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This blog follows my last blog ‘A quick guide for Adult Learning for Trainers’, and is inspired by a discussion on the subject of elearning, with one of my peers – Andi Roberts.

I saw a tweet by Andi stating he’d paid £180 for an elearning ‘course’ that was simply a PDF download. We had a discussion following this about how any organisation could possibly justify selling a static download as a course. If you translated this to buying a place on a course – would you expect a printout to be your experience as a learner?

So let’s review Malcolm Knowles theory of androgogy, this time from an online course learner experience:

  1. An adult learner needs to take control of their own learning journey.
  2. Adults need to have experiences – passive learning driven by content is not as effective, or engaging, as having a go.
  3. Adults are keen to learn when they can see what they will do with the learning.
  4. Adult learners want to solve their own problems.

The Knowles model applies to online learning, just as much as face to face training courses and facilitated events.

1. An adult learner needs to take control of their own learning journey

I am always surprised when people say “I hate elearning”, as it’s a bit like saying “I hate using the internet”. I drill down to find out what they mean, by asking ‘What do you mean? and ‘Give me examples.’, and what I’ve discovered is:

  • Mandatory training that is forced as online learning (possibly to cut costs or handle location issues) can be content driven, and dull
  • PDF downloads that are simply located on a Learning Management System, printed off or stored locally on your computer and read. This is a handout replacing a learning experience
  • Listening to a 30 minute audio or a person speaking to me, is not elearning. It is an online audio book.
  • Having to answering a dull question, or a multi choice ‘exam’ to ‘prove’ you have learned something from the content creators.

Is elearning the right approach?

If we want an adult to take control of their own learning journey, we need to use elearning only when they prefer to learn that way. Having an LMS is a huge cost, and we are actually wasting money by providing PDF based training documents. A survey tool could handle the multi-choice just as well as an LMS.

Learner choice

We need to give our learners choice on when they use the course, and how they prove their learning. We have an online Certificate in Training course, and one person chose to upload their previous course and their newly designed course as evidence for the training design module. This also makes learning pragmatic (see 3), and shows a Return on Investment for the training.

2. Adults need to have experiences – passive learning driven by content tends to not be as effective, or engaging, as having a go

Dropping PDF downloads, audio downloads, or video footage onto an LMS should not be the whole learning experience. There is enough on the internet for free now on virtually any subject, so content is not what we as learning enablers should be pushing at our elearning clients.

Online learning can work for part of our training package. I am on a one year programme to learn mindfulness at the moment, and as learners we:

  • Attend 6 day retreats with each other
  • Attend 1 day peer group get togethers
  • Immerse ourself as individuals in our own practice
  • upload and download content to a document management system
  • keep up to date with others on a forum
  • knowledge share via Facebook group and WhatsApp, and
  • have fortnightly Zoom meetings to practise facilitation, provide feedback, problem solve, ask questions and knowledge share.

It is a blended learning approach. We can each of us drive our own learning experience, have a go, apply the learning and share and problem solve.

3. Adults are keen to learn when they can see what they will do with the learning

For an online Diploma I studied, I was asked to complete a module on running your own business. I’ve run a business for 25 years now, so I asked if I could be exempt, and I was told No.

I found it rather dull writing an essay on ‘What I would do if…’ and changing it to ‘What I have done…’.

I also think uploading a piece of footage would have suited me much better as an option rather than writing a dull essay, again this helps me to steer my own learning journey (1).

4. Adult learners want to solve their own problems

This is where having that human connection is useful. In my peer group on my one year programme, being able to have someone to pose a dilemma to, share a problem with, compare responses and celebrate successes, is hugely important to me.

Most LMS have online forums, and this can help spark debate:

  • The ‘tutor’ can pose a real life dilemma they are facing, to encourage sharing
  • Questions can be posed, and knowledge shared with the whole group
  • Case studies can be shared
  • Additional reading, TED talks, books, resources can be signposted
  • Successes can be shared

I hope this sparks some debate. I look forward to your comments.

The Development Company is on a mission to save the world from boring learning – whether that is face to face learning, or elearning.

Talk to Adrian Green and Louise Plant about us designing interactive online learning for your people, based on adult learning principles.

We have a level 5 Training qualification that follows all 4 adult learning principles – Certificate in Training & Development (CTD). It is engaging and pragmatic in focus. Contact us if you’d like to get a professional qualification.

Click here for a demo of our online CTD course:  (Click ‘Log in as a guest’ to view this demo without registering on the platform.)

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