Designing eLearning for Non-Digital Natives

Creating an eLearning course for an audience who doesn’t have much experience with technology can be intimidating. Whether you are designing an elearning course that is targeted toward non-digital natives (such as “Introduction to Social Media”) or you want to make sure your courses are inclusive of learners from all levels of technical experience, we have some tips for you.

Who are non-digital natives?

First, don’t assume that age automatically correlates with a proficiency with technology. While it’s often the case that a sense of tech-savvy is associated with youth (45 and younger) and tech-expertise is associated with millennials (18-35), there are young people who haven’t had much experience using computers, either because of disability, lack of access, or other reasons. Likewise, you might assume that a 65-year-old learner is going to have trouble operating the mouse, but he may very well spend his evenings doing freelance web design.

The point is: don’t guess, assess. And make sure to design a course that is comfortable and effective for everyone who needs to take it, regardless of their agility with technology.

Creating effective eLearning for Non-Digital Natives

Here are some tips that will help you design a course that serves all of your learners well:

Check your 508 compliancy.

Section 508 standards, which offer guidelines for creating online environments that are inclusive of people with disabilities, are a good place to start. Many of the strategies designed for users with visual, auditory, and physical impairments make the learning experience more accessible for those who are unfamiliar with technology. For example, reading captions on videos may be more comfortable for those who prefer gathering information through the written word, and offering a simple PDF version of a narrated PowerPoint may relieve course anxiety for those who have never used PowerPoint.

Don’t be boring.

Learner engagement should be a primary focus of course design, so don’t let that goal fall to the wayside as you struggle to make the course “easier.” Many designers try to play it “safe” by simplifying every point of engagement in the course, which only puts learners to sleep.

Have a strategy for tech help.

If you have learners who are less experienced with technology, inevitable questions about how to use certain applications will arise in the course of an online training. Make sure you have proper documentation and a consistent, accessible resource to answer these questions — such as an IT department, or a TA who is specifically designated this role — and communicate this process clearly to learners. Having a well-defined strategy for offering tech help, and clearly differentiating it from questions about course content or learning, gives learners an exact path to follow when confusion arises. This in itself relieves the burden of stress for those learners, as well as saves instructor effort that should be dedicated to the course content.

Offer context for each learning activity.

Context serves all learners, but is especially helpful for those who find themselves bewildered in online environments. Being able to clearly articulate the objectives of the course, and how each activity fulfills those objectives, creates a stronger learning experience for everyone.

Invite learners to reflect on the learning experience.

Giving learners the opportunity to reflect upon the ways the course has benefited (or befuddled) them does two very important things: it gives them a sense of empowerment in the course, which facilitates learning, and it gives the instructor useful qualitative feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

The main takeaway is to create a course that is inclusive and accessible for all abilities and levels of learning. This process takes patience and empathy, for both instructors and designers — but it can also cultivate those qualities, which in turn benefits your learners in the future.

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