Monday, October 8, 2012

Motivating eLearners, Pt. 3: An Inspiring Experience

Selecting computer-based teaching tools can be paralyzing for educators. Is it aligned to my pre and post assessment and my endpoint credential?  Is it approved on my state's list of reportable curricula?  Clock time model? Auto log-off?  Who else is using it? Where are the effectiveness studies?  Does it work on tablets? Who has time to evaluate all the products and all the variables?  

Unfortunately, the criteria that we turn to usually reflects our own priorities as educators, administrators, and bureaucrats.  What about our learners? More important that whether a program aligns to your assessments is whether it aligns to your learners.  Is it compelling, helpful, supportive and does it motivate?  The most important aspect of any distance education program are the activities, or online learning programs, that you're asking learners to spend their time using.  Better learning outcomes are possible once we get away from K-12 content repackaged for the adult ed market. 

In the past two installments on motivating eLearners, we looked at the teacher's role as facilitator and the organization's approach to administering services. Now, let's talk about how adult learner focused computer-based instruction can motivate eLearners.  

7) Curating your learning gallery: When facilitating online learning, certain roles that we play become more important than traditional teaching (like advising on study habits, as previously discussed).  Another is curating a gallery of instructional tools and learning opportunities that will hold our learners' attention and facilitate their progress.  I can't keep my inner partisan sales-man in check, because the learning platform matters. This is where I'm going to talk about some of the unique features of GED Academy, but as always, I'd love my readers input on this.  What features of your online learning programs are motivating learners?  To get the ball rolling, I'll go first.   

8) Real-time feedback: After a problem or a lesson is completed, there should be feedback on the spot, while the topic is fresh, whether you got it right or wrong.  It's ideal to go over an item in detail, which is the primary function of GED Academy's virtual teacher, Leonard Williams. But you also need to see where your performance fits into the larger picture of your goal. So,  qualitative and quantitative feedback should be offered. 

9) Visual progress indicators: Also known as progress meters... this kind of feedback loop is powerful and satisfying a it responds to the learners' input.  It not only register incremental movement as each lesson is completed, it shows the learner their proximity to the finish line, and that's where the big-time motivation comes in: the goal of completing.   You don't have to ask them to visualize their goal, it's right there. You don't have to constantly field the question about when they're going to be ready to test, the answer is always right in front of them.

10) An organized toolbox:  Too often, the teacher is the keeper of the tools. We give them out to learners as needed, as we deem it necessary or appropriate.  But the gatekeeper role must be slowly phased out if your learner is going to be self-directed and and eventually self-sufficient in their continuing education.  The image above shows some of the GED Academy's HomeRoom tabs, which give learners multiple ways to study, to connect to other learners, to find their testing center, and to get their concerns addressed through open questioning or searching archives.

11) An invisible guiding hand: The experience of studying online should not be cold and impersonal as you work through a generic prescription of lessons.  It's not enough to start off with a prescriptive pretest, the program should act like a personal tutor and customize its recommendations between lessons.  The program should be constantly assessing the learner and redirecting them appropriately.  Practice tests or post-test assessments should be offered only after the learner has earned the need to have a new learning plan prescribed (or their readiness to test certified).  This kind of computer-adaptive approach is crucial to making the process of learning feel relevant and important to a self-directed learner.  

12) Change the setting, virtually: When an online learning program puts all of these motivational techniques into play and surrounds the learner with mechanisms that direct and support, we call that a 'learning ecosystem.'  When the US Secretary of Education called for the phasing out of textbooks, he called for more "immersive, online learning experiences that engage students in a way a textbook never could." The learner becomes part of it as it responds to their needs.  You identify with the process.  It's not separate, something that can be discarded and left-behind as we see with so many adult learners.  A learning ecosystem takes adult students out of the frame of mind where they don't believe they can succeed.  

I didn't even broach the topic of the learning activities themselves, which should be relatable to adults with a range of learning styles and content-rich to reward multiple run-throughs, and with enough nuance and personality to really draw the learner in.  Besides the teacher's counseling and special tools for organizing time, I think time management is also addressed by the learning program itself actually holding their attention, rewarding their success and keeping them busy with resources. GED Academy (also often used for ABE/Pre-GED/ESOL) is an accelerated learning program, so the learners see the progress they're making right before their eyes.  That's motivating.  

Take a peek at this 2 minute intro to the GED Academy program and you'll see how it individualizes instruction and provides some of the one-on-one support that many learners crave.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at jason (at) passged (dot) com. 

If you've got examples you'd like to share, please contribute a comment.