How do adults learn? – ICON’s strategies for sustainable learning
The last two articles of this series dealt with the learning process of adults – its characteristics as well as the methods that support adults in sustainable learning. Sustainable learning is an important concern for us and a goal we pursue for our e-learnings. In this article, I would like to introduce you to why e-learning is particularly suitable for sustainable learning and which methods we use to promote it.
How do we identify and use the participants’ prior knowledge?
When learning, we connect new content to existing knowledge and experience. This leads to a deeper engagement with the subject matter and thus to a more sustainable learning process. For our e-learning courses, it is therefore particularly important for us to know the participants’ level of knowledge.
To get a precise impression of the audience, we conduct a target audience analysis right at the beginning of the conception phase. In a workshop with the client, we specify which employees should be addressed by the training, and make a gap analysis by defining their current knowledge as a basis. If possible, we create personas – fictitious representatives of the target audience who reflect their needs – so that we can put ourselves in the participants’ position. This helps us to determine the learning content, learning objectives, and the level of difficulty for a web-based training course, for example. The better we know the target audience, the better we can built on the employees’ knowledge, avoid over- and under-challenging them, and motivate them to learn.
How do we motivate the participants?
Motivation is a basic prerequisite for sustainable learning. The more interesting and, above all, the more relevant a topic is for the recipients, the more motivated they are and the better they can process and remember what they learned.
To capture the participants’ interest, it is important for us to establish a link to their everyday working lives. To do this, we embed learning contents in a realistic context. For example, we visualize real working environments, such as offices or factory halls, and describe situations the employees know from their daily routines at work. This way, the topic can easily be introduced and accessed. In addition, this practical approach increases immersion, as participants can identify with what is shown and navigate through the learning world. Scenarios shown in the e-learning can, thus, be transferred and applied easily in everyday life.
How do we increase the comprehensibility of the learning content?
We use analogies to explain complicated subjects as tangible and understandable as possible. In doing so, we compare the learning content, for example, with something the participants know from everyday life, resembling the learning object in certain characteristics. This makes the learning content less complex and creates an image the participants can easily understand and remember, similar to mnemonics.
Usually, learning is much easier when you have something pictorially in front of your eyes. Therefore, in our e-learning courses, we place particular emphasis on appealing and simple visualizations that facilitate understanding. We achieve this, for example, with the help of illustrations, diagrams, icons and symbols, as well as animations that are coordinated with the spoken text and support or supplement what is being said.
Suitable illustrations not only help the participants to better understand the learning content, but also increases their ability to remember it.
How do we enable problem-based learning?
A decisive factor for sustainable learning is to deal with learning contents in a problem-oriented way. E-learning offers a suitable way for this: quiz pages in different formats – depending on what you want to assess.
To enable problem-based learning within our e-learning, we thus take special care with quiz pages that reinforce and deepen the key learning objectives. To motivate learners, exercises are designed to present a solvable challenge.
The participants should not “just” look at the learning content, but also actively think about it and thus internalize what they have learned in a more sustainable way. Another positive effect: Exercises help your employees recognize whether they really understood what they have learned. If they find it difficult to solve an exercise, they can repeat relevant topics independently within the e-learning.
How do we achieve short learning phases?
Our working memory only has an absorption capacity of about 15 to 20 minutes. After this time, we should take a break in order to process what we have learned. After that we are able to absorb new information sustainably again. To enable sustainable processing, we therefore pay particular attention to short learning units. We divide extensive topics with different learning objectives into several chapters or modules. This not only has the advantage that the participants can take a break after each module and do not have to absorb too much information at once, but the content is also clearly structured.
In addition, we create Learning Nuggets, also known as Microlearning. These short training sessions of 5 to 10 minutes can be completed in between, depending on your needs and time. They prepare crucial content in such a way that the desired learning success is achieved even in a short period of time.
How do we support the learners to repeat the content?
The more often your employees repeat learning content, the better they can process it and the more sustainably they can remember it. One major advantage of e-learning is obvious: content can be viewed as often as desired and knowledge can be refreshed at any time.
To take advantage of the positive effect of repetition, however, we also use it deliberately – for example, we summarize the most important findings at the end of a web-based training session. Repetition also takes place through the application of what has been learned in the form of exercises.
If certain learning content is to be remembered sustainably over a longer period of time, we recommend refresher courses that revisit certain topics (e.g. from a main course). This so-called spaced repetition is also possible by dividing the learning content into modules, which are then released in stages on a learning platform. An example of this is our ICON Training Information Security at work. It is divided into five basic modules so that employees can deal with the topic of information security in regular intervals. After a longer break, the advanced modules are then rolled out, repeating and deepening the content from the basic course. In this way, the learning content remains fresh in the memory over a longer period of time.
How do we address the participants emotionally?
Emotions are particularly crucial for sustainable learning, as they increase our ability to empathize and remember.
In order to generate emotions, we use humorous and memorable phrases or proverbs – if appropriate – that put a smile on the face of the participants and thus remain better in their memory. We also use situational humor, for example through slightly exaggerated figures and stories.
Stories are not only entertaining and can make you laugh, they also convey experiences and insights. They stimulate the imagination and ensure that one can put oneself in a person or situation, empathize with things and thus remember them well. In the best case, you want to know how the story ends and remain attentive until the end.
In our e-learnings, we take advantage of this by telling about the personal experiences of characters. To sensitize participants to new work processes, for example, we like to work with characters who represent their fictitious colleagues. The participants experience certain situations together with those protagonists. Based on the behavior of the characters, they learn how to cope with new situations or how to deal with new work processes.
Figures can also guide you through an e-learning course, introduce situations or summarize facts.
In this article you have learned that e-learning is suitable to learn sustainably. It has many advantages that enable effective learning, such as brevity, flexibility, repeatability, and the ability to work at your own pace. In addition, we put great emphasis on designing our e-learning courses didactically, content-wise and visually in such a way that learning content can be processed sustainably. Our methods are as varied as our clients’ target audiences, learning objectives and key learning points, so that I have only been able to show examples of our approaches in this article. Nevertheless, I hope that I have been able to present a good selection of our strategies, giving you an insight into our work.
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