According to Carnegie Mellon Professor Jeanne M. VanBriesen, self-directed learning is when individuals “take initiative and responsibility for learning” and “select, manage, and assess their own learning activities.” She goes on to say that motivation and volition are critical, that students should experience independence in goal setting and determining what to learn, and that the role of teachers or trainers is to provide scaffolding and support.
If your mouth just fell open in a giant Whaaaa? … don’t worry. It might sound like a lot of steps, but really all VanBriesen is saying is that students learn best (i.e. stick with material and retain it) when they’ve got a dog in the race. You can crib all these benefits for your own e-Learning materials by putting self-directed learning to work for you. The steps below will help you do it.
- Offer Support and Resources
Students can’t learn in a vacuum. They need materials with which to engage, and support for when they falter, feel confused or just plain need a jolt of motivation. Firstly, resources. This could include extra reading materials, special privileges like access to the conference room for quiet study time, or login credentials for online periodicals or publications. As far as support goes, the learner might benefit from time with the staff trainer to clarify tough issues they’re trying to wrap their mind around, a one-on-one mentoring session with their boss to think through the real-world applications of the course content or peer tutoring. Self-directed learning, where the idea is employees choose to learn, carries the danger that they will then choose not to. Support from people the learner respects can mitigate that.
- Clarify the Benefits
To return to Professor VanBriesen’s comments up top, if individuals don’t understand what they’re getting out of the content, and therefore lack motivation and volition in learning it, they will quickly fade out. To increase the chances students will stick with content, make it very obvious how it applies to their job.
- Create a Self-Directed Learning Environment
To again return to the wise words of the professor, if learners don’t feel as though they have independence in setting their own goals and deciding what is worthwhile to learn and how to learn it, their engagement levels will plummet. Mold your environment to encourage self-directed learning, to support SDL activities inside and outside the workplace, and to congratulate employees who take it on.
Of course, that doesn’t mean employees get to call 100 percent of the shots on what they’ll learn or how; it merely means that wherever you can offer choice, flexibility and independence, it is in your best interest (and theirs!) for you to do so.
- Make Courses Engaging
Although clarifying the benefits of e-Learning is useful, studies show that intrinsic motivation – doing something because it is fun and satisfying – is an even more powerful motivator than rewards such as job security or possible promotions. Make lessons engaging and increase retention with colorful diagrams, unusual images, appeals to various senses, tall tales, and helpful (but not overbearing) uses of spaced repetition.
- Involve Peers
Just like a real classroom, peers are a powerful motivator and a powerful resource. Create learning environments that allow students to interact with one another, post to forums, and learn in centralized classroom-like environments.
- Diversify the Pedagogical Approach
PowerPoint is a wonderful tool, especially for e-Learning courses. It is useful, flexible, integrates with pretty much any device or piece of technology (with the right converter, of course), and we all know how to use it (not a small thing, that). However, it isn’t the only approach. You can enrich your course content considerably by branching out the kind of media you use, the programs you work with and the learning methodologies you employ.
Whereas PowerPoint offers most learners valuable visual insight, try mixing it up with audio and video, both of which access different centers of the brain and help learners who might not be as visually strong. Reach tactile learners through games that require thinking quickly, pressing buttons or moving the mouse. Cycle between rote teaching, case studies, practice quizzes, video interaction and exploration time.
- Compartmentalize Course Materials
Some humans are adept at compartmentalization, and can easily tease apart problems or segment learning materials so they don’t get overwrought. However, most of us are not so great at it. Looking at a long to-do list or wondering when this lesson will end, already, can produce feelings such as anxiety, depression, disinterest or even frustration.
Do your learners a favor and keep course sections small so they can work through them easily. That way, if they want to keep going, they can, but you don’t leave them laboring under an endless-seeming burden that saps motivation, energy and interest.
Keep in mind that no change is instantaneous. Making these shifts probably won’t reverse a trend mid-course, or instantly rejuvenate someone’s sour attitude. However, when learners feel supported by their workplace and their peers, understand the reasons to learn, are engaged in the content and can access it through multiple learning modalities, and perhaps most importantly, don’t feel too overwhelmed, you’re on your way to creating successful, effective e-courses.
We hope you found these 7 tips helpful. Do you have any hot tips for teaching or training? Share your wisdom in the comments below!