If I were a gambling woman, I would wager that nearly every training you have taken which you have actually enjoyed was loaded with learning strategies to keep you engaged. The inclusion of good learning strategies into the learning design can take a learning experience from a snoozer to a winner.
Let me ask you something, “What does a goldfish and your learner have in common?”
If you guessed, “a short attention span!” you earned an A+.
Learner attention spans are getting shorter and shorter in the digital age. Check out this article by Phillippe Wampfler if you would like to learn more about short attention spans. It provides some good insights into causes and solutions.
Heck, paragraphs aren’t even paragraphs anymore. Not really, anyway. Have you ever noticed that blog posts like this one often have really short paragraphs with lots of white space and images?
It’s not because we don’t know how to write posts using the standard 3-5 sentence paragraph. It’s because attention spans are shorter than they used to be and a lot of text looks too time-consuming to read.
So, a short paragraph it is with lots of headings and bullet points and numbers and images.
Short attention spans aren’t just true for articles, unfortunately. Your learners’ attention spans are short, too. To compensate for shorter attention spans and to keep learners engaged in the learning episode, as learning designers, we must include learning strategies into the learning design.
In this post, we will discuss 7 learning strategies that can help your learners stay engaged and maximize their learning.
Learning Strategy 1: WIIFM? (What’s In It For Me?)
The learning is all about them! And, learners need to know right up front what they are going to get out of the training. In fact, they need to know what they will get out of the training before it even begins, before they sign up.
Knowing “what’s in it for me” is the first litmus test a learner applies to determine the value of a training program. If the learner perceives little to no value, it will be harder to keep the learner engaged in the learning episode.
So, writing interesting, value-filled course descriptions and meaningful learning objectives are a must.
Learning Strategy 2: Get ‘Em Talking
“But my course is an eLearning course. My learners can’t talk to each other.” Are you sure? Maybe they can’t speak to their fellow learner in an oral conversation, but they can talk to one another. This is the digital age after all. Some of us do more silent talking than actual talking.
Have you ever been in a car with a group of teens? They will sit next to each other and text one another instead of speaking to each other. It’s the weirdest thing.
Anyway, getting your learners talking with one another is a form of engagement that can lead to relationships and community. If you have a classroom full of participants, get them talking to one another and often throughout the training. If your participants are learning online, get them in a discussion group or a private Facebook group and have them post questions and answer questions to keep them engaged with the content and their peers.
Learning Strategy 3: Connect the Dots
Do you remember playing connect the dots as a kid? You literally drew lines connecting one dot to another dot to form a box. And, the person with the most boxes at the end, won. Learners who have the most learning boxes at the end of the training win, too.
One of our many jobs as designers of learning experiences is to connect one learning dot to another learning dot to help make the learning meaningful to the learner.
For example, in a training about exceptional customer service, you might ask participants to describe a customer service experience that was just awful. From there, you might ask the learner what could have been done differently to make that a great customer service experience. Then, the training would take the learner through examples of exceptional customer service.
What dots were connected in this example? The learner connected a prior experience with the desired experience, which lead to the customer service concepts to be taught.
Learning Strategy 4: Sift & Sort
If you work with SMEs, you already know that you often get more information than you need. For fear of missing something, SMEs and business owners sometimes have the tendency to throw everything into a training, even the kitchen sink!
But we can’t let that happen. We have to sift through what is relevant and not relevant and keep only the relevant information. Then, we have to sort it so that it flows in a logical progression. The last thing we want learners to do is to scratch their head and think, “huh?”
To many “huhs?” in a learning episode and your learner just might bail on you all together and disengage (i.e. exit out of the training), which is the opposite of engaged.
Learning Strategy 5: Build Nano and Microlearning Episodes
Remember that short attention span I was talking about earlier? There is a way to combat the short attention span and keep the learner-focused. All you need to do is create Nano and Microlearning Episodes.
Never heard of Nano or Microlearning before? No worries. You can learn more about these short learning episodes in Gautham’s article here.
In a nutshell, a Nano Learning episode is 5 minutes or less and Microlearning is 5-20 minutes in length. Twenty minutes is just about how long the human brain will stay focused before it drifts off to think about other more interesting things.
So, if you chunk the content into nano and microlearning segments to change up what is happening every 5-20 minutes, you will have a better chance of keeping the learner engaged.
Learning Strategy 6: Make the Learning Attractive
Why do people spend money on clothes, make-up, hair, nails, home décor, cars? Because we like attractive things. Training courses are not any different. If you had the same exact content packaged up in an attractive design and an ugly design, which course do you think participants would evaluate higher?
If you thought, “the attractive one would rate higher,” we are on the same page! Appearance matters.
Before launching a training, make sure it is slick, uses nice images and fonts, and is error-free. The more visually attractive the training, the more engaged the learner will be.
Learning Strategy 7: Practice Instead of Preach
One of the biggest mistakes I see in learning experiences is the talking head preacher delivery model. And, I’m not just talking about the person that stands at the front of the room and drones on and on. You can find the talking head preacher in an eLearning course too. You’ve seen him. You might recognize him as the person who puts a lot of text on a screen and reads from the screen. Can you say, “knock me over with boredom!”
Instead of preaching to your participants, build in practice. Lots of practice. What the learner practices, the learner will do! Get them doing what you want to see them do in the workplace. Give them scenarios, let them role play, and discuss.
The more your learners are doing, the more they are engaged and learning. Seriously, it’s true. It’s nearly impossible to tune out of learning when you are playing the lead part in a role play.
Are there other effective learning strategies?
Of course there are! And, if you type ‘learning strategies’ into Google search, you will get more than 641 million hits. The ones I have included here in this article are the easiest to incorporate and are applicable to both live and eLearning experiences.
I hope you will pick one or all of the learning strategies to give a try the next time you are designing a learning experience. If you do, it will make a world of difference to your learner’s experience!
My free Facebook page is a great place to add your questions and engage with other instructional designers on different topics related to instructional design, so jump on in and join the conversation.