Designing eLearning for Novice Learners

Think about how a novice experiences a new content area – they struggle. They fight just to keep their head above water. This applies to every area of life, not just instructional design. For instance, think back to your first time getting behind the wheel. Or the first time working out algebraic equations. Or the first time trying to read a paper roadmap. It was daunting. designing

This applies to novice learners, as well. They have a skills gap that must be closed, but designers must take very different steps when creating a course for novices rather than intermediate learners or experts. A few tips will help ensure that novices are able to be brought up to speed without overwhelming them.

Keep Content Organized

With intermediate and advanced learners, content must be organized in a very different way compared to what must happen for novice learners. Those with experience and expertise in a content area have already developed the internal mental framework needed for fast information retrieval. Novices have not. So, it is crucial to design with organization in mind – novices require information presented in the order they will need it. This ensures better memory recall when faced with such a situation in the real world.

Make It Relatable designing

While an expert learner might be able to absorb abstract knowledge, novices need something a bit more concrete. It is important for designers to create relevant content that relates to something novice learners know very well. It is all about creating a recognizable frame of reference – an anchor point. Novices are venturing out into the unknown and an anchor point provides them with the means to relate the new content to something they have already experienced, which strengthens the bond between existing knowledge and new content, making it “click.” Designers can both reference existing skills, knowledge, or even products, or they can use analogies to make new content more relatable and easily absorbed.

Fire Them Up

Many novice learners are a bit nervous about learning something new. Some actually have a deep-seated fear of it. That’s natural. However, designers can overcome these inherent objections by designing for motivation. Motivating novice learners can be done in many different ways, including:

  • Explain: Tell learners upfront what they will learn in the course and how the new knowledge will benefit them. How will it improve their work performance, or their lives in general?
  • Interactive: By keeping content interactive, it becomes “fun” to complete a course. Designers can use a range of interactivity options to create dynamic, engaging courses that novice learners actually like to use.
  • Multimedia: Use multimedia like video and audio, or even simple animations to motivate novice learners to complete a course. Often, a lack of motivation stems from a fear that the course will be dull or overwhelming, and the use of multimedia can overcome these.
  • Gamify: While gamification and learning games aren’t applicable everywhere, they do have a significant role to play in helping novice learners overcome objections to completing courses. They can even make the process fun.

Connect the Dots

Finally, make sure to connect the dots for learners (also called the spiral approach). Relate each new module or topic to previous content so that learners see the connections and how everything builds on what has gone before.

Designing for novices does require specific steps and strategies, but it is not difficult. With the right planning and an understanding of the specific needs of novice learners, designers can ensure a positive outcome.



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