What came first, the content or the learner? Creating more relevant eLearning courses

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Our marketing intern Njoki takes a look at how established marketing and research techniques and a personalised learning experience can be used to successfully engage learners.

Whether you’re an HR manager at a well-established financial services organisation or managing the youthful creatives at a new-media company, you are essentially responsible for people. People with various perspectives, values and experiences. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures,” says Dr Bruce D Berry, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine. Younger learners will often process information in a vastly different way from their predecessors and whether or not the physical structure of the brain has evolved, thinking patterns certainly have. We explore how stepping into the shoes of your different learners to better understand their worldviews, can produce more effective eLearning content and strategies.

Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants

Significant learning differences can be observed between people, described by education writer Marc Prensky, as digital natives and digital immigrants. Digital natives have grown up surrounded by computers, smartphones and video games. Constant connection and the instantaneity of 21st-century internet speeds are commonplace to this millennial generation. Much like being born into a particular culture, they have learnt the new language easily and are native to the digital world. Then there are digital immigrants: those who went through childhood and young adulthood without the presence of digital technology. Like all immigrants, the primarily baby boomer generation have simply adapted to this new environment with all its gadgets, swipes and likes.

Digital immigrants were socialised in a different way from digital natives and as such have learnt how to use these technologies, much like a new language. While digital natives tend to be resistant to old techniques, digital immigrants often moan about how things were simpler in their day. The happy in-between would be to find ways to communicate the necessary subject matter in a way that will adopt both ‘traditional’ learning tools e.g. reading, writing, logical thinking and more ‘futuristic’ ones that include digital technology. The beauty of modern eLearning is that technology has revolutionised the methodology - the traditional. Chances are, learners’ different job roles and digital skills may mean they require more personalised course material. Borrowing from marketing techniques, we highlight how to pay more attention to the learners themselves and how their persona and experiences can help create more compelling and relatable eLearning content and thinking.

Lessons from market research

In trying to develop an eLearning course with relevant information, it can be easy to lose sight of who the consumer is. It is important to engage with learners so as to avoid one-sided conversations and provide them with more personalised training content. We can learn from marketing tricks of the trade which often borrow from psychological research. Ernest Dichter, the founding father of marketing motivational research, discovered that the key to understanding soap buyers was not to ask why they are buying a particular soap, but instead to let them sociably discuss their bathing habits and try to understand the cultural significance. He found that there were ritualistic meanings attached to the soap and in this case, that young women would take a bath more intentionally just before a date. Considering this, can motivational research techniques help develop better content for eLearners?

Shoot for personal relevance

As we are dealing with people much in the same way, the answer is yes. Rather than rely solely on the subject material to tell us what to include or disregard, we need to actively listen to the audience. In this kind of research, questions with an obvious ‘checklist’ are not always effective as people will often give glib answers that sound safe and acceptable. Therefore, rather than ask them how they expect to learn from the eLearning course, it may be better to get to know their general traits, stories and viewpoints about topics related to their learning experiences. Invite a few online learners to participate in a focus group or interviews and ask them, for example, what kind of games they loved playing as children. This can provide insight into what kind of gaming style resonates with them most and we can adapt similar gaming strategies into the eLearning material. Questions that seem irrelevant at the time provide answers that are full of insights and opinions that would otherwise be overlooked.

Essentially, regardless of the demographic and social differences between your learners, they all have certain goals they expect to achieve. Bear in mind that some of your learners are taking mandatory compliance eLearning courses and may not always be engaged in the process; therefore, we are required to learn what will motivate them to assimilate the content despite this. Speaking to them even after you have adapted their insights will help to identify potential strengths and weaknesses of the course and gives you the chance to improve it. eLearning courses should be carefully crafted with the user in mind. Though your learners may not explicitly tell you what their deepest motives for choosing an eLearning course are, listening to their learning experiences can provide a world of insight that can be translated into compelling eLearning content.

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