“Learner-centered training” has been a popular term in the learning and education field for decades. Why, one might ask, should training be learner centered? Isn’t content more important?
Of course, content is important. But if your learners speak mostly Spanish and your content is entirely in English, how much do you think they will learn? If your workers are high school graduates and your content is written at graduate student level, how much will they learn? Conversely, if your trainees are highly educated and your content is written at the 7th grade level, how soon before they lose interest?
Training that focuses exclusively on content tends to see the instructor or the online course simply as a vehicle for delivering information – more or less a “data dump.” Learner-centered training makes use of what the instructional designer knows about the learners and includes activities that are useful, motivating, and build on the knowledge and skill set learners already possess. So, when we develop online courses for Phylmar Academy, we make sure we know who our target audience is and then use that information in our course design.
Here are the five attributes we consider to be crucial to effective, learner-centered online training:
- One Size Does Not Fit All; Offer Different Sizes. In the course of identifying our target audience, we may realize there is actually more than one audience. Fortunately, it’s possible to adapt our strategy to address different levels of knowledge, skills, and computer literacy. We can develop a single course with branching, for example. Responses by trainees to quizzes and other activities can send them to branches appropriate for their level of skills and need. Alternatively, separate modules can be developed based on differing levels of knowledge, skills, and/or responsibility.
- Empowerment. In addition to training that management decides is required or desirable, some companies permit (in fact, encourage) workers to select additional courses or modules based on their talents and interests. This kind of “elective” training empowers workers by respecting their desire for new skills, knowledge and advancement. Empowered workers are more likely to be productive and motivated, and to stay with their employers.
- Engagement. When courses are flexible enough to be learner-centered, trainees feel more comfortable. They are more engaged (especially through interactive activities) and less easily distracted. When trainees find the course material relatable, there is a better chance for successful learning to take place.
- Practice, practice, practice. Adult learners learn best by doing. Of course, in-person training can offer learners the opportunity to practice real-life skills, but in a class of 15 trainees or 25 trainees, how much actual practice can each individual attendee receive? In an online course, through interactive activities that simulate real-life challenges, trainees can practice the skills over and over and in different formats or with different variables. The world of online training continues to evolve and now can include audio, closed captioning, video, and even virtual reality to enhance the experience.
- Feedback and Improvement. The advantage of an online course is that feedback can occur often and without being disruptive. Throughout the course, knowledge checks, quizzes and other types of feedback can give the trainee immediate information to assess if he/she is learning the material or needs to go back and review. This is almost impossible in an in-person class.
High quality, well-developed online training includes an evaluation to assess course effectiveness with regard to meeting learning objectives. This feature allows for near-immediate editing to improve the content or activities. Course changes can be easily “road-tested” by asking a few reviewers to try out and comment on the changes, something that is almost impossible with in-person courses. (There will be a future blog devoted to getting the most out of evaluations.)
Keeping these attributes in mind increases the likelihood that you will meet your course objectives and that employees will have a more enjoyable, memorable learning experience.