6 tips to help your learners take charge of their education

Some of the main differences between classroom training and eLearning revolve around motivation and control.

With classroom training, all learners must progress through the course at the same time, and the instructor is there to guide them through the content and provide some extra motivation when needed.

However, with eLearning, learners need to be almost entirely self-motivated, and progress through the course at their own pace. These differences are two of the reasons why eLearning can be so great for adult learners!

At We Know Training, we ground every course we develop in sound learning theory. Malcolm Knowles (1973) developed one of the central theories of adult education, based on five assumptions about adult learners:

  1. They have previous knowledge from a range of sources and experiences
  2. They want to see how learning is targeting what they want to know
  3. They are focused on how the learning affects and helps them now
  4. They have internal motivation to learn
  5. They are (or want to be) self-directed 

Unfortunately, becoming an adult doesn’t automatically turn someone into a self-directed learner, even if that’s what they want. This is especially true when someone has spent years in school being told what to do and how to do it. So, what can we do to help?

Here are six proven strategies that we use to help learners take charge of their own learning.

1. Give learners control 

Rather than pushing them through the course, provide learners with opportunities to pull out the content that interests them. In addition to the main content on screen, learners can select various features like hypertext, links, slide outs, and tips to explore certain topics in more detail.

For navigation, novice learners do best with a structured approach to topics, but learners with more experience and prior knowledge can be given more freedom to jump around and navigate directly to the topics they find most relevant and interesting.

2. Make the course relevant 

Give learners a reason to care about the course and their learning. Explain what they will be able to do at the end of it and how that connects to their life—whether on the job or outside of work. When learners can see how the course is relevant to their goals, they will be more motivated.

3. Focus on actual problems and scenarios 

Think about issues that may arise in the workplace. For example, our tobacco retail training asks learners to choose the best response when faced with an impatient customer who complains about being asked to show their ID. Because this is a realistic scenario for a sales clerk working at a convenience store, these learners may put more effort into understanding how to deal with these types of situations, rather than simply memorizing information for a test.

4. Recognize prior knowledge 

As mentioned before, putting extra details into optional features like hypertext, links, and slide outs allows learners to focus on the content they find most relevant. This is helpful for learners who have some prior knowledge of the topic and might not need as many definitions and additional explanations, compared to a novice learner.

You can also acknowledge prior learning by choosing phrases like, “review techniques,” “similar to…” or “Think of a time when you…” This can help learners pay more attention to what they already know and what is new to them, which can guide their decisions about where to spend more time on a topic.

5. Give opportunities for reflection 

Reflective prompts encourage greater self-awareness and meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) by asking learners to actively engage with what they are learning and consider how the course applies to them. Questions might include, “Have you been paying attention?” “How does this course fit with your needs?” or “Is there anything you’re still not comfortable with?”

6. Make it fun 

Adding elements of gamification or weaving a story throughout the course are a couple of other ways to encourage learners to explore and make connections for themselves, rather than having concepts spelled out for them.

All of the techniques described above are easy to implement in eLearning. The result? Independent learners who can apply their learning skills to future training and day-to-day activities. That means long-term payoffs for both the learners and your organization!