5 tips to get your online learning environment right

5 tips to get your online learning environment right

Learning is a cognitive function. It requires the brain to work in complex ways. To maximise that functionality, the brain needs a conducive environment in which to work. Here are 5 tips for your online learning that can enhance that learning functionality, and hopefully improve outcomes in the process.

1 – Positive reinforcement

It’s no surprise that we work better when we’re motivated. Praise is a big part of it, but we’re talking about more than a pat on the back here. Praise comes in different forms:

  • Reward – what advantages are available for successful completion of a course? Is it expected and accepted as normal? A kind word at the end of a course helps but that’s unlikely to motivate. Can learners earn a kind of ‘frequent flyer miles’ for their successes? Are they celebrated anywhere? Are significant successes highlighted by the people that matter?
  • Learning to learn – not all learners will have had a successful time in school/college. People bring their personal baggage with them into learning environments. So, get to know who might have difficulty, lack motivation or self-esteem. Support them – help them “learn to learn”. They will be sensitive, so develop subtle approaches – peer mentoring perhaps? Or ‘learning to learn courses’ that have extra bonus points.
  • Support systems – how do people know to complete courses in your organisation? Via formal, impersonal emails? Instantly you’re turning people off that way. Make the emails personal – include a success from a previous course perhaps? Explain why the course is important to the learner (and the organisation too). Then, send a personalised reminder perhaps? After completion, another email – thanking them for their work and the successful result. And automate the emails to save you time!

2 – An organisation-wide learning culture

“We’re all in it together!” The worst kind of learning is when it’s done TO you. That environment instantly creates negativity, resentment and poor motivation. When learning is done WITH you, people feel they are part of something bigger, they realise what they are learning contributes to that bigger picture.

A learning culture also must be democratic (again, learning WITH you!), so there needs to be ways for learners to feedback to managers/instructional designers. Avoid open-ended answers. Structure them so the feedback is constructive. It’s called ‘Learner Voice’.

As mentioned in point 1, support systems in a learning culture includes peer mentors who can support those who may struggle. But it works the other way too – what broader expertise exists in the workforce? Can support topics be authored into an online training course by these people?

3 – Clarity

There is a danger in all learning resources that while the author understands it, the learner might not. A few considerations:

  • Does the course need a jargon buster to give greater access?
  • Are questions and instructions easy to understand? And who says so?
  • Does the course flow naturally from one page to the next? By flow, we mean, does the learning naturally lead in to the next activity? Is it obvious how it achieves the learning objective all the time? Again, who says so?
  • Are you considering the level of education of your audience? Is the vocabulary pitched at the right level?
  • Are you considering potential disabilities or special needs of learners – and do you know what needs exist in your organisation?

4 – Interactivity

Passive learners do not learn as much as active learners. Fact.

Knowledge gained from passive learning does not remain in the long-term memory for long. Fact.

Active learning requires interactivity. It’s the nearest elearning gets to having the tutor there to work with you. There can be various interactions built into the authoring software, but we’re talking beyond that:

  • Video or audio files – not just to be watched but followed up with questions to test what has been understood
  • Hyperlinks to websites for further investigation/reading – also with reaction activities
  • PDFs or documents linked to the course which provide in-house information
  • Wikis produced in-house that offer advice, support and information
  • Pictures and cartoons that amuse – don’t forget, humour is a form of interactivity!

5 – The learning environment – in a broader context

WHERE do learners complete their courses in your organisation? Because that space tells them how important the process is by what’s around them. If they’re stuffed into small, windowless rooms and given half an hour to do the course – they’re being told that learning isn’t valued. Put them in a space which is pleasant, friendly and helpful – the message is very different.

What are conditions like? Loud and noisy? For some people that distraction impedes learning (though not all!). Others find silence stressful. In a learning culture, these factors will have been investigated and decisions taken to create the right environment for most people. If they’re sat at computer screens – are they sat correctly? There are health & safety factors to consider here.

 

So, to summarise, learning is a complex cognitive function. It’s rendered so complicated because there are other aspects of the brain that want to make contributions. It’s important to get your online learning environment right. Getting as many of these factors ‘right’ for learners will improve their learning experience – and hopefully the outcomes that follow.

Phil Parker, Learning Development Consultant, Nimble Elearning 

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