Decades of classroom teaching and online experience have provided me with some insights into how we can make e-learning more interesting. One particularly memorable classroom experience happened when two of my students from the same company signed up for my job coaching class. The older, more experienced one met me before class and told me that her coaching experience was awful. One time, her subordinate started crying and another time a guy just looked at her and said, “I quit.” She didn’t think she could get much help out of the class. Her coworker was new to management and had no experience coaching, but as a manager, he was required to take a coaching class. She wanted to get it over with, while the new manager seemed open to learning.
That’s not how it turned out. As the class started, I saw the more experienced one nodding her head “yes” as she was relating the content to her experience. At the same time, the other student’s phone seemed to be more important to him than the content of the class. During the discussions that followed, she related her experiences to the lesson, and her colleague avoided participating. She was motivated to learn. It was clear that their history played a large role in their level of motivation.
Teachers can motivate learners by interacting with them in the classroom. For example, they can involve students in a discussion or make direct eye contact with them. That can’t be done with e-learning. Motivating the learning is still very important, but with e-learning, other methods must be used.
Making Topics Relevant Improves Motivation
In the performance coaching class, one student could relate her experience to the content and connected with it, but her colleague, without the experience, could not. I needed for him to understand how coaching can be challenging. If the class had been online, without an instructor, how could the content presented get him interested? Ideally, the content needed to provide him with experience, like hers, while making him feel safe from the embarrassment of making mistakes. In an e-learning environment, that means that he could be given a situational exercise where he needed to provide a series of coaching responses. It could start by asking him to select one of a few ways to open the coaching discussion and see the reaction to the one he selected. In a short exercise, he could begin to understand the challenge and want to find the solution. The content would become more relevant as he now has some limited experience.
Interactivity Improves Motivation
I’ve attended many classes where the instructor provides a lot of information during the lecture. Too often, students are unfairly expected to passively absorb the content, but all they can do is take notes. I always find it difficult to stay focused on the material, during a long lecture. Classroom discussions can improve the classes by making them more interactive. Like a good lecture, e-learning content should actively engage the students in the learning process by being interactive. One way to accomplish this is to present short exercises after the student learns about a topic. These frequent knowledge checks accomplish two things. First, they help learners clarify the concepts which seem clear until they try to use them. The exercises uncover gaps in their understanding. Second, the exercises give learners a better understanding of how what they are learning may be useful in the future. As a result, student motivation increases throughout the learning process.
Hybrid Approach to Motivation
The hybrid approach mixes educational content with exercises. It starts with interactive exercises that motivate the students, while the in-depth ongoing feedback provides relevant content. Good choices during the exercises are rewarded with explanations and positive feedback. When mistakes are made in this environment, an explanation is provided, and alternatives are suggested. Adding a score to the exercise makes the training game-like and can provide additional motivation for some students.
Hybrid Approach for Coaching Students Using Virtual Role-Players
In conversational or soft-skill training, virtual role-players make the use of the hybrid approach possible. Consider the coaching example just described. An online virtual role-player who needs coaching, offers a safe, risk-free environment for the experienced learner to practice her performance coaching. She can make the mistakes she made in the past and then reflect on the feedback provided and learn why things didn’t go well. At the same time, she learns how to improve her techniques. Her colleague might know exactly what to do and build skills by applying his knowledge, but likely, he will begin his role-play by making mistakes and learning from the feedback. In either case the interactivity incorporated into the e-learning exercise will motivate the students to engage with the training and enable each one to improve their performance coaching skills.
SIMmersion’s Virtual Role-Players Motivate Learners
The main component of SIMmersion’s training systems are the virtual role-plays. Often, students don’t want to spend time working through the e-learning lessons contained in the front screens; they jump into the role-play with the virtual role-player. However, others want to prepare before starting. SIMmersion provides short text-based and video lessons that are modular, so each can be read and understood independently of one another. This provides support for students who want to study the lessons before starting the role-play and also provides a method for students who start with the role-play but eventually want to find more explanatory material. More information on SIMmersion’s coaching training is at https://www.simmersion.com/coaching. Many other examples of hybrid role-player systems can be found at https://www.simmersion.com/.