Technology-aided learning has found a strong foothold in corporate learning in the past decade or so. This success has motivated companies and professionals to identify ways of increasing the impact and effectiveness of e-learning. Their efforts could be categorized into two focus areas – technological and educative. In technology, the focus is on harnessing newer technologies to not only create better content but also improve the delivery of content. Research in education is focusing n instructional designs and learning methodologies that can be implemented to increase the effectiveness of e-learning.
In addition to these two focus areas, however, there is a third angle – the human angle – because before we identify ‘what to teach’ or ‘how to teach’, we need to identify ‘who’ we are teaching. Creating a learner profile points us in the right direction – what does the learner best responds to? The answer to this question can not only provide us the first step to delivering effective learning but also help us to find answers to the other two questions ‘what to teach’ and ‘how to teach’.
Learning styles and Thinking styles: Identify what describes your learner best
A learner’s learning style is the way he or she uses senses to learn. There are three main learning styles: auditory, visual and kinesthetic.
Auditory learners prefer to hear directions and information. They also like to discuss with their fellow learners and work well in groups. Visual learners like pictures and graphics that represent ideas. They are keen on visualizing and like to see what others do. Kinesthetic learners like the opportunity to ‘do’. They like to create models or conduct experiments. They are keen on acting out scenarios to understand concepts better.
Closely related to learning styles are thinking styles, which define how a learner processes information to solve problems. In other words, a learner’s thinking style determines how he applies knowledge or information in his work. There are four general thinking styles:
- Concrete random thinkers: These learners are creative and prone to intuitive leaps in learning. They like choices and enjoy unstructured problem solving. They are also keen on seeing the ‘big picture’ and often ignore the details.
- Concrete sequential thinkers: These learners appreciate structure and step-by-step learning. They like working with textual material and attend to details.
- Abstract random thinkers: These learners are guided by interest and emotion. They crave interaction in learning and work best in learning environments which are unstructured and active.
- Abstract sequential thinkers: These learners focus on information and facts. They love to research and have a tendency to prove facts or figures through investigation.
While creating the connection between the profile of your learner and ‘what’ and ‘how’ to teach, it is necessary to focus on giving learners frequent opportunities to learn with their preferred sensory and thinking style. On the other hand, it is also important to encourage learners to push their limits and develop a variety of learning skills. Thus, in adult pedagogy, it is the norm to use various combinations of learning and thinking styles to create the maximum appeal for the learner group. Here are some ways to develop e-learning in accordance with the learner profile:
- Create the right kind of content – This is the key to garner learner interest. Learning and thinking styles can vary greatly, so it is important that the learner has variety and the right to choose the kind of content that appeals him or her. Creating this choice is often easy – it does not entail designing separate content to cater to individual needs. For instance, audio commentary is often included in e-courses to provide the learners with suitable learning re-enforcement. Many learners, however, may find the audio accompaniment distracting while reading the content. In this case, providing the choice to turn off the audio or read the audio transcripts later can provide learning ease to learners who prefer to ‘read’ instead of ‘listen’.
- In our busy lives, it is often a challenge to find time to learn. Many people prefer to learn in small nuggets and apply this learning directly in their area of work. Keeping the needs of these busy professionals in mind, learning content should ideally be short and crisp. Using videos and infographics can reduce textual content, providing the learners an opportunity to learn quickly. But for learners who are more detail-oriented and crave to learn in-depth, downloadable documents can be made available for additional reading and future reference.
- Identifying characters within the learner group helps to create content that appeals to majority of learners in the group. Once the characters are identified, it is easier to pinpoint their learning requirements, challenges and goals. The content can align itself to the learning objectives of characters and, by corollary, the learners.
For instance, when creating a course for a leading multinational on the benefits of Employee Opinion Surveys, we developed characters within the course representing all stakeholders – the CEO, the marketing heads, supervisors, and managers, as well as the employees taking the survey. The course then went on to demonstrate the role of each player, the significance he or she has on the success of the survey and ultimately, the relevance of it all in the betterment of the organization.
- Harnessing of available technologies should be done in direct correlation with the prominent learner profiles within your learner group. Here, too, providing variety and choice is the key to success. If the majority of the learners are technology savvy, have access to mobile devices and have considerable time that is otherwise ‘unproductive’ – like time spent on commuting – then turning to mobile learning can be a wise decision. Podcasts, videos and games can be included to increase the appeal of the content and align to the strengths of the delivery device. The same content can also be made available on a variety of devices –desktop, laptop, mobile or smartphone – to increase its reach and availability. This will ensure it has equal appeal to ‘mobile’ learners as well as learners who prefer to learn at their workstations.
Sources and suggested reading: