When you’re designing your course, especially in an online environment where engaging the learners is crucial, try not to think of it as ‘how do I upload my slides’ or ‘how can my students download and watch my lecture videos?’.
Instead, think of how to design experiences that you want your learners to go through in order to achieve the course outcomes: active learning activities that get learners to do something more than passively watching or listening.
Having an understanding of how people learn best is helpful when planning and designing meaningful learning experiences. Knowing the basics of what motivates your learners will be beneficial not only in the design of your course or learning sessions but it’ll also enable your participants to feel cared for and understood. This is important because when people feel cared for, they’re more likely to listen and learn. If you wish to increase the learning capabilities of your learners, tap into their intrinsic motivation.
There are quite a number of articles and research papers explaining how people learn, from infancy to adulthood. While each stage has its nuances, it appears that all age groups can benefit from intrinsic motivation strategies. Consider the following to motivate your learners:
1. Align learning outcomes to learners’ needs
It’s necessary for every learning experience to have outcomes (e.g. “By the end of this course, learners will be able to…”). Outcomes are the reason why online students enrol in courses, and they are a way to measure student success.
However, it’s just as necessary, if not more, to be mindful of whom the outcomes serve. If the outcomes are in place merely to satisfy the key performance indicator (KPI) of the facilitator, then the learning experience will not bear much fruit. But if the outcomes are aligned to the needs of the learners, then it is likely that your learners will put in the effort to achieve them.
2. Allow learners to show their work
Learners can be motivated by the chance to share their work, no matter how small. Creating a safe space for learners to show their work motivates them to continue learning. If the work that they produce is shared and discussed with everyone in the course, there is a high chance learners are able to learn from the ‘better’ products of their peers and improve on their own. It’s important for the facilitator to first create an inclusive and safe space for learners to feel confident about sharing and talking about their work and see the space as one that’s collaborative as opposed to one that’s competitive.
3. Provide opportunities for self-reflection
Encourage learners to think about what they’ve taken away from the learning experience and how they can implement what they’ve learned. Self-reflection prompts are helpful in getting learners to be mindful of their learning. These prompts can be as simple as (i) What is your main takeaway from this activity? and/or (ii) What will you do differently because of today’s activity?
As much as creating reflection spaces are important, creating meaningful reflection spaces are just as important, if not more important. Ensure your learners are making connections between what they’re learning in your session and in their daily lives.
4. Create a Constructivist learning environment
Constructivism is based on the idea that learners actively construct knowledge from experience, rather than passively taking in information. Constructivist learning experiences get learners involved in their learning as much as possible. This promotes a sense of ownership among the learners and gets them more excited to learn.
A few ways to involve your learners in the learning experience:
- Have them share course materials instead of providing them yourself. If your learners are adults or older teens, you can ask them to search for information and resources about a particular topic. This is an especially useful technique if your learners already have prior knowledge about the topic and will be able to share their input. By doing this, not only are your learners empowered in taking ownership of their learning, they’re also intentionally (or unintentionally) learning from each other. The facilitator is not the sole information provider but rather, all learners as a collective add to the information and quality of learning.
- Encourage dissent. Everyone has opinions, and they’re not always going to be in agreement. This is absolutely fine and in fact, pivotal in breeding critical and creative thinking. One way to do this is to put forth an idea or contrasting ideas and get learners to interact, discuss and learn from each other.
- Create a simulated environment for learners to test out new ideas or concepts. For example, if your participants are learning to conduct training sessions, get them to plan and design the session as well as run a mock training session where the other learners are the audience.
In a Constructivist learning environment, your role as a course creator is to carefully design experiences that will allow your learners to construct their own understanding and discovery of the subject matter.
If you’re unsure of how to start, reflect on your own experience when learning about a subject. How did you start getting involved in the topic? At what point did the topic become interesting to you? What did you have to do to become an expert in the topic? Chances are, your learners will also need to go through a similar process.
5. Apply inquiry-based learning
Inquiry-based learning is when you get your learners to start the course off with a challenge, or a problem to solve, and you support, guide, and mentor them in the discovery process.
For example, in the course below, learners are asked to come up with questions that they deeply want to explore. In this case, they were asked about the changes they want to see thanks to advancements in AR/VR technology:
Throughout the course, learners are introduced to the fundamentals of AR/VR and all the different tools available in AR/VR projects. Then, they use this knowledge to achieve their own personal goal. This leads to learners being intrinsically motivated.
Understanding your learners’ motivation is a hidden gem for your instructional design! If you can hook them by tapping into their intrinsic motivation, your job is much easier because they want to learn.
Great learning design is the result of a creative process. As with any creative process, it requires some amount of thought and evolution of ideas. Here are a few recommended resources for developing Learning Design skills:
- Our OpenLearning Ambassador program contains useful techniques and strategies to structure this thought process for you to produce high-quality online courses.
- Boost your learning design skillset with OpenLearning’s free Learning Design Series. Explore, discuss and learn 21st-century pedagogy and learning design strategies with educators from around the world.
- Download the 5 Pillars of Learning Design that will help you to exceed expectations and encourage rich, social interactions in your online learning.
Sometimes, it’s important to start with the basics and remove preconceived notions. In this case, forget what “normal” online courses look like or how teaching “should” be—and start thinking about how to create the best experience for your learners.