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4 Ways to Engage the Modern Learner

Social networking and the rise of mobile technology have opened up some exciting new avenues in the field of eLearning, but they have also left today’s learners overwhelmed, distracted, and uninterested. According to the strategists at Bersin by Deloitte, this state of mind exists because modern learners are being pulled in many different directions at once. According to Sweller’s cognitive load theory, all of these distractions increase the mental burden on the learner, which results in an overall decrease in comprehension when they’re faced with the responsibility of learning something new. Coupled with new research that shows the vast majority of modern learners have shorter attention spans and less patience for educational coursework, today’s instructional designers have a lot working against them. How does one develop an instructionally sound course that can engage its audience in less than 10 seconds? Here are a few strategies that can help.

Mobile Access

Today’s workforce has grown accustomed to setting their own schedules and working from multiple locations. Even if their careers are centralized in a certain location, many employees use today’s mobile connectivity to get work done during travel or from home. Based on this lifestyle change, today’s elearning needs to be fluid and accessible from anywhere.

Today’s elearning needs to be fluid and accessible from anywhere.

With the continuing development of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, many designers have started using learners’ access to these resources as an advantage. If modern learners have some flexibility surrounding when and where they can take development courses, they have the freedom to integrate their training into their existing schedules. Not only does this demonstrate confidence in the learners’ ability to manage their own time, but it helps make sure that the learners are taking development courses at the time when they are most prepared to manage their cognitive load.

Use Information Access as a Resource

With all the different demands on the modern learner’s time, most of them aren’t going to spend a whole lot of time learning something that they don’t interpret as valuable. Today’s learner needs resources and training that will prepare them to solve a problem when it happens, not a collection of hypothetical information that could benefit them sometime in the future. For today’s learners to buy in, they need to see the immediate value of their training.

If you’re not sure about the purpose of your training, then your learners won’t spend their time searching for one.

The best way to address this issue is to make sure that your training can definitely help your learners solve problems common to their industry and specialization. If you’re not sure about the purpose of your training, then your learners won’t spend their time searching for one.

When your training does address one or more of your learners’ relevant needs, then it’s time to turn most of the learning over to them. Most modern learners prefer to do their own research to help solve a problem, so today’s training should take advantage of that preference by letting learners navigate through the training at their own pace and give them supplemental resources that they can use if they feel like they need extra help. Incorporating components like job aids, or materials that learners can quickly access to help them through unforeseen situations, is an effective way to give them that sense of immediate value.

Social Learning

Despite the fact that people today socialize much differently than they did twenty years ago, people will always enjoy and crave social interaction. There is plenty of research that can attest to the benefits of combining our natural aptitude for socializing with the learning process, most of which stemming from the work of Albert Bandura. While his original theories centered on the learner’s physical presence within a social learning environment, such as a classroom, the principles of social learning theory can still be applied to the world of online social networks.

For example, one of the principal aspects of Bandura’s social learning theory revolves around observational learning. Bandura posited that learners comprehend new information and skills more effectively when they watch someone else demonstrate the information or perform the skill. Today’s elearning courses can apply this theory by including video—which has become more cost-effective and low-maintenance with the rise of the YouTube generation. Videos that show learners how to apply certain information in real-life context can be a great benefit for today’s modern learner.

Empowerment Equals Engagement

One of the most powerful methods to engage a learner’s attention is to illustrate a genuine connection between how their training or development will make them more marketable in the workplace. Teaching employees skills that could potentially make them more attractive to a competing company might sound like an unnecessary risk, but, as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman outlines in his book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, it’s one of the most effective ways to get the most out of your employees.

When employers present development courses as ways for employees to maximize their own marketability and potential, the professional relationship becomes something that favors a transactional relationship over a hierarchical one. Investing in development courses that make your employees more skilled at their specialization does make them more attractive to competing companies, but it also validates their talent by showing them that they are worth the investment.

One of the key components of teaching is mutual understanding. For a course to be successful, the instructor needs to demonstrate a high degree of understanding with his/her students. Today’s elearning needs to do the same thing, otherwise it becomes yet another distraction—and modern learners have had their fill of distractions.