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Michelle Wright


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Engaging your virtual learners


We now live in a continuous learning culture.  Most of us recognize that we can access a wide range of learning material and we are making use of it.  Whether it’s checking out how to fold a duvet cover on YouTube or virtually joining an international economics course at MIT, the plethora of eLearning, formal and informal, is endless. 

According to the cloud learning management system, Docebo, the size of the e-Learning market was estimated to be over $165bn in 2015 and is likely to grow by 5% in the next ten years.  For those who are charged with preparing high quality eLearning it can be hard to get the attention or commitment from learners to participate through to the end.  Research tells us that distance can mean ‘out of sight out of mind’ and the less formal the training the less likely a learner is to finish it.  On-campus courses are completed by 81% of those enrolled, and traditional online courses are finished by 78% percent of students. Not a wildly different finding.  In contrast, only 40% or less complete the larger MOOCs when the onus is on them to be self-motivated with their study.

The quality of eLearning has improved enormously but it’s important to engage the learners before, during and after the courses. Otherwise you risk your best learning material being undiscovered, uncompleted and even obsolete.  Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy has created the world’s biggest portfolio of courses for fundraising professionals in arts organisations.  We’re keen that this portfolio doesn’t become a dusty library of content that no one enters.  Here’s what we’ve learned about engaging with the learners:

Make it flexible: one of the greatest advantages of blended learning is that it enables learners to engage at a time and place to suit their own needs, whether geographical, professional or personal. When the University of Leeds started designing the curriculum for the Postgraduate Certificate in Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy, it did so specifically with professional learners in mind. Half the curriculum was based on a module that encouraged learners to reflect on their professional practice within face-to-face training delivered at the National Easter School for Arts Fundraising and Leadership. The university supported this reflective thinking through a series of dedicated webinars, complemented by individual online supervision. So, online learning didn’t replace the face-to-face experience but added significant value to it. The eLearning aspect of your programme will be better received if it fits within a wider blended learning offering.

Incorporate real time activity: Some learners find solo learning online both frustrating and isolating, which in turn can demotivate them and lead to drop-out. Undoubtedly, the most effective e-Learning platforms enable both tutors and learners to engage with one another in real time or at least as close to the original learning experience as possible. This makes learning becomes more peer-centred, more immediate and more fun.

Go mobile: According to an American report by Zogby Analytics, 87% of millennials say that their smartphones never leave their side, so bringing training to your learner’s phone is a must.  Mobiles enable micro-learning – short-length learning, usually three to five minutes in length, delivered in rich media formats. Micro-learning is ideal for distracted or busy professional learners juggling multiple priorities.  So, create your eLearning with micro-learning in mind.  How can your bite-sized chunks become nibble-sized?

Gamification: Games aren’t just for younger audiences.  Game-based recruitment and job application assessments are rapidly gaining traction in the corporate sector. Studies have shown that games, and the use of virtual and augmented reality can engage long-term memory, by requiring numerous tasks to be performed simultaneously.  Have you found ways for your learners to play as they learn?

Encourage community building: even before your learner has taken their first course, you can connect them with other learners through social media. Traditional online courses can have over 100 participants per class, while hundreds of thousands of students enroll in any given MOOC.  That can mean that it’s easier to disappear guilt-free from an enormous, anonymous group of e-learners.  Encourage interaction by finding ways to communicate periodically.  More than a nagging reminder, good communication outside the eLearning platform can help spread the word about the training and provide learners with useful, motivating mentors.  

Investing in eLearning is still a vital strategy, but it’s important to recognize that the best stand-alone eLearning can suffer with a case of ‘film and forget’ if you don’t take engagement seriously. 

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Michelle Wright

Read more from Michelle Wright

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