How to Create E-Learning Courses – Lesson #1: Adult Learning Theory

How to Create E-Learning Courses

By Michael D. Lawrence

January 7, 2013

Creating an E-Learning course requires some very specific skills and knowledge, but those skills and knowledge are available to everyone, not just professional instructional designers. Now, that’s not to say that you can learn from just one article how to create the best-in-class of courses, but you can learn fairly quickly how to do the basics. And that is the best place to start: with the basics.

I’m approaching this for those that not only have not created E-Learning courses, but have little or no experience in creating training courses for delivery in any format. There is much to cover, so I will do this by presenting material over a series of articles. The subjects to be covered in this series are:

1)    Adult Learning Theory

2)    Introduction to Instructional Design

3)    Assessment of Knowledge Transfer

4)    Basics of E-Learning Courses

5)    Converting Instructor-Led Courses to E-Learning Format

6)    Creating Your First E-Learning Course

Before we go any further, we need to think about some of the basic qualities that an instructional designer should have to be successful in course development. The successful instructional designer should:

  1. Understand how people learn.
  2. Know how to connect with the learner on an emotional level.
  3. Be capable of seeing oneself as the learner.
  4. Be obsessed with learning everything.
  5. Brainstorm creative treatments and innovative instructional strategies.
  6. Visualize the graphics, user interface, and interactions that will be used, as well as the finished product.
  7. Write effective copy, instructional text, and audio/video scripts.
  8. Work well with Subject Matter Experts and team members.
  9. Know the capabilities of eLearning development tools and software.
  10. Understand related fields, such as IT, communications, and new technologies.

That’s a tall order, but having the above qualities will serve you well as you develop E-Learning courses that really work.

So let’s go ahead and get started with lesson #1.

Lesson #1: Adult Learning Theory

Adult learning theory is rooted in the behavioral sciences that began developing in the 1960’s and is heavily influenced by the many new things that were being learned about human psychology at that time. And of course we learn more and more every day about how we learn.

Some of the Adult Learning Theory is geared more towards face-to-face instruction, but many principles can be applied to eLearning efforts.   Rather than dig into the many details involved in how adults learn, I will just cover some of the basics of adult learning theory that will be the most valuable for the new E-Learning course designer. So just what do we know about how adults learn?

Adults tend to prefer single concept, single-theory courses that focus heavily on how to solve problems. This tendency increases with age. Regardless of delivery format, using to-the-point, how-to-do-it content is the best way to ensure adults learn.

Most adult learning theories have been based on the work of Malcolm Knowles, who theorized that adult learners have distinct and unique characteristics. He introduced the term andragogy to describe the science of how adults learn. “Andragogical” are learner-centered methods, whereas “pedagogical” (how children learn) use teacher-centered methods.

The Andragogical (Adult Learning) Model

  • Adults are autonomous and self-directed.
  • Adults are goal-oriented; they usually know what goal they want to attain.
  • Adults need to see a reason for learning something.
  • Adults have a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education.
  • Adults tend to focus on the parts of a lesson that is most useful to them.
  • Adults typically are internally motivated to learn and normally do not require external motivation.
  • Adults must be able to engage in self-reflection after completing a learning experience and before practicing on their own.
  • Adults must be actively involved in their learning, not just passively listening.
  • Adults must receive regular feedback and positive reinforcement on their progress.
  • Adults need to be shown respect for their wealth of experiences.

It is important to consider each of the above as we develop our E-Learning courses. Can we be successful if we miss some of these points? Certainly, but the more of these we include the greater the chance of the adults learning the material presented.

In Lesson #2, we will cover an Introduction to Instructional Design and learn how proper design is one of the critical cogs in the machinery of an effective E-Learning course.



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