Instructional designers know that creating eLearning courses for adults is a unique opportunity for teaching and learning. Since adult learners are often willing participants in training, sometimes even choosing and paying for their course to better themselves personally or professionally, it can feel like you always have a willing audience.
All you need to do is deliver the content, right? Not so fast.
Creating eLearning Courses for Adults – What You Need to Know
Creating eLearning courses for adults also poses particular challenges above and beyond the actual development, especially for designers who aren’t well-versed in adult learning theory.
If you are just starting out, we offer downloadable custom eLearning templates in our Shop for your convenience. Now, before I tell you what you must know before creating eLearning courses for adults, drop down to the comments. Tell me what you love about creating training opportunities for adults!
What is Andragogy and Why does it matter?
Andragogy is basically a fancy way of saying adult learning. The educator Malcolm Knowles has many books (several more recent) on adult learning theory that are great for reference if you’re interested in really diving into the topic.
Don’t worry, I’ll give you a quick rundown right here! Back in the 80s, Knowles published his five assumptions of adult learners, distinguishing them from child learners:
- Adult learners are self-directed.
- An adult learner’s past experiences are a resource for learning.
- The engagement of adult learners in learning increases when connected to a real-world application.
- Adult learners expect to apply learning immediately, so content should be problem-centered over subject-centered.
- Adult learners’ motivation for new knowledge is internal.
I’ll build off these assumptions and add in a few strategies I’ve had success within my own work with adult learners. This will give you a crash course on what to do (and what not to do) when you’re creating eLearning courses for adults!
6 things to know before creating eLearning courses for adults
1. The course goals and objectives
In an ideal world, in your instructional design for eLearning, you would identify the course goals before a training project even begins- but this is the real world! Sometimes, you sit down with a client or department head who has an idea for a training but doesn’t quite have it narrowed down to a specific set of learning goals. Or, they have learning objectives, but the content they provide doesn’t fit the scope.
When it comes to adult learning, knowing your learning goals and objectives is a must before you can begin to design eLearning. The learning objectives will be the driving force behind the content: both in how it’s organized and how it’s assessed.
It’s your job as the training specialist to understand exactly what it is the learners should know or do by the end of the course. Then, you can use that knowledge to drive the learning goals and objectives.
2. Why the learning is important for the audience
This goes hand-in-hand with gaining a deeper understanding of the learning objectives. Don’t just ask what your client wants their audience to know or do. Ask WHY, because you can bet the audience of adult learners will ask that same question.
Make a connection between the learning objectives and the real-life application of the skills or knowledge included in the course. Do this by asking key questions (you can do this during your project kick-off meeting) like:
- What specific benefits will learners experience as a result of this training?
- Will this training make their tasks easier or more efficient?
- What other professional benefits result from this training?
- How will the audience put this new training into practice in their everyday lives?
Once you have the answers to those questions, don’t just sit with them! Use them in your marketing of the training before it’s implemented and include them within the first few minutes of the eLearning course.
The best way to engage your audience of adult learners is by first gaining their buy-in, and there’s no better way to get learners to buy-in to training than by spelling out exactly how it will benefit them.
3. How to make the content relevant
Now that you’ve got a clear picture of how training benefits the learner, it’s time to connect those benefits to the content to make sure the audience can see how it relates to their work or goals.
While selling the connection between knowledge and learner benefits is an excellent way to start, it’s not enough just to tell adult learners, “this is important because it will help you professionally!” If the learner can’t see how the actual content of the course fits into their day-to-day lives, you’re going to lose them.
During the development process, work with your stakeholders to incorporate scenarios that reflect situations the learners would encounter during an average workday. Use the company slogan and branding in your visual design. Use anything you can that will remind the audience of their typical workflow.
4. How to use graphic design elements to your advantage
Of course, your first concern when it comes to creating eLearning courses for adults should be the content. But once you have that figured out, the next step is just as important – the visual design.
In an eLearning course, your audience will take notice of the visuals before they connect too deeply with the content, so it’s up to you to use aesthetics to deliver an appealing learning environment.
I already mentioned using the company’s branding to help your audience connect to the learning, but you can also use their logo and promotional materials for color palette inspiration, then pick just a few main colors to use throughout the training.
Keep it simple, screens shouldn’t be too loud or crowded. Bear in mind that modern learners tend to skim text, so your best bet is to narrow down the on-screen text to what is essential to understanding.
Check out my visual design blog post for more information on graphic design basics, then head over to this more recent blog on how to effectively incorporate white space in eLearning.
5. How to incorporate problem-solving
Adult learners will engage best when they’re able to put new knowledge to practice. This can be tricky with an eLearning course, but not impossible!
There are two easy methods for allowing learning through discovery in an eLearning course that I like to use. The first is a ‘show, don’t tell’ method of delivering information.
Instead of giving learners an information dump followed by a simple knowledge check, let the audience pull the information for themselves wherever possible. One way to achieve this by using realistic scenarios or case studies within the course.
My second simple way of allowing learners to problem solve within an eLearning course is by getting creative with the knowledge checks I place within the training. Engage your learners in problem-solving at the end of a module. You can do this by asking them to drag and drop information within specific categories, matching, or a fan favorite: the scenario builder interaction in Articulate.
Don’t forget, you’ve already identified how this course will be relevant to the audience once the training is over, so you can also assign some post-training tasks for the learner to complete out in the real world once the course is over.
6. How to keep things interesting without getting too techy
Just because your audience is participating in eLearning, doesn’t mean they’re all tapped into the latest and greatest technology. So, remember that adult learners have varying levels of comfort using technology when you’re designing the course.
Make course navigation as user-friendly as possible. You might consider starting the course with a quick introduction of the interface, pointing out the important navigation buttons.
Here’s another important question to ask yourself to gauge user-friendliness. Do you have to teach the users how to use the course? Are important course features hard to access? If this is the case, your course might not be user-friendly!
For example, let’s say you have a customer service course for an HR department. You wouldn’t drop that into a brand new LMS that the department has never used before.
You should get to know some basic information about your audience during your scoping meeting. Use your best judgment when designing your course!
Wrapping it all up
So, how are you going to approach your next eLearning course differently? Still have questions on how to make eLearning effective for adult learners? Head over to my Facebook community and share your takeaways or ask a question. I can’t wait to hear what you think!
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