How to leverage learning theories in your online training

Brendin Charles
Smiling brown-haired guy wearing earrings and a plaid shirt
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Learning theories have long been used to guide traditional instructor-led learning. Most learning theories were created and developed long before the arrival of computers, the internet, and eLearning as a whole. This can make it difficult to properly translate these theories and use them in eLearning environments. 

However, leveraging theories such as Bloom’s Taxonomy and John Keller’s ARCS Model of Instructional Design can be incredibly useful to develop focused, performance-driven, and effective eLearning.

Capturing and holding your learners’ attention

John Keller’s ARCS Model informs us that learners need to understand the motivation behind a piece of training to retain the information. Keller explains that you must grab your learners’ attention and meet their personal goals for them to understand why learning specific information is important.

ARCS model diagram: Action, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction are a part of Student Motivation.

Both of these aspects of Keller’s model are relevant in eLearning because an abundance of distractions exist at each learner’s fingertips. With digital learning, it can be difficult or impossible to verify whether learners are engaged.

Holding a learner’s attention throughout the course will ensure that they don’t deviate from the material and become sidetracked.

There are multiple strategies and ways to sustain a learner’s attention in an eLearning course:

  • Highlight or bold the most important information that a learner should know
  • Use dynamic transitions to display larger sections of information
  • Create and use different interactivities to show your material in unique ways
  • Use relevant imagery and media assets to explain more complex concepts
  • Appeal to the learner’s motivations and show them why the material is relevant 

Relating objectives to a learner’s motivations

Offering clear objectives and goals that directly relate to your learner’s motivations is critical to ensuring their retention

Traditionally, goals and objectives have been listed in a single slide, using a linear format. For example:

By the time you have completed this course, we expect you to understand how to:

  • Sanitize the toilets
  • Wipe down the sinks
  • Clean the mirrors
  • Empty the garbage bins
  • Scrub the walls

While this provides a clear statement of what the learner is expected to know, most of these were probably explained to them during the interview process. Some learning objectives may seem obvious to the learner and these are unlikely to capture the learner’s attention or provide them with any real motivation to retain the information.

However, there is a nuanced way to relate the course’s material to them in a more dynamic and thought-provoking way. One option that could be more impactful puts the onus on the learner to provide what they believe they need to know:

Which of these job duties do you believe you need to understand by the end of this course? Select all that apply.

  • Sanitize the toilets
  • Create new janitorial procedures
  • Wipe down the sinks
  • Clean the mirrors
  • Provide personal care items
  • Empty the garbage bins
  • Scrub the walls

Activities and scenarios provide learners with opportunities to make connections to the material using their own knowledge. They also compel learners to pay closer attention to the information, as their input is required in order to proceed with the course.

Creating useful activities & questions

Bloom’s Taxonomy identifies the various levels of complexity in a learner’s ability to understand and use material. Factual recall of information is considered to be the most basic level of understanding material.

Bloom's Taxonomy pyramid. Starting from bottom to top: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

While it may be important to have your learners remember some facts in your material, questions that require application, analysis, and evaluation are much more valuable to testing a learner’s comprehension. Take this question for example:

True or false: You must know how to scrub the walls.

  • True
  • False

Understanding that they need to scrub the walls doesn’t represent whether or not they know what that process entails. Questions such as this do not provide any challenge to learners or test their knowledge in a meaningful way. A more impactful question may be:

You walk in to clean the bathrooms during your regular cleaning routine. What is the first step in the procedure to properly scrub the walls?

  • Pour solution #1 into a bucket
  • Pour solution #2 into a bucket
  • Combine solution #1 and #2 in a bucket
  • Pour hot water into a bucket

This question establishes that there is a regular cleaning routine and that the walls must be scrubbed as part of that routine; it also asks the learner what the proper technique is to scrub the walls. This places the learner directly within a job scenario to better relate how the material is important to them.

Leverage learning theories for structured learning

Learning theories can be relevant regardless of the medium in which the material is delivered. It’s important to recognize where and when to leverage them within your courses to provide your learners with optimal learning environments.

Learning Hub: free resources for eLearning

The Neovation Learning Hub contains many free resources and articles that can help you improve eLearning outcomes at your organization. Continue learning about Instructional Design topics, read articles on Custom eLearning Development, or find new eLearning tools to help you with your eLearning initiatives.

Smiling brown-haired guy wearing earrings and a plaid shirt
Brendin Charles

Brendin Charles' enthusiasm for helping clients with his instructional design expertise will ensure your learners understand their eLearning course material, achieving your desired outcomes.

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