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Years ago when I was learning to be a teacher, I was quickly thrown in the deep end to teach a group of adult learners. ‘Prac teaching’ can be a daunting experience.  I still remember the feedback from the teacher who observed my first lesson; she said I needed to be more ‘learner-centric’. It took me months—maybe even years—to truly appreciate the difference between a teacher-centric and a learner-centric approach. In this post I would like to explore the difference, and in particular how it can be applied to eLearning design.

Teacher-centric approach

With this approach, the teacher is thinking about ‘what content do I need to deliver in the lesson’ and the goal is to cover everything by the end of the lesson. In essence, the lesson becomes like a presentation. The teacher does most of the talking/presenting and the learners are more like passive recipients of the information.

Designer-centric approach

When it comes to eLearning design, there is also the risk of being so preoccupied with organising content that we overlook the needs of the learners. The focus is on pushing out the content, rather than pulling in the learner. In the field of eLearning, perhaps we could call this approach ‘designer-centric’ or even ‘SME-centric’.  This approach often results in courses that look very similar to presentations.

Learner-centric approach

Here is a useful definition of the learner-centric/student-centric approach:

“In student-centred learning, students are active participants in their learning, they learn at their own pace and use their own strategies….learning is more individualized than standardized. Student-centred learning develops learning-how-to-learn skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking. Student-centred learning accounts for and adapts to different learning styles of students.” (Source: http://www.intime.uni.edu)

Teachers and trainers who use a learner-centred approach are able to tune into the individual needs of learners and do their best to meet those needs.

How can eLearning designers be learner-centric?

With the latest technological advances in authoring tools, it is becoming easier for designers to create engaging courses that cater to individual needs and preferences.

Here are a few suggestions for being more learner-centric in eLearning design:

  1. Think of the course as an experience for the learner. If you realise that your eLearning course is starting to look more and more like a presentation, then it is time to step back and imagine you are the person taking the course. Would you enjoy the learning experience or would your eyes soon glaze over?
  2. Use scenario-based learning. This involves presenting a realistic situation to the learners and then asking them to apply knowledge by making a choice. Each choice branches to a screen with different consequences. This is a great way to encourage the learner to actively participate in the course. You are asking them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
  3. Give learners choices where appropriate. For example if you are including a research activity, give the learners a choice of three websites to go to. Another option is to give them a choice of topics to research. This will make the learning experience more enjoyable.
  4. Provide a range of mediums for people to learn from – videos, podcasts, documents, graphs, charts, lists, quizzes, activities and so on. This will help you to cater for visual learners, auditory learners and so on. For example you could provide this instruction: Read the PDF document attached. Alternatively watch the video which covers the same information.
  5. Give learners additional resources to branch off and explore a topic further if they need to.  Remember that each learner brings her or his own pre-existing knowledge and skills to a course. Some learners will need more information than others. I like the idea of boxes throughout a course entitled – ‘Want to know more?’ or ‘Need more information?’ – and then you can insert a link to a document or website with more details. This is not for essential course information; instead it is for supplementary material. Some people may read the additional information out of interest, others out of necessity and others may ignore it. The point is you are recognising potential differences and catering for those differences in the course design.


Final word

Of course at the most basic level, a learner-centred approach means you must have a good understanding of who the learners are. Before starting the storyboard, it is worth doing any necessary research about the ages, abilities, attitudes and expectations of the learners. With a clear learner profile in mind, it is easier to design a course that meets their specific needs.

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