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Three Types of eLearners

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There are three types of learners who are the main targets of any eLearning course, the mistaken, the indifferent, and the uncertain.  It’s always possible of course that someone who already knows the correct information will end up taking a course, possibly for practice or just because it’s mandatory, but since they already know the information they are not the main focus.

Our first type of learner thinks they know the information already, but unfortunately they are mistaken.   They have either learned the incorrect answer at some point previously through accident, or perhaps have simply absorbed an incorrect piece of information through general osmosis.  But in any case, this incorrect information has to be removed first before correct information can be learned.

If the issue is a simple matter of fact then re-teaching the correct information is much easier.  The truth has a certain ring to it which inevitably makes more sense things which are false, so long as it is stated as simply as possible.  If someone has learned the incorrect nature of the Pythagorean Theorem for example, you need only show them that the version they have learned does not work, while the correct version does, and it will be apparent which one is correct.

The process is a little more difficult when the person has learned a something contingent incorrectly.  For example, if your company has a specific procedure for filling out invoices, and someone has learned the procedure incorrectly, it will be much harder to teach them the correct procedure because the incorrect method they have learned seems just as good as the truly correct one.  In this type of instance you will need to draw attention to the incorrect method, and validate it.  I know that sounds a little confusing, and while it might work to just tell someone to change their behavior, it will be much easier to make the change if you first acknowledge that their way of doing things works, but that the correct method is either better or just what is needed.  

Our second type of learner is indifferent to the information that they need to learn.  While we will not have to exorcise any incorrect knowledge from this type of learner, we will need to work extra to engage them.  Where the learner who has learned incorrectly can be engaged initially simply by telling them that they have actually been mistaken this whole time, the indifferent learner needs another hook to engage them with the topic at hand.

Let’s take the example of proper comma use.  Most people are not invested in whether or not the Oxford comma should be used when listing three or more items in a sentence.  In order to engage the learner in a subject they might otherwise not be invested in we need to make them invested.  We could tell a story about a panda who “eats, shoots, and leaves” vs a panda who “eats shoots and leaves”, or perhaps a child who means to say “Let’s eat, Grandma” but instead says, “Let’s eat Grandma”.  Punctuation, as we can see saves lives.  

By using an interesting example, or an activity if the situation calls for it, we can engage the indifferent learner so that they will become receptive to learning material they previously would have either ignored, or quickly forgotten.    Engagement is necessary for all types of learners, but it is especially important for the indifferent ones, and as such should be of special focus in those cases.

Our third type of learner is the uncertain.  This is probably the best kind of learner (if you will pardon me playing favorites) because they are already curious and ready to learn something new.  All that’s needed to get this type of learner going is to appeal to their natural curiosity.  By drawing attention to their own uncertainty and to the possibilities which might be the case, it is possible to kindle the desire to know, purely for knowing’s sake.  This kind of intrinsic motivation is a very powerful force to encourage in a learner because you will no longer need to motivate them to learn, they will learn all on their own.

Any eLearning course should be customizable enough so that it can cater to any and all of the three learning types.  The common thread there is engagement.  If the material isn’t engaging no one will pay attention, no matter what type of learner they happen to be.  Material should therefore be engaging enough to interest the uninterested learner and presented in such a way to shake the mistaken learner out of their complacency.  The uncertain learner, thankfully, is between the two extremes and can be engaged if the other two are as well.