The Effectiveness of Learning – Design by Respect

This post follows on from The Effectiveness of Learning – A case to bury “TNA”.

One of the important issues that tends to get lost by developers in the excitement of creating e-learning content is some reflection on the design from a user (learner) perspective.

We hear and read about “user directed learning” and “learner centric content” with the intention of developing material the learner can relate to, feel comfortable with and interact with to achieve their learning needs.  In many cases the result is good.  But in many other situations the content looks and feels like it has been written by a developer for a developer, not a learner.  This is often evidenced through things like inappropriate assumptions about pre-requisite knowledge or the inclusion of a complex model that is well understood by the developer, but not necessarily by the learner.

There are some fundamental learning design issues here (like learner characteristics not adequately researched) that should always be avoided, but I have often expressed concern to developers about a general lack of respect for learners and have encouraged a respect focus.  To assume knowledge and to make inappropriate assumptions is poor design, but there are other examples of how some consideration and respect for learners, who are people from a variety of backgrounds with pre-conceived opinions about e-learning, can enhance an e-learning experience.

  • Consider the learning environment.  Will the content be accessed in a busy open plan office with the typical medium to high levels of “office noise” present?  If so, consider the reliance placed on audio sequences, and if it is practical for the use of head phones as, for example, the learner may need to answer unattended phone calls.
  • Consider the time available for learning.  Does the learning environment favour short, sharp modules to enable rapid outcomes and a feeling of achievement?
  • Consider the general age of the learners and their level of comfort with the computer.  Generally speaking, the older generation like to have a rationale and a reason for the learning, an outline of the path they will be taking, what the expected outcome will be and what the assessment will consist of.  On the other hand, and in very general terms, the younger generations are looking for compact modules, without too much fuss and bother.  They tend to be keen to find out what they need and then move on quickly to what’s next.
  • Consider the level of English language skills the learners may have.
  • Consider the capacity of the PC they may be accessing the content with.  File sizes may need to be kept small due to low-bandwidth in rural areas.
  • Are there people with sight or hearing or other impairments who need to access the e-learning?  How can they be respected in terms of their special needs and circumstances?
  • Are there remedial paths built into the content to assist those who have a need, and accelerated paths to enrich those who move through quickly?
  • Do you provide pre-assessments to avoid a person, who knows a specific subject reasonable well, wading through material unnecessarily?  Is that not respecting the knowledge they hold?

When you think about “learner centricity” – think about it from a respect perspective.  It can make a big difference.