“On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” concludes a report by the Department of Education (DOE). In fact, in the DOE’s report “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning,” students doing at least some of their course online ranked in the 59th percentile compared to wholly in-classroom taught students, who scored in the 50th percentile. This performance was found to be statistically significant, meaning these results are not due to random error or chance.
If this is the case, why aren’t more organizations using online learning to improve training, increase retention, reduce travel costs and minimize time away from the office?
Perhaps organizations don’t know why online learning matters, what it is, or how to execute it. Let’s start with why it matters.
Why Does Online Learning Matter?
Adults learn in different ways. The more learning ways that a training program includes, the higher chance of knowledge retention. In other words, using a variety of learning styles in a training program will help the trainee remember the new skills longer and deeper. Online learning offers the best chance to incorporate many learning styles at once.
Seven Learning Styles For Designing Training Materials
1. Spatial Learners
Interconnected ideas rather than linear, sequential processes are easier to digest for spatial learners. Bulleted lists don’t do it for this crowd. This learning style leans heavily on patterns and visual pictures to explain a concept.
Here are three examples of designing for spatial learners:
a) Image-based Power Point
Sometimes it’s hard to get away from presentations, but they can still be fashioned for visual learners. Presentation Zen is one of my favorite books. If you browse through Ted.com, you’ll also find fantastic examples of effective, visual Power Points.
This presentation by Rachel Botson uses great visuals to communicate her point.
When using tools as communication aids, it’s important to understand their purpose and role. Visuals make it easier for spatial learners to recall or apply a concept. Powerful visuals can help your audience remember your content, which is at the core of knowledge transfer.
b) Game Simulations
Timed exams can make spatial learners extremely anxious as the pressure of translating their mental images into words can take longer for them than others, which creates a stressful situation for them. Game simulations make it easier for visual learners to create a link and memory, to better absorb the information.
Although this isn’t the nicest looking PowerPoint presentation, these slides make a compelling case for the use of game simulations to enhance learning.
c) Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is an increasingly popular tool to visualize ideas and brainstorm ideas effectively. Though this might be more difficult to do in a traditional setting, there are lots of online tools which help facilitate the creation of mind maps, providing an easy way for a group to brainstorm together, versus the traditional outline model. Mind mapping can be incorporated in a variety of ways to assist in planning presentations. Mind Tools has a great article explaining how to use mind maps effectively.
2. Linguistic Learners
Written words best explain a concept to these individuals, so activities involving reading and writing appeal the most. Spoken word can also be effective with this crowd.
These learners respond best to reading and writing assignments, so think of how to incorporate blogging, articles, white papers or online discussion boards into the training. These learners also like to debate, so assignments that look at two sides of an argument can be an effective way for these individuals to apply knowledge and increase engagement.
3. Intrapersonal Learners
Using auditory information, and then allowing the participant a time of internal reflection, best helps these learners retain information.
These individuals like to control their environment and take in new information at their own speed, which allows them time to process and think about a matter deeply. Two examples that best demonstrate this style are:
Radio shows have received a comeback through the form of Podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is This American Life which distills 2-3 short stories with common themes and presents them to listeners in an hour-long podcast. These engaging podcasts allow listeners to absorb the information while also prompting them to think deeper as the show continues.
Sometimes traditional lectures are essential to get your point across; however they can still be peppered with the other learning styles mentioned here. Make sure you insert questions and other activities throughout lectures in order to keep listeners engaged. TED talks are full of excellent presentations for this crowd.
4. Interpersonal Learners
Using group dynamics to explain a concept is most effective for this group of learners.
Dynamic conversations can be a fantastic way of explaining concepts, especially when dealing with sensitive topics. Discussions can integrate other engaging activities, such as role play or games to get the discussion going. Planning ahead is necessary to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Do you want participants to remember and understand a concept, apply and analyze on a deeper level or evaluate and create something new? One tip is to ask open-ended questions that prompt, justify, clarify, extend, redirect and help guide group discussion.
5. Musical Learners
Using music as the trigger to remember new knowledge is powerful for this group of learners.
Playing The Who’s song, Talkin’ Bout My Generation, during a presentation to Baby Boomers helps this group of learners remember that time in their lives. This then evokes a powerful memory which keeps them engaged during the training.
6. Bodily-Kinesthetic Learners
Using the bodily senses to describe and ‘feel’ a concept help this learner remember new knowledge.
Do you exhibit at conferences? If so, let the conference attendees touch your product so they can physically experience the product features. If this type of in-person exchange isn’t possible, think of how you can demo your product and use the web to relay this in-person sensory concept.
7. Logical-Mathematical Learners
Using mathematics to describe a concept allows this group of learners to effectively learn new information.
Graphs and data can really bring it home for some learners, as they are both visual and applicable. One of my favorite presenters is Hans Rosling who brings statistics to life! Check this out!
View any or all of his presentations here.
As I said earlier, the more learning methodologies that a learning program includes, the more the trainee will remember. Why? Whether they realize it or not, people have preferred learning styles. Think about it; when you have to learn something new, do you prefer to hear it, read it or touch it physically? Do you naturally make up songs about things? Do you see the patterns in something new? Or do you learn best when you can discuss it with someone?
Whatever your answer, that’s your preferred learning style; most people have two to three preferred styles. So if a training program offers one or two of your preferred learning styles, you’ll likely remember the content better. If a training program incorporates six to seven learning style approaches, then the chance of everyone in the class retaining the knowledge increases even more.
In the classic face-to-face, live, organizational training, the course participants sit for 3-6 hours, listening to the ‘teacher’. Some classes include videos, role-plays, interactive theater or games to increase retention. However, it’s difficult to do this on a regular basis. Technology makes it much easier.
If I create an online course, I can easily add in video links, podcast links and simulation games, which covers two learning styles. Then I add PDFs of white papers that explain the patterns and academic context, covering another learning styles. I can also add in real-time ‘Journals’ allowing participants to post their homework for the rest of the course to see, which then allows others to comment and start an online conversation, covering another learning style. Finally, to ensure group dynamics stay strong, I could create group phone calls or some face-to-face sessions, covering more learning styles.
So you can see that it makes sense why the DOE found higher retention with online learning. In my next post I’ll talk more about the the relationship between online learning and the seven learning styles. In the meantime, email, leave me a comment or send a tweet.