What Works for Online Learners

Author: Michelle Russell       

One of the big takeaways of the social-media era is that it is no longer possible to be in full control of your organization’s content. Giving your audience a lot of flexibility in choosing the information and products that are relevant to them — as well as the ability to access them how and when they want to — is becoming second nature.

But when it comes to e-learning, there is a big, counterintuitive caveat, according to learning expert Will Thalheimer, Ph.D. Research shows that giving learners more control over the way they navigate through an e-learning program doesn’t help their retention in the least, Thalheimer writes in a recent post on his website.

“Our job then as e-learning designers is not to give up control to our learners,” he writes, “ but to design a learning experience that uses proven research-based techniques to guide learners through an effective repertoire of learning experiences.” That doesn’t mean it’s never a good idea to give learners control, he adds, but that it shouldn’t be an overriding design principle.

Online courses are an increasingly popular way for organizations to extend and augment their audience’s conference learning experience. But, for organizations that have been focused on live events as their primary education channel, there’s, well, a learning curve when it comes to transferring education online.

So what does work? For expert advice, we reached out to Nina Huntemann, Ph.D., director of academics and research for edX,  which was founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012 and offers more than 1,300 mostly free online courses. Here are four tips to encourage learners to get the most out of their on-screen experience. Look for more from Huntemann in our February issue.

Deliver content in short chunks — it leads to better retention.

Discussion forums are one of the best ways to keep people engaged — edX team members often “seed” conversations to encourage communication.

Use a progress bar — showing learners how they are doing at each stage of the course keeps them focused on making progress.

Pepper the conversation — with a provocative video or interesting challenge for which there are no easy answers as a way to encourage participation.


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