptions of the same concept. It primes the learner to receive the upcoming information. By answering trigger questions, learners feel confident and curious about what’s next.
Another consideration for constructive thinking is knowing the lifestyle or favorite activities of the learner. Work context and future aspirations also provide ideas for the medium/scenario through which you can present new material. This notion actually flows into the behaviorist learning theory. Learners are motivated to stay on the activities that they prefer. Games for recreation and that lead to immediate transfer to work context are top desired learning environments.
Presenting lessons in a game-like manner motivates learners to complete the task. Interactivity features (especially in a storyline) that explain the concept and encourage immediate recall through casual questions are also a favorite in online learning environments. Use a combination of these strategies to spice up your training courses and keep boredom at bay!