Imagine you are a teacher or trainer of some kind. You come into your classroom for the first time, and what do you do? You take note of the students—even subconsciously, you note their age, how enthusiastic they are, you recall or ask their level of experience and what their background is. As you begin to teach, some individuals may ask you more questions than others, some may struggle with one topic more than another, and you adjust your behaviour to help them.
Why do you do all of that? Isn’t it simpler just to stick with a generic lesson?
Simpler, sure, but certainly not more effective. The best learning is one that suits the educational needs of each individual learner. Each person in your classroom will have different needs and to give them all a good experience, you adjust your teaching style.
In person, this is pretty straightforward—but is it possible in an online environment? How can you adjust your teaching style when you’re not in front of them doing the teaching?
Personalisation in eLearning is both possible and vitally important. Being generic in your online course can not only make the learning difficult for those who participate, but risks turning them off the course altogether. If their learning needs are not met, they will likely learn nothing.
But how can you make an online course —without a teacher present to receive feedback from the learner— personalised?
There are two levels at which you can make a course personal:
- At an audience level
- At an individual level
Both are important to keep in mind when building your online learning, so let’s go through each in turn.
Personalising something for your audience means to tailor the structure and content of the learning to the particular demographic of the group of people who will be doing the course.
To do this effectively, the key is to really know who your learners are. One of the best ways to do that is to simply ask them. Consider:
- What is their average age?
- What are their educational and career backgrounds?
- How much experience in this field do they have?
- How comfortable are they with technology?
Even the kinds of questions you ask should be adjusted for the needs of your learners or business.
Once you have some answers, you can start to build a picture of your ‘typical’ learner. One good way to do this is to create Learner Personas (you can use the learner persona template in the Learning Canvas). From there, you can begin to alter your course to make it more intuitive and helpful for the kind of learner you are addressing.
As an example: if your course is directed to people who are fairly familiar with their field, you won’t need to spend time going over basic definitions with them. However, if this is a course for people who are new to the industry, it’s important to cater to their needs—give them a strong foundation, show them where they can find resources, and so on.
Of course, you may be building a course for a very wide demographic of people with different backgrounds and experience levels, and in that case, there is only so much you can do to cater for everyone. That’s why knowing the ways you can personalise an experience for the individual is equally as important, and we’ll go through that now.
It’s pretty simple to see how you can alter an online course to suit the needs of a group—but can the same be done for each individual? That seems to be a more complex task. After all, you’re not going to make a separate course for each person.
The real question here is: can you make the same course a unique, tailored experience for each learner?
Sounds hard, doesn’t it? But there are a few things that you can do to make your course an experience that caters to the learning needs of each participant.
One of the best ways to see if the content is really getting through to the learner is to use questions to assess their understanding. It’s an excellent way to break up information and reinforce knowledge by getting the learner to use said knowledge actively.
But at this point, different learners will likely have different levels of understanding. Some might’ve swept through the content with ease and answered the question in a second, while another might still be grappling with the ideas.
Providing feedback for both correct and incorrect answers is one way of personalising the learning experience so that the needs of each individual are catered to.
A learner who got the question right on their first shot may not need a whole lot of support, and it’s good to give them the option of simply moving on once their knowledge has been tested. But for the learner who is still struggling and may have gotten the question wrong, giving them a more detailed explanation of the right answer and directing them to external resources that could help them is a great way of filling that deficit in their knowledge.
This can also be done by implementing a ‘Try again’ feature to some questions. This gives learners who are struggling with a concept an opportunity to practice until they can get the question right, while still allowing those who found the question easier to move on without hindrance.
Similarly, giving the learner an opportunity to reflect or answer based on personal experience is another way of making their learning journey more unique and personal.
Something as simple as asking the learner whether they’ve heard of a certain concept before, and giving them appropriate feedback in response, can be incredibly helpful for addressing their own individual learning needs.
Allowing the learner to take the course at their own pace can be a great way of personalising the experience. There are a number of ways you can do this, such as by breaking up the content with natural stopping points that allow the learner to choose whether they want to continue now or take a rest.
Another way to let the learner set the pace is to provide additional resources at some points. It may not seem like much but giving the learner the opportunity to look deeper into topics that interest them or that they have trouble with can be an excellent way of addressing their individual needs.
There are plenty more ways that you can personalise a learning experience, either on an audience level or on an individual level. Some of these tips may be relevant to you, and some may not—and that’s ok. What you use to personalise an experience will depend on who the learning experience is for and what its purpose is. Yes, even the building of an online course will be a personalised experience for you too.