Trainers must learn a new language

The engagement of learners is currently a hot topic. Critics are saying that
the uptake of e-learning is limited to those students who already learn enthusiastically
through existing mediums, and it isn’t helping to attract a new audience.

Use of technology alone will not attract learners; it is the combination of
infrastructure, systems, processes and people that make the difference. In
e-learning in particular, services and systems for the positive engagement of
learners are an essential foundation. This is where the term ‘engagement’ takes
on a broader meaning than the initial process of attracting learners on to
courses through marketing and guidance.

Redefining engagement

A radical definition of engagement is required, which is less about getting
people through the door in the first place and more about a continuous ‘pull’
process. Human interaction is recognised to be a critical and defining part of
any learning process. For e-learning, where users are ‘out there’ much of the
time, human contact is even more important and needs to be systematically built
into the process, so there is an iterative cycle of engagement:

– Guidance – regarding topic choice and ensuring learners understand the
constraints and intellectual demands

– Interaction – creating tutorial and peer support networks, either
face-to-face, or via e-mail or internet chat groups

– Evaluation – to give formal feedback to students and ensure the course is
meeting their demands

Repeated guidance

These three crucial interventions will help to ensure that learners complete
their programmes and perhaps even come back for future training. The key point is
that this cycle needs to happen faster and more iteratively??? for e-learning,
so that guidance and evaluation in particular become repeated activities rather
than one-off events at the start and end of the process.

Most fundamentally, successful engagement relies on tailoring the whole mode
of learning provision to the learner, not just the content. The range of
provision within an enterprise or a region needs to be sufficiently flexible
and accessible to offer the right type and level of learning opportunity at the
right time, in the right location, with the right level of tutor support,
mentoring and peer interaction, and the right type of assessment for the
specific individual.

A tall order perhaps, but this is where e-learning support systems should
create opportunity by providing additional delivery and support mechanisms that
can integrate different modes of learning and link individual learners with
learning communities.

David Kay is associate director of strategic development at FD Learning –
www.fdlearning.co.uk

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