Connecting with students can be difficult even in ideal circumstances. Unlike regular classroom-based courses, digital learning poses an additional set of challenges for instructional designers and students alike. Sometimes even the most well-designed courses may not resonate with certain learners. Despite the instructional designer’s use of cutting-edge technology and well-researched content, some students may still find it hard to comprehend or retain course material — and that can cause them to quit eLearning altogether.
Because of this functional challenge, it is crucial for online course creators to find ways to improve student retention and reduce attrition. Let’s take a look at some simple strategies that instructional designers can implement when developing and reviewing course content to ensure students don’t hit roadblocks that drive them away.
Design for Simplicity
According to Psychology Today, while the human brain is capable of multi-tasking, it does far better when processing basic tasks. A simple interface, where learners don’t have to spend much time discovering how to do routine tasks (such as downloading content, uploading assignments, communicating with instructors, etc.) will leave learners with more time to understand and retain core course content. This design principle is heavily influenced by Hick’s Law, which states that instructional designers should limit learners’ options as much as possible. In other words, the more complex details you incorporate in your design, the less effective course becomes.
In her research about human emotion and memory, Elizabeth Phelps, Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University, notes that emotions and memory work together in our brains. Because of this, as Leo Widrich, COO at BufferSocial, explains, learners tend to react more favorably to interactive storytelling rather than plainly presented content in a linear lecture format. Therefore, you should include engaging and memorable stories within your lessons, or use storytelling principles to design the lessons themselves.
These 30 storytelling tips for live classrooms are a great starting point for instructional designers, too.
Design with Empathy
Based on Deci and Ryan’s (1985) self-determination theory, researchers have found that online learners each have different reasons to participate in class. Instructional content that is designed based on understanding who your audience is, and what motivates them, is more likely to be learned, absorbed, and retained by your learners. Therefore, take the time first to empathize with your audience and their needs; then understand how your learners think, act, and learn before you develop your content.
Reviews, Revisions and Repetitions
According to Christian Weibell, repetition is one of the most intuitive principles of learning. Throughout your course, introduce segments where your learner has an opportunity to review and revise previously learned material. For instance, a good practice may be to ask review questions related to Lessons 1 and 2 during your Lesson 3 assessment.
Create Content that Resonates with Learners’ Personal Experiences
One of the adult learning principles dictates that learners typically find it easier to absorb and retain content that directly relates to their personal situations or background knowledge. For example, content in a course for marketing professionals will be better retained if your examples, case studies, and assignments are related to the marketing business, rather than to manufacturing or health care.
Offer Timely Feedback
After conducting extensive research about providing actionable feedback to learners, researchers Goel and Ellis concluded that one of the most effective ways to keep adult learners engaged is to provide context-rich feedback during key interactions with the learner. This approach includes ensuring your course is designed not just to offer “Right/Wrong” feedback on quizzes and assignments, but to also offer supplemental information/justification for the correct response. This reinforces a student’s retention capacity by helping to validate their (accurate) understanding of the content, or refocusing their (incorrect) assumptions about key concepts – both of which are vital for retention.
You can learn more about providing better contextual feedback to students here, including examples of the ways CourseArc lets you build contextual feedback directly into your course responses.
And if your students are seniors or other first-time digital learners, here are some tips to help you make their initial digital learning experience even easier.