Making online learning work
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Making online learning work

Time to redesign the entire experience, update our expectations and genuinely engage learners

The promise of online learning is vast, but we must address the root causes of the paradox currently facing the medium. It is growing, but the experience is so poor that people will only use it if they have no alternative.

The fact is, we are just using online learning to do old-world things better and not create a more effective and relevant learning experience.

The industry offers a wide selection of programmes and is accessible, theoretically allowing for a customised and cost-effective learning experience. However, learners often find themselves burned out, tired of wasting time and money on useless and irrelevant training, and seek outcome-driven design.

Local markets such as Thailand and the Philippines are experiencing 30% annual growth in online learning, and Asia is the largest consumer with a 20% increase in revenue per year. Despite the impressive growth of the industry and the fact that over 50% of Fortune 500 companies incorporate it as part of their learning programmes, online learning does not work optimally for most adult and corporate learning requirements.

Research by Thinkific, an online course development consultancy, found that 12% of people never even open an assigned online learning course, and more than 50% never use the learning in real life or jobs. The important thing to note here is that online learning is not deployed by itself.

New mindset

Clearly, we need to create a new mindset around online learning experience design and expectations and move theory and background information from a boring lecture format to dynamic learning anytime, anywhere platforms.

Instead of online lectures, we must provide curated self-organised learning of key concepts, theories, models, and backgrounds that learners can access before joining a live learning experience. We must get away from a boring talking head video format and mix it up, with curated podcasts, articles, and micro-learning to teach the new concepts above or test knowledge via a quiz.

We need to put learners in charge as much as possible, let them set clear goals, create a plan to achieve them, and set a schedule that balances personal and professional commitments with online learning requirements.

We also need to better engage online learners. We need to support them from the outset with activities they can actively participate in and engage with classmates through discussion forums and virtual study groups. Encouraging collaboration among employees through virtual study groups, discussion forums, and peer-to-peer feedback can also be beneficial.

Finally, monitoring progress along the way, not just looking at course completion, and providing feedback to help learners stay on track can make a significant difference in the results returned.

A formula that I have seen succeed in online learning programmes is online learning in the native language, with sense-making opportunities with peers. This is followed by the provision of tools to ensure learners can apply the content, and finally support for deep-dive opportunities to explore individual and group experiences and further needs. 

We also need to provide more support and guidance. Online learning fatigue is a significant issue, and it is not only affecting adult learners. Children are experiencing burnout from online classes, and they are not alone. Creating personalised learning experiences can help prevent burnout, and supporting learners with interactive activities can keep them engaged and motivated.

Another issue with online learning is that too often, learners do not get enough guidance, and they do not see the point of what they are learning. Learners are assigned classes they would not choose themselves without adequate sense-making to show them why it will be useful to them.

Even when they commit, if they do not just have it on in the background while they watch Netflix, it is often just interesting information with no obligation or application value.

More choice

Learners need choice and agency. Providing learners with options can help them feel more invested in the learning process, and supporting them with interactive activities can help them stay engaged and motivated.

Finally, we need to design online learning for real life.

Learners are busy, and asking them to finish hours of assigned learning modules in their ever-diminishing free time will not work for most people. Remember, many things are competing for our attention. Online learning demands a high level of self-discipline and time-management skills, which most people do not possess. 

Offering learners the ability to set clear goals, create a plan, and set a schedule that balances personal and professional commitments with online learning requirements can help learners stay on track and motivated.

We need to put learners in charge as much as possible.

Let them set clear goals and create a plan to achieve them so they stay focused and motivated. Let them set a schedule that balances personal and professional commitments with online learning requirements.

We must support from the outset with activities that learners can actively participate in and engage with classmates through discussion forums and virtual study groups. We must encourage collaboration through virtual study groups, discussion forums, and peer-to-peer feedback.

It is not rocket science, but a little careful consideration rather than relying on off-the-shelf learning can make a big difference in the results returned.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer, Managing Director and Founder at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Centre. She is fascinated by the challenge of transforming education for all to create better prospects for Thais and people everywhere. Reach her by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa

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