Nik Laufer-EdelDec 17, 2012
I love teaching. It’s all about that “ah-ha” moment someone gets. You see their eyes light up as the revelation sweeps over them. At Learndot we build tools to create those moments.
Starting with proven research and learning best practices we designed Learndot to help make engaging and effective learning experiences. But we believe everyone should be able to make great online courses. Here are three principles we built into our learning platform which you can use to take your online course from good to great:
What do an established learning framework, a renowned Ph.D. in instructional design, and a TED talk have in common? They all emphasize that you need to start by understanding what your audience cares about in order to keep them engaged.
The ADDIE model is a popular framework in instructional design. The first step is the Analysis phase where an understanding of the learner takes place. This includes learner needs and motivations.
|In his talk “Building E-Learning That People Will (Really) Want to Use” at the ASTD International Conference and Expo in 2012, Marc J. Rosenberg spoke about the importance of considering the learner’s perspective and making sure questions such as “Why is this important to me?” are answered.||There’s a reason why TED talks are so engaging. Duarte, the Mountain View based presentation design firm teaches a methodology which asks you to answer: “What’s in it for the audience? How are you going to make their lives better?”.|
Getting learners excited to take your online course means being able to relate to their needs. Just like a journalist grabs your attention with a headline you can start your course with a thought provoking question or an intriguing statement. Having the learner know the course is for them and how it will help them goes a long way in engaging the learner. When designing Learndot we made sure this information was the first thing learners see before starting a course.
Tip: Create interest and set expectations up front by starting your courses with why the learner should care, what they can expect to learn, and how they will benefit.
“Wankat  cites numerous studies that suggest that student attention span during lecture is roughly fifteen minutes. After that, Hartley and Davies  found that the number of students paying attention begins to drop dramatically with a resulting loss in retention of lecture material. The same authors found that immediately after the lecture students remembered 70 percent of information presented in first ten minutes of the lecture and 20 percent of information presented in last ten minutes.”
— Dr. Michael Prince
Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research
What we can glean from the above is that attention spans for students sitting in a classroom is roughly 15 minutes after which retention rates drop dramatically. We also know that attention spans online are notoriously short, so we suggest aiming for less than 10 minutes. When applying these ideas to online courses we needed to find a way to break learning into smaller chunks and keep learners engaged. As a result, we designed courses in Learndot to be made up of concepts. Each concept is an easily digestible piece of learning with its own learning objective, learning material, and questions designed to engage the learner.
You likely have existing material which can be broken into concepts. Our customers have reused pieces of content from help desks, wikis, PDFs, blog posts, webinar presentations, and screencast recordings. Most documents or presentations have natural sections or breakpoints which lend to this format. If you plan what you want learners to be able to do as a result of taking your course you can then use segments of existing content which supports those learning objectives.
Tip: Break content into bite size chunks of maximum 10 minute increments.
Imagine joining a conversation midway, people are talking, and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Now imagine instead that when you joined the conversation the person next to you whispered into your ear the topic of the conversation. All of a sudden things become more clear.
Setting a learning objective lets the learner know what it is they are supposed to take away and helps focus their learning. Learning objectives also help create great online courses because they act like a thesis in a paper, allowing you to double check that all your learning material supports the single statement. Writing effective learning objectives is a hard and often forgotten step. So we’re adding prompts to the course creation process in Learndot – complete with inline tips with best practices. We also make sure that learning objectives are prominently displayed in courses and concepts.
Learners all start with a base knowledge and set of capabilities. The learning objective defines where you’re going to take them. An easy way to come up with a learning objective is to finish this sentence: “After completing this course the learner should be able to…” When we design learning experiences we experiment with the wording of our learning objectives so they resonate with learners.
Tip: State learning objectives for each course and for each important concept in the course to help learners focus on what you want them to be able to do.
We’ve looked at three principles you can use to make great online courses: engaging learners by understanding their needs, delivering learning in chunks to maximize retention, and setting clear learning objectives to help learners focus. How will you put these to use?