Although a comparatively new field, eLearning has exploded in popularity in recent years. From compliance training to university courses, learning online has proven to be convenient and genuinely effective.
Think about it. eLearning allows learners to complete their courses at their own pace, in their own place, allowing for remote learning with extreme ease (something which has become vital in the past year) and allows them to learn independently while still being guided. Even those who may have had their doubts about digital learning can’t deny that it’s had a massive impact on the learning industry, and, more likely than not, it’s here to stay.
But like any form of teaching, some common mistakes can be made when creating online learning that leads to a less effective learning experience and often negatively impacts the learner. That’s why we’re going to take a look at some of the most common pitfalls of eLearning today.
#1: Including All the Things
Imagine you’re sitting in a classroom for a lesson about, say, the impact of invasive species on ecosystems. Or at least, that’s what the class is supposed to be about. Your teacher, however, spends a good deal of time talking about subjects that only have a peripheral relevance to the topic at hand and an unnerving amount of time going into detail about how ugly cane toads are (poor things).
How well would you focus in a class like this? How much do you think you would learn?
In any form of learning, it is vital that you have a clear aim and that you focus on that aim. This is even more important in eLearning because you don’t have a teacher or trainer physically there in the room to ensure the learner is paying attention. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the course title is the only thing the course can address, but it does mean that you should do your best to narrow the content you include to that which will be relevant or useful. Nothing should be there as filler—everything should have a purpose that relates, in some way, to the main goal of the learning experience.
#2: Info Dumping
In a very similar vein, another easy mistake to make in eLearning is to throw a truckload of information at the learner and hope that it sticks. This is called info-dumping, and if you’ve ever been the victim of it, you know it is a very ineffective (not to mention painful) teaching technique.
The good news is that it’s actually really easy to remedy info dumping in the setting of online learning. eLearning gives you plenty of creative ways to break up your content so that you keep your learners more engaged. Simple things like literally just breaking up large blocks of text into smaller chunks can go a long way. You can also take it a step further by breaking them up with revision or reflection questions, independent research tasks, or multimedia content (such as videos or podcasts). The options are endless! As you can see, there are plenty of creative ways to avoid drowning your learners in content and might even increase their interest in the topic itself.
#3: Going Zero or One Hundred
If the story of Goldilocks taught us anything (other than that breaking into a stranger’s house and eating their food is usually a bad idea), it’s that extremes are rarely the best option. The principle of ‘the middle road saves many’ can be applied in many contexts and eLearning is no different.
In any sort of learning, it’s easy to fall into the traps or either making it too easy or too difficult, and both of these options have negative consequences for the learner. If the experience is too easy, not only might it indicate that you’re not actually teaching them what the course was intended to, but you also might lose the learner’s interest, since they’re not being challenged. In contrast, you can just as easily lose your learner by making the content or assessments too hard, in which case they might give up on actually trying to understand and engage with the content and just start clicking through the module to get to the end.
Striking this balance is difficult, especially since the learners aren’t with you in person to tell you whether something is too hard or whether they’re bored. But there are some small things you can do to ensure that your learning isn’t falling into either extreme. This could be something as simple as assessing the learners regularly, in ways that require them to apply what they’ve learned or consider what they might learn in future, and giving them meaningful feedback. To be even more effective, you can use data and analytics to see how your learners are really engaging with the course. These are just a few little things you can do to get you into that Goldilocks Zone of difficulty and keep your learners interested in the content.
#4: Information without Application
It’s all well and good to tell a man about fishing, but his stomach will only be filled if you give him the chance to actually try it for himself.
Learning of any kind generally isn’t done for the sake of merely knowing facts—it’s meant to have a meaningful impact on how the learner thinks or behaves, and that means applying or participating in the knowledge they’ve been given. Information without application tends to be forgotten.
This is why it’s important to give the learner ways of practically engaging with the content they’re learning. You can do this by giving them questions that encourage them to think independently about what they’ve learned or presenting them with scenarios that they might encounter in real life and giving them the opportunity to make decisions about those scenarios. This way, you’re not just providing the learner information, but you’re giving them practical opportunities to exercise what they’ve learned, which is not only more interesting but also vastly more useful.
Online learning is still a somewhat new domain, and that means that we’re going to make mistakes—we’re learning just as much as our learners are. But every pitfall is an opportunity to improve and provide higher quality learning that translates beyond knowledge to drive behavioural change in learners.