Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tailor-made Courses

Do you buy clothes that are three times your size? Do you buy shoes that are twice as big as your feet? Why not? I guess the logical explanation is that we prefer to buy things that are made for us. At school, why do we begin at the 1st standard and proceed to higher classes? Why are all children not put in the same class? This is because each learner is at a different level and their learning needs are different. Right.

Wondering where I am going with this? The objective of this article is to stress the importance of designing courses that are tailor-made for the learner’s needs. Let me share an incident with you. As part of our LCM process, we conduct learner evaluation. In this phase, we ask our learners to take the course and we observe the learner. During one such learner testing, we found some interesting truths. Before I proceed, let me give you some information about the course. A training company had conducted a two-day workshop and this had to be converted into a refresher emodule (that’s where we came in) for managers who had attended the workshop. Seven learners volunteered to help test the course. 3 out of the 7 learners had not attended this workshop. The results showed that these three learners were lost and very confused. The other four learners were extremely comfortable and were motivated to complete the course. This was because they remembered the cues provided during the workshop and therefore, found the course interesting. Why the discrepancy you ask? This course was meant to be a refresher course and catered to a very specific audience. It is therefore effective only for that audience. Most learners claimed that this was the most effective elearning program that they ever taken. Now, that’s something...

Each learner is at a different level and their learning needs are different. It is extremely important to ensure that we chunk similar learners together and design a course that caters to their common need. For example, when designing a course on how to use a software application, we will design this keeping in mind the primary learners/users and not the secondary and tertiary learners/users. This way we are ensuring that we make this course effective for the learners who interact with the software more frequently. If you really have to make the course for everyone coming in contact with that software, there is a way out. Have three learning paths, one for the primary, another for the secondary and third for the tertiary audience. This will ensure that the learner goes through only that information that is relevant to him/her.

Why is it so important to create courses for a specific audience?
  • Maintain motivation: Most elearning courses do not meet the ‘What’s in it for me’ criteria. Learners want to know how the content you teach can be applied in their jobs. Learning can not be forced. The learner has to see value in the course. Show them the value and the battle is have won.
  • Provide relevant information: Imagine this scenario. Your learner is working in a software company. He/she comes in at 9:15 in the morning and leaves at 8:30 in the evening. He/she dedicates half an hour everyday to a training course. Do you actually think he/she will have the patience to go through a course and search for information relevant to him/her? Don’t give a sea of information and ask them to find what they want. Give them exactly what they want. Do some research to identify this.
  • Effective learning: The course is definitely more effective when it is specific. For example, you are teaching learners to deal with conflict situations at the workplace. We know that conflict situations can occur at any level in the organization. If the learner is a middle level manager, the conflicts situations he/she is likely to face and the power he/she has to tackle such situation will be different for a senior manager and or an executive staff. Conflicts could be between manager-employee, manager-manager, and employee-employee. The employee need not (and should not) have to learn how manager-manager conflicts are tackled. Another interesting thing is that when designing a course for an employee, the content for manager-employee will be different as opposed to that designed for a manager.
  • Cognitive overload: Excess information or detailed information will cause cognitive overload. Designers (or should I say SMEs) end up stuffing everything (to be safe) in a one hour module. Trust me, nothing will register in the learner’s mind. He/she will click the pages away. Stick to the learning objectives and the Bloom’s levels.
  • Increase completion rates: By giving the learner what he/she wants, you are going to ensure that dropouts decrease. If the learner sees benefit in taking a course, why wouldn’t they complete it?
  • Transfer of learning: The chances of bringing about a behavioral change are higher when the course is designed for a specific audience. Retention of concepts will be higher. Therefore, transfer of learning at the workplace will be higher.
Remember that you wouldn’t finish a book or a movie if it did not interest you. It would interest you only if you can relate to it.

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