4 More Ways to Make Online Learning Stick

Raise your hand if you’ve been to some kind of training in the past year.

Keep your hand up if you believe me when I say that you likely forgot more than 90% of what you’d learned within a week.

So how do you make that training stick?

A couple months ago, a member of our learning services team answered that question.  So we talked about it in a subsequent team meeting and one of our members cited some research by John Keller that points to four factors that help people remember what they learn: Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction (ARCS). Let me quickly address each below:

1) Keep their attention. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. Apparently, this is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. I’m not saying you need to do something shocking every few seconds to keep a learner’s interest, but you do need to keep content short. If you’re talking about online learning, video should be limited to 4 to 5 minutes tops and webinars should have natural breaks in roughly the same time frames, building in interaction like quizzes or Q&A. Even in-person training should be built in a more modular fashion, moving from lecture to interaction at regular intervals. We incorporate this best practice into our GovLoop online training sessions and bake it into learning experiences we design for our agency customers.

2) Make it relevant.  All too often, traditional training activities are strongly based in theory. They discuss concepts and case studies in a classroom, but it’s rarely based on the participant’s daily reality in the office. That’s why learning experiences should elicit those stories in real time. You can do that in one of two ways:

(a) Rather than using the old “sage on the stage” model, invite people who are still ‘in the trenches’ to present the subject.

(b) Ask participants to share their stories and challenges, then use that content as fodder for discussion.

As an example, we recently worked with the Department of Transportation to create a virtual flipped classroom where participants watched a couple short videos and engaged in an online discussion before coming together for a live online conversation with experts. Instead of a traditional webinar where someone droned on, the participants spent most of the time asking their specific questions and addressing their day-to-day concerns.

3) Build confidence. I know, I know, we’re all a bit coddled aren’t we? Trophies and stickers for everyone! It turns out that’s actually solid learning theory. If you find a way to weave in opportunities for rewards along the individual’s learning path, you’re more likely to keep them motivated in the process of acquiring knowledge.  Even something as simple as allowing a person to check a button like “Mark Complete” or taking a quick survey with a couple easy questions can spur the learner on. Just don’t take it too far or the learner will stop taking it seriously. Check out this course on GovLoop Academy to see how it works.

4) Make the learning experience satisfying. What’s been your most satisfying learning experience? For me, it’s been those occasions where I felt particularly challenged or gained deeper insights into my understanding of a topic. I also value learning moments when I can apply my knowledge immediately. The key is for the learner to walk away with a tangible difference in who they are or what they can do. One way we applied this concept to a recent learning project was a 7-week course in which we walked seven innovation teams through a process of understanding the components of a marketing plan, then asking them to write a section of the plan together each week. Those plans would drive their work as teams for the next two years. It wasn’t just a theoretical document. It would become their blueprint for success.

Another example of an online learning experience we built with immediate satisfaction in mind was a course called “Civic Hackers in Action: Seizing the Open Data Opportunity.” Not only does a course participant understand how to start or grow an open data movement in their community, but they are challenged to write down what they’ve learned within the course modules. Then they’re asked to copy and paste those reflections into a document that becomes their plan of action.

With the multiple forms of media and information vying for people’s short attention spans today, it’s hard to ensure that your content sticks with a learner. Fortunately, the ARCS model provides a structure for you to consider whether or not you’ve risen to the test.

LOOKING TO LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT MAKES ONLINE LEARNING EFFECTIVE? Be sure to attend a webinar this Thursday, April 23 called “Taking Training from the Physical to Virtual” where I am going a bit more in depth on two of the case studies above.

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