9 Ways to Encourage the Adult E-Learners

Recently I spent the day at the beach watching people learning to surf.  One of the people learning to surf was a blind girl.  It was very inspiring as she learned to balance on the board.  She probably fell off of the surfboard a few dozen times before she successfully stood and balanced on it.  And when she finally succeeded she let out a cry of joy.

Learning is a funny thing.  It’s not something that can always be neatly packaged.  Real learning isn’t a one-time event (like many elearning courses) where it’s just a matter of getting new information.  Instead it’s an iterative process where you do something, get feedback to evaluate, make adjustments, and do it again.

E-learning courses are an intrusion to the natural learning process.  With good planning, it’s a welcome intrusion because we can compress time and create cost-effective and repeatable learning events.  For example, if I was training operating room techs on setting up an operating room in the real world there’s the cost of pulling a room offline for training, coordinating staff, and maintaining a sterile environment and tools.

But in an elearning course, I have a room and equipment that is always available.  If someone fails or needs more time, they have it.  That’s one of the good things about elearning.  The challenge though is to craft a great learning experience.

Adult Learners Don’t Like to Fail

Going back to the blind surfer, it takes a lot to fall down and continue getting up.  I saw plenty of other surfers give up after a few tries.  Few people like to fail and then do so publicly.  This is especially true of adult learners.

Elearning presents a great opportunity to let people fail (or practice becoming successful) in private and in a safe environment.  Unfortunately a lot of elearning fails to exploit this opportunity with our need to score and track everything.

As learners, our culture conditions us to avoid failure.  Typically our grading systems reward successful test taking more than successful learning.  Because of this, we’re motivated to pass tests and getting good scores and not always focused on the learning process.

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