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The “one size fits all” e-learning challenge


The research has said it loud and clear for years… just like clothes, a ‘one size fits all’ learning approach is rarely a great fit for everyone.

With the increasing use of e-learning, research now highlights how this could be the opportunity to tailor learning to individual needs and increase flexibility of learning. I don’t disagree with the truth of this, I am just often disappointed by the reality experienced by many.

Higher Education and larger vocational courses tend to have wider scope than many for personalising learning. They can focus tasks on individual workplaces (there is often more generation of content by the learner rather than presentation of content to the learner). They also often include community aspects such as discussion forums as part of the course. The expectations of learner’s ability to read, write, respond and research independently allows greater options for online learning activities personalised to their situation, as does the longer timeframe courses usually lasts for.

These factors of available time and baseline skill sets of learners prove challenging to many organisations. For people in these organisations, completing e-learning provides some increased flexibility to learners as it can be accessed at times that suit. There is access to learning from different geographical areas and sometimes options for establishing connections with other interested people. Depending on available budget, there may be some tailoring of learning experiences for individuals such as through different branches of content and activity.

Challenge: How can you personalise e-learning in short duration and cost conscious training?

The best real world trainers have so many strategies that allow for personalisation of learning in a classroom setting. Surely some of these could translate across? I believe there must be ways to easily (and cheaply!) create online learning that considers the user, identifies knowledge gaps, considers previous experience and then present the learning appropriate to them?

Idea one: Ask the learner about their “size”

Great trainers ask learners questions to find out about their background, their experiences, what they want to know and why. There is so much functionality already built into e-learning software that can be used to do this. This will let learners know from the start they are not just another number moving through a course. By adding variables to different parts of the course, learners can then be presented with customised menus or options to start from different points or to access different resources or level of content. This does not need to interfere with any compliance requirements as standard assessment components could still be included. (Does it really matter how they know it, so long as they know it?!)

  1. Software considerations – uses built in quiz functionality.
  2. Cost considerations – extra time to load  content options and pathways for different options, but variable depending on what you can afford.

Idea two: Let the learners search for content

Great trainers know that knowledge is no substitute for experience, and that the things we best remember are those where we have discovered the answer themselves, often after attempts and mistakes. Having learners seek information from outside the content provided does increase challenge – maybe too much for those with lower learning or literacy levels. However as an option for some learners with the background (as identified in idea 1) this would allow them to search, find and probably learn and remember more. A guided web quest is one type of activity that is half way between the two extremes and could support a wide range of learners.

  1. Software considerations – uses built in multimedia and URL link features.
  2. Cost considerations – may actually save time developing content! But may increase load if learner generated content needs to be checked, for example by an assessor. (Again, webquest style activities balance this consideration midway).

Idea three: Let the learners make mistakes

This can work in a few ways, all of which are based on a concept that we have blogged about before (see: Learning in Reverse) where learners work through a challenge or scenario BEFORE they are loaded with any content. Branching scenarios are great for this – depending on what they decide, depends on what content they access. Similarly, a “pre-assessment” of the final assessment will lead to the same thing. The level of interaction is much higher (no click-fest!) and if the learners have the background or experience then they are not made to read what they already know.

  1. Software considerations – uses built in functionality for branching scenarios and resources, or standard assessment questions and variables to control visibility of content options.
  2. Cost consideration – setting up the branching scenarios will take more time, however not as much as developing games or simulators. Can still be done using basic skill sets.

There are so many amazing trainers and developers around – there must be a hundred more ideas and little tweaks that improve things. We would love to hear what others have done!

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