While there have been a multitude of advances in e-learning technologies and capabilities in recent years, the quality of e-learning content that is being published today is deteriorating. Instructional design has always been challenging, but if the content does not immediately engage the learner then it will be quickly discarded–its credibility destroyed. If instructional designers are to be successful, they must take a step back and re-examine their roots in the field of behavioral psychology. Breaking the e-learning intervention down into the fundamental elements of behavioral change will ensure that the learner receives an educational experience that is meaningful, memorable, and motivational.
Creating a meaningful learning experience is the first step to engage the learner, and ensure that they don’t become bored or frustrated. The designer must ensure that the content makes sense to the learner, and that it builds upon previous training. Meaningful context can be created that directly relates the content to the student’s current or future situation. A storyline can be interwoven that relates one lesson to the next, and progressively builds throughout the course with opportunities for the student to provide input and affect the outcome. Challenges can be built into the lessons that allow the student to increase their stature or rank as they progress. Once measures have been put in place to make the experience meaningful for the student, the designer can shift his attention to making it memorable.
It’s hard enough for most people to remember what they need to do from day to day, let alone break old habits or learn to do things a new way without having had the opportunity to practice the skill enough to where it becomes a habit. Designers must stay aware of the fact that if a learning event that is not memorable to the student then it will not facilitate long-term behavior change. They may score well on the test at the end of the course, but if they cannot sustain performance of the new skill over time then true learning did not take place. Examples of techniques for making the training memorable are: spacing the opportunities the student has to apply the material learned over a period of time, have the student express what they learned through an alternative medium such as social media sites or blogs, utilize unconventional media with an unique perspective and include strong imagery.
Motivation is what drives all human behavior. It is essential for learning to occur, behavior to change, and overall student success. When the student is motivated, they will find a way to learn everything that they need to learn in order to perform at the highest level. Incorporating something unexpected–yet relevant–at the outset of a lesson can generate interest and have the student wondering what will follow. As previously described, weaving a complex and compelling storyline into the class can motivate the student, build anticipation, and ensure continued involvement. Complex multi-step challenges, allowing the learners to hone skills previously acquired in the course as they progress, incorporating tasks that require the student to apply the skill they are learning outside of the virtual learning environment, and focusing evaluation on the application of skills instead of knowledge are all proven techniques to enhance learner motivation.
The ultimate goal of e-learning is the efficient, effective, facilitation of learning content. Future e-learning must focus on the factors that actually determine behavior. Although there are countless new technologies available to streamline the production process, the successful e-learning designer is the one who understands the nature of behavior change and creates a course that provides the student with and experience that is meaningful, memorable, and motivational.