eLearning in the Digital Age

In an effort to better understand the connection between shifting eLearning modality and the end user, it’s important to outline a few key assumptions about eLearning delivery. First, the workforce is changing. As of 2015, Millennials now account for the largest generation in the U.S. Labor market (according to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. census data). As the audience changes, so must course design. This results in our second assumption, quality eLearning design is shaped by the preferences of the target audience. The effectiveness of your eLearning project and the subsequent achievement of your learning goals are contingent on your ability to fully engage the user by appealing to their learning preferences. This leads to our final and third assumption, learning preferences are greatly influenced by a number of external social factors and trends that develop over time.
So, what is the summary conclusion behind these three assumptions? An increased number of Millennials represents a broad shift in audience: a new audience means new learning preferences and new learning preferences are changing social trends. Therefore, as professional eLearning developers and designers we must maintain an intimate knowledge of these trends in connection to knowledge consumption, technology, communication, and learning.
How can we embrace new design and play to the strengths of a modern learner? It begins as simply a matter of recognition and willingness. eLearning environments must change to be effective. Course developers can no longer rely on linear course models to deliver effective training results, nor can they rely on rigid course schedules and lengthy lectures as eLearning evolves into a collaborative experience between developers and learners.
Accounting for innovative uses of eLearning delivery and technology are key. For example, a critical aspect of non-traditional course design is the shift from depending on lengthy lectures and instead focusing on multiple “bite-sized” lessons as a method to deliver content. Providing short and highly-engaging modules that emphasize key information are proving to be far more effective designs (see our blog on Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve).
Community and collaboration are fast becoming a necessity in today’s eLearning world. Consider incorporating existing user networks and proven digital community structures such as Facebook or Twitter into the context of your learning. In addition, incentivizing and building games and competition into your eLearning also has proved to increase learner retention rates.
No learner is identical regarding their learning preferences, and as such the learner’s response is optimized when training experiences are designed to meet their individual needs. Developers are shifting away from the traditional “one size fits all” approach and instead are focusing on a course design that is centered around the learner. Courses should be created to focus on the quality of learning, but still maintain the expectations and desired outcomes of the training initiative. In short, the training course should adapt to the learner, the learner should not have to adapt to the training course.
Relevancy also plays a key role in effective eLearning design. Adults are more likely to perform better when content is connected to real life job functions and interactions. Designing eLearning courses that place more responsibility on the learner is also proving to be effective; doing so encourages learners to create their own meaning for the presented content, enabling them to adapt training courses to their unique learning styles and requirements.
While in some capacity these trends do vary generationally, it’s important to note that these changes do not necessarily apply only to millennial learners, in fact, it may be less of a generational preference and more of a reflection of technological growth and societal expectations of higher quality as a whole. For example, it doesn’t matter what generation you belong to, custom eLearning that is designed to the needs of its target audience and avoids lengthy spells of stagnant content simply yields better learning outcomes across any generation. In the past, as a relatively new technology, eLearning was given a pass on quality. As the technology gets better and more widely used, the standards are raised. In other words, the status quo is no longer acceptable, eLearning is and should be held accountable to the quality of education it provides.