5 ways to connect your courses with your learner

Network Communication

As we get started crafting and storyboarding a course, we are often focused on what needs to be included from a content perspective that the learner gets disconnected from the learning experience. Here are 5 quick ways to make sure the learner always stays in the center of our design efforts. Consider adding these elements around the content to really create the connection.

Now is the time to stop considering content interactions and start focusing on the connection in order to help the learner incorporate a new skill-set.


1. Start with a solid opener

There is no telling what someone was doing prior to starting the course. They may have had an upsetting phone call, been rushing from a meeting, been worried about when they could pick up their kids. There are endless things that were happening prior to the training. In a live classroom training, people are physically engaging with the class because they are in a room together. This is more challenging with e-learning. But it is essential that people are in the right mind set to learn and it is our job to break that preoccupation with whatever it was that they were doing before they opened the course.

This is the time to ease them into the course by providing a motivational message that draws them in and gets them prepared to learn. It should be something that is personal that starts to get their mind on what they know and don’t know about the topic, what value they attach to it as well as the what the outcome of learning this new content will help them achieve once they learn it.

Example: One of my favorite examples is from a Michael Allen course. It was a safety procedure course for flight attendants. The opening was of a plane going down because the safety procedures weren’t followed. What a powerful way to illustrate the importance of what they were going to be learning.

Another example of a project we did was to illustrate what happens when foreign particles or allergens end up in the food we eat. We started the course with a news story about a little girl who found a fingernail in her cereal – GROSS! And the bad press this company received and how it effected everyone at that plant. That caused people to step up and realize that even the smallest thing made a huge difference to their customers.

2. Encourage them to reflect on their prior experience

Adults need to attach new knowledge to their prior knowledge or experience. They aren’t empty vessels so they will always come with different perceptions, insights or preconceived notions about what you are teaching. Acknowledge that by allowing them to reflect on what they know or don’t know and where this new information will fit into that bigger picture.

Example: Many times we will do targeted self assessments or surveys to get them thinking about their prior experience and how grounded they are in the content that we will be teaching. This helps set the stage for further exploration throughout the course.

3. Include them in the content

Are there specific examples or scenarios that fit them? Are they represented in the training experience? Learners need to connect with the examples and stories that are being told. Make sure that you have a diverse set of characters that represent a wide variety of workers in the environment. Create the appropriate context to match what the true learning experience will be back on the job. Also, tie the content back to the learner and their experience as much as possible. Are there ways that you can engage their ideas and lessons learned into the messages you are teaching? Adults have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they have acquired — and they don’t argue with their own data — how can they share their experiences and personalize the experience within the content.

Example: Interview the learners to find out specific illustrations or impressions that learners have about the topic. What are their real life stories and challenges that you are trying to solve. Talk to the high performers and find out what those things are that they do well that you can replicate. Instead of taking a topic and researching it down to an outline or bullet points, tie the key learnings to real life situations and scenarios that can help a learner connect with the conceptual information. Capture these stories or impressions on video or audio and include them to show different perspectives and insights.

4. Allow them to practice and apply the knowledge

Adults learn by having hands-on practice and applying what you are teaching. An online course is the perfect place for a learner to practice in a safe environment. Recreate their work environment and have them go through realistic simulations and/or scenarios until they can follow the steps and even identify some nuisances in the lessons.

Example: Include them in rich, real experiences that they may encounter on the job based on the content you are teaching them. Recently we taught new accountants how to complete the 1040 form for their clients. Instead of just providing them the rules and where they would go to fill in the field, we actually had them complete two client’s returns, from start to finish. They were provided help and feedback in one of them and the other they were evaluated based on their proficiency. This saved the firm countless hours in individualized training but also enabled that learner to practice in a simulated environment.

5. End with a call to action

Each course should end with a way for the learner to apply what they have learned. In Marketing, we call this a Call to Action. The goal of any learning course is to change performance or behavior. Illustrate what that looks like for a learner and guide them through the steps that they can take to change something after the training. This could be anything from a self assessment, a conversation with their manager or even asking them to set specific goals that they will achieve as a result of the course.

Example: I love to include a good action plan at the end of the training. This doesn’t have to be complex or fancy. It can be as simple as a fill in the blank, “Write down what the three things you will apply back on your job as a result of this training”, or more thought provoking like, “Based on the rules of the performance conversation, determine three goals you have as a result of this training. Then, write a completion date next to each one to hold yourself accountable.” These can be printed, shown to the manager, or even uploaded to a site dedicated to continuing the conversation. There are many ways to get people to the next step, which is applying the training or transferring the knowledge.

What examples do you have? Join the conversation and let us know YOUR ideas in the comments below!