A great learning experience is a key driver of engagement, performance, and change, whilst aiding the larger purpose of achieving organisational goals.
With the shift towards more digital learning and L&D priorities now changing in response to COVID-19, Ella Morris, Instructional Designer takes a deep dive into the importance of content and why it is the foundation of creating a great learning experience.
Here she explores how great content can gain the trust of learners to benefit the organisation, the steps you should take when creating content for digital learning, and the role psychology plays in getting the most out of your learning programmes.
Content is King
We’ve all heard the saying “content is king.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates actually titled an essay about it in 1996. Fast-forward over 20 years, and those words are truer than ever. With technologies evolving rapidly, the importance of content has massively increased. At the same time, however, the attention span of humans has reduced, bringing challenges to those responsible for the creation and delivery of content.
Producing any content for digital learning will always be a challenge and learning and development professionals will undoubtedly be up against time and budget constraints, especially given the current climate.
To produce any content worthy of being crowned King, you need to start with context.
Adding context to content involves a fair amount of groundwork but this groundwork is what sets content apart from all the mediocre content – there are several things to take into consideration regardless of time, budget and other constraints such as:
- Who is your target audience
- What are the needs of your audience
- What makes good content
- What purpose does it serve
- How will it solve a pain point
- What instructional design techniques and learning design approaches will be used to create positive, memorable learning experiences
- Are the latest technologies the best way forward or is it about mastering the basics
What is the purpose of the content?
Digital learning content is no different to any other content you consume – it has to serve a purpose, it can’t be there for ‘being there’s sake’.
Content needs to resonate with the intended audience – a learner will need to feel that they have been ‘paid well’ for the time they have given up and won’t get back.
According to Nathalie Nahai, web psychologist, content should;
- Grab and hold attention
- Provoke the desired emotional response
- Convert this emotional response into a mutually beneficial action
In the case of digital learning, a mutually beneficial action will be an employee who feels confident in completing a task or achieving a goal that is relevant to their role which will ultimately benefit the organization by more satisfied, engaged and efficient employees. But how do you get there? To create this positive emotional state, there needs to be trust.
How do you gain trust from your learner’s?
We can learn a lot from modern technology such as search engines. Using extensive research, user statistics, ranking systems (known as algorithms), machine learning and artificial intelligence, they understand their audiences need to such a level that they have become the everyday go-to for knowledge – who doesn’t ‘Google it’?
Users know that their needs will be met, quickly and using a simple and intuitive navigational design. Your learners expect the same of their learning experiences.
By ensuring the groundwork is done by understanding your target audience, their needs and creating great content and learning experiences that get to the heart of learner needs you will gain trust. In comparison, if you simply dump a suite of resources that may have been converted from old classroom training workshops or repurposed, you will simply lose learner trust and attention. Nothing will be learned or gained – losing out on the mutually beneficial actions can be cultivated from great content.
Is the newest and hottest technology the answer?
In our blog earlier this year we highlighted the following trends in eLearning for 2020:
- Adaptive learning
- Artificial intelligence & learner assistance
- Augmented and virtual reality
Most of these take a similar approach to Google in producing a tailored learning experience. They certainly have their place within the learning sphere, but they also come with their considerations. ‘Jumping on bandwagons’ must not be a practice if learning becomes diluted as a result. Also, the majority of trends such as artificial intelligence are big-budget items that are simply beyond the majority of learning and development budgets – however the intent behind these technologies of providing tailored learning experiences and content demonstrates what learning programmes and professionals should aspire to do.
In his talk at World of Learning 2018, Robin Scott, Managing Director of MakeReal VR, was transparent about the use of virtual reality as a mechanism to deliver training. Working together with companies such as EDF and McDonalds to produce successful VR solutions took time – in fact, EDF’s ‘The Prioritiser’ took 3 years to complete. Robin stressed the importance of asking several questions before considering a VR approach.
- Can it reduce business risk?
- Is it safer?
- Can it reach enough people?
- Can it help to simplify and explain?
- How accessible and scalable will the training be?
Artificial Intelligence has proven to be a successful technology in pushing personalized and self-directed learning to the forefront, albeit with a facilitative ‘nudge’ approach. The language learning app Duolingo is leading the way. Learning with Duolingo is largely up to the learner, they can do it wherever and whenever they please. They can also choose how much time they want to dedicate to learning, and that amount of time can change according to how busy that person is.
Using AI, the app can predict where learners might struggle, to help the learner succeed. For example, if a learner appears to be having trouble with possessive pronouns, Duolingo might add more content relating to that subject, or attempt to reframe the content. After completion of a task, Duo the app mascot, will be primed to give applicable encouragement ‘Your hard work has paid off’. The learner will then receive daily reminders via email to encourage ‘practice makes perfect’ and weekly progress reports. Duolingo will also be clever enough to notice periods of inactivity, using gamification tactics to ‘lure’ users back into the game.
Gamification also lends itself well to autonomous, self-led learning. Where mistakes can be made is where gamification is thought of as producing a game for learners to play. Learners are in danger of focusing too much on game mechanics rather than what they are supposed to be learning – the message can get lost.
However, you can apply game-based techniques to learning programmes. We understand how games work, and if we don’t, the rules of play are intuitive to the point that we can get by using a trial and error approach. If we don’t succeed the first time, we know how to do better next time.
Cathy Moore explains this trial and error ‘scaffolding’ approach in her Learning Zeko Scenario. The scenario presents the learner as a journalist trying to get the latest scoop on a news story – the problem is they can’t speak the language of the country they are in. How do you approach this challenge? By diving headfirst into the problem at hand and learning a bit at a time.
Through making mistakes in a safe environment, learners may pay more attention to the information that follows. We keep trying until we can achieve our goals. We learn through experience.
Gamification also presents emotional triggers to the learner that can nudge them into achieving the desired outcome. For example, rewards such as badges or bonus points can;
- Help to change or reinforce behaviour
- Provide an element of challenge and competition
- Differentiate achievement when competing against peers
All of these trends are well and good when used appropriately and effectively. But good quality eLearning must tackle the brilliant basics with vigour. Adults want to learn, it’s our job as educators and learning designers to give them the platforms to succeed. Ultimately, audiences want their learning experiences to be their Google – to feel as if they can take something away with them at any given moment, to do their job better.
Malcolm Knowles Assumptions and Principles of Andragogy state that there are significant differences in the way adults learn compared to the didactic, ‘push’ approach often used when teaching children and young people. With adulthood comes responsibility, independence and freedom of choice. Learning is no exception. With competing life demands, adults want to know ‘how will this learning make my life better?’ and if it isn’t apparent, they won’t engage.
With influence from the internet, social media and on-the-go devices, we now live in an instant gratification society. This type of ‘at your fingertips’ culture means that people are more likely to dip in and out of content at any moment.
There is a real opportunity here for ‘pull’ style microlearning. This is why microlearning has become a hot topic in the learning world, but again, it must not be used as a bandwagon opportunity. Microlearning is best suited to everyday trend content such as podcasts, video, blog posts, social learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), sometimes as a standalone solution or as part of a wider blended learning programme.
How do you give learners the ability to learn?
You’ve looked at opportunities that can potentially amplify the learning experience. You have even delved a little into the adult learner psyche to understand their immediate needs and what might work to meet these needs. How do you start to understand what’s required to provide quality content within a given context?
By providing content that gets to the point. The first part of this process is to uncover key tasks that the learner needs to complete to do their job better. Aurion’s DIF model asks;
- What do staff find Difficult?
- What are the three Interesting things you want to emphasise?
- What’s Frequently asked?