Coming back for more
It's sad but true: learning is not always fun. Meaningful courses require work and sustained focus, but whilst keeping learners engaged can be difficult, plenty of course providers have risen to the challenge.
Here are some thoughts on what they did.
This doesn't mean that an online course should be turned into a game, but it does imply that learners should be offered rewards for progressing successfully through a programme. Rewards can take many forms, but are often points, badges or numerical scores. This sort of gamification can be made more effective by ensuring the course is social: learners should have a profile where their scores or badges are displayed, and it can help to have a league table or leader board.
Learners know what they want to learn and as a rule can recognise when course content is unlikely to give them something useful to their individual wants. It is therefore important to make material relevant.
On a large scale course, that's easier said than done. Individuals want to achieve and learn a variety of different things. Designers should consider several things:
- Ensuring the course objectives are clear from the outset will allow those who are not interested to move on and choose something else, while those who are motivated will dive in with enthusiasm. In other words, filter learners at the very beginning.
- Structuring the content so that it's flexible. If a learner wants to pick and choose from topics and follow their own path, there should be no barriers to them doing so. Obviously in some cases, they will need guidance for this: a good example is the topic introduction that explains what prior knowledge they need in order to progress from this stage.
- Tailoring the content to the individual. Of course, a certain amount of customisation happens already, but adapting content to the learner remains the holy grail of online learning. A great example is found on quiz questions which are automatically adjusted according to how well (or badly) the learner is doing.
Encouraging interaction between learners
Social learning is a catch-all phrase meaning that learners communicate with one another to help, ask questions, compete, share resources or motivate others. Courses can be structured to allow this to happen in a beneficial way using features such as live chat, forums, or private messaging. Designers should also pay attention to criticisms and suggestions from learners, and can even allow participants to create their own material for contribution to a course.