Learning is a response to experience, and great instruction provides the best experience needed to learn. Learning is an unavoidable response to the information that’s around us. It happens naturally from birth to adulthood as our biological nature interacts with our experiences. Careful design of experiences can, therefore, shape learning in powerful ways. The goal for learning and development (L&D) professionals is to design an experience that nurtures each learner toward the desired outcome.
Every learner is different, so what is the right experience for your diverse group of employees? How can you improve learning experiences to meet the needs of all, or at least most, learners? You can start by centering training on the needs of each learner to access, attend to and adapt within the experience.
The first step for any learning experience is to ensure that all learners have access to it. Within the context of your performance goals, consider all types of abilities and possible individual differences. Remember that not all employees declare disabilities, and you still want all current and future employees to have the best opportunity for success.
Everyone can benefit when L&D provides accessible training. For instance, while research shows that learning styles do not exist, people do have best opportunity for success. Some people, for example prefer listening over reading — or the opposite. Some employees might have temporary accessibility issues due to an injury.
You don’t need to have every accessible element built into all training, but you should consider the alternatives and supplements learners might need and have a plan to provide them. Imagine your learning experience if you closed your eyes, turned off the sound or couldn’t operate a keyboard. What would you need as a learner in those situations? Check out the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative to learn more strategies and standards for digital media accessibility.
Once learners can access an experience, you need to keep their attention. The world is a constant barrage of stimuli. Learners must focus on specific information while ignoring all the other sounds, sights and sensations around them. Here are some tips for improving attention:
Reduce Cognitive Overload
Watch out for cognitive overload, especially in multimedia learning. You can improve learning experiences by calling attention to relevant information and removing unnecessary distractions. While you want to have multiple modalities to improve accessibility, don’t show them all at once, especially true if you have complex infographics. You might want both text and audio for accessibility, but avoid showing the text while a learner is trying to interpret the infographic.
Elicit an Emotional Response
Learning can improve with emotional association. One way to create this association is through storytelling, especially when the story presents a situation that promotes empathy in the learner. Simulations and real-world scenarios can also place the learner in an emotional context, and humor can also elicit emotion and reduce memory-impairing stress.
People pay attention to things that are new, are unexpected or conflict with their current point of view. Novelty also increases exploratory behavior and engagement. As an L&D professional, you might be tempted to repeat the same types of learning experience for the sake of consistency. But there should be a balance between consistency that helps guide the learners and repetition that runs the risk of losing their attention.
Questions can be in the form of assessments, knowledge checks, self-reflection, peer-to-peer discussions, or opportunities for learners to research and teach their colleagues. Answering questions and sharing information with others requires engagement and increases learner attention.
3. Adaptive Learning
Each learner arrives with his or her own prior experiences and knowledge levels. Adaptive learning meets learners where they are and helps ensure they have something to gain, providing relevance for each learner and improving satisfaction with the experience.
You can improve the learner experience by giving learners choices about where to start, which path to take and where to go. Here are a few ways to adapt a learning experience:
Pre-assessments and “Testing out”
The consideration is whether a learner needs training or not. It’s difficult to create a positive learning experience for learners who already know the material. Sure, they’ll go through it and do well, but they aren’t learning anything new.
Don’t confuse successful completion with learning. A successful learning experience takes someone from his or her current state to a new state, so find out where learners are starting before asking them to participate in the learning experience.
Branched Learning and Games
You can also make the experience adaptive within the training itself. Rather than designing different training for a myriad of learners, branched learning and games can adapt to a learner’s choices and behaviors to create a personalized experience.
Microlearning and Content Curation
Small learning modules and well-organized content libraries are another way to adapt to individual learners and give them control over what they learn, when they learn it and what order they learn it in. These personalized experiences help create self-directed learning journeys that are specific to each person’s skills and interests.
What your employees learn depends on their experiences. As an L&D professional, you can improve those learning experiences. Focus on the three As — accessibility, attention and adaptation — and you can make learning a great experience!