Want to know what eLearners really think about online courses? Below are the top three complaints we’ve heard from online learners, as well as remedies that can help you sidestep learner complaints and start basking in positive feedback.
Yep, we’ve all seen the standard online module that sends learners clicking through endless screens of text, with a basic image thrown in here and there for color. These modules are easy and cheap to produce, and at one time—back in the early heyday of online learning—they were considered innovative. But learners now are much more sophisticated and have access to virtually countless forms of exciting web content through social media, videos, interactive websites, and games. So when they sit down at a laptop or mobile device, they have a sense of anticipation. If your course doesn’t deliver some excitement, they’ll check out before the first lesson is over.
Shake up the typical click-through pattern with a provocative or challenging question that requires learners to think on their feet. Deliver a lesson through a narrative story instead of dry text-based information. Change the format midway through so that learners have to try different ways of absorbing information. As long as you’re not randomizing things so drastically that the learner becomes confused, he or she will be energized by the unexpected turns the course takes.
Is it required or elective? That makes a difference. One study found that students who were required to complete online training were much less enthusiastic about it than those who participated voluntarily. Autonomy is important. Learners are much more likely to feel motivated to engage in content that’s not forced down their throats.
But it’s a required course, you say? A mandatory orientation for new employees or an introduction to company payroll policies? No problem—just because learners have no say over the subject matter doesn’t mean you can’t offer them opportunities for choice in other ways.
For example, let’s take that mandated orientation mentioned above. All employees have to complete it, but perhaps there’s an opportunity for them to personalize the experience. Selecting which avatar they’d like to hear from, completing a choose-your-own adventure game that outlines company policies, or even being able to choose whether they’d prefer to complete a lesson by watching a video or reading a text gives learners a sense of control, which leads to a feeling of ownership of the material.
The same study also reported that another learner complaint is that online learning is hard. Online learning has a false reputation of being easy—perhaps because it doesn’t requ ire the effort of physically showing up or setting aside a set time in one’s schedule to participate. Especially with mobile technology, learners can learn when and where they want—and there’s something about attending a lesson wearing your pajamas, or sitting near the wifi spot in your backyard, that gives the wrong impression that the course is going to be a breeze.
Notice the remedy here is not to make the course easier. That’s not fair to your learners, who will benefit—even begrudgingly—from engaging with challenging material. No, your learners simply need extra motivation in order to realize their potential for mastering new material. Without the presence of an actual teacher in a physical classroom, learners tend to feel less confident in their ability to succeed.
Letting learners know that they have support on the sideline is one of the most important ways to motivate them. Even in a completely asynchronous environment, timely assignment feedback from instructors, collaborative discussion boards, and an ability to contact either peers or the instructor can help even the most hesitant eLearner feel confident. Other ideas are posting video messages of encouragement to the entire class, offering rewards such as points or badges for successfully completed lessons, and setting up opportunities for social interactions (such as creating a Facebook group for the course).