Enhancing the digital learning experience

Author: Clive Shepherd
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When we think of a great learning experience with digital content, we tend to think of the way that the content itself is designed – how usable, relevant and engaging it is for learners. But the learning experience is much more than the content as we shall see.

In this article, I’m going to demonstrate how the learner’s experience can be considerably enhanced by the systems and processes we use to deliver our content.

Enhancing through personalisation

Let’s imagine that you’ve brought together a collection of learning objects around a particular subject. These objects could be videos, web articles, animations, slide shows, quizzes, interactive scenarios – any form of digital content.

You’ve arranged the objects into a logical sequence that you feel would work for an average user. The simplest way to organise this collection is for learners to start at the beginning and work their way through …

OK, but being treated as an average user isn’t what you call a great learning experience. Let’s add some intelligence …

The green block on top symbolises the process we need to go through to make this experience more adaptive. The idea is that this magic element will bring together what it knows about the learner with what it knows about the content in order to adapt the learner’s path through the content.

So, who or what does know about the learner and the content? Essentially, we have three candidates.

We could just leave it up to the learner and let them make a free choice from the content in our collection. This can and does work but it’s risky if the learner’s a novice in the subject: Do they know what they don’t know? Do they know what’s really important? One way of reducing this risk is to provide lots of advice within the learning platform – perhaps even employ a chatbot.

Our second choice is to bring in someone a little more experienced – a teacher, coach, mentor or manager – someone who knows the learner and knows the subject. This is a good option but not very scalable if we have, say, 10000 learners.

The third choice is to use the system. Learning platforms increasingly have the capability to build a profile of a learner, perhaps using the results from a diagnostic quiz, perhaps because the system knows what role the learner has, or perhaps based on what the system learns from its interactions with the learner. And if your content is properly tagged with metadata which describes what and who it’s for, the system is in a position to direct the learner to the most appropriate content for them, as shown in the diagram above by the blue blocks.

Once the experience is under way, we need to take stock. The block at the bottom of the diagram above represents our data store.

If we are to support the learner as they use our content, we need data. We need their feedback, we need to know what progress they’re making, and we may need to know what scores they’re achieving in assessments. Most learning platforms are able to record some or all of this data, whether that’s using their own technology or common standards such as SCORM or the Experience API.

How do we use this data? Well, like before, we need intelligence and to achieve this we have the same three choices – we inform the learner so they can choose what to do next, we provide reports to third parties, such as teachers, so they can provide advice, or we update the system so it can use its own intelligence.

Enhancing through gamification

Another way of enhancing the experience of digital content is using gamification.

Gamification is the use of typical elements of game playing, such as scores, leader boards, levels and badges, to enhance something that typically isn’t a game, in this case digital learning content. The reason we might do this is to provide additional motivation to the learner to make progress through the content.

So, for example, we might organise our content into levels, award badges at the end of each level, and if we’re happy that a little competition will help the motivation rather than get in the way, we could add a leader board.

Some aspects of gamification you can achieve quite easily without any new technology, some might require a little technical help. Or if you’re lucky, these facilities will come with your learning platform.

Enhancing through peer interaction

A further option is to support your content with the opportunity for peer interaction.

The extent to which this will be useful will depend to some extent on the subject. If your content introduces new concepts, principles or ideas, then learners will want to test these out and explore them further.

You can achieve this in a number of ways:

There may be some sort of discussion forum built in to your learning platform.

You may have a completely separate social platform.

Or you may do without technology and facilitate interaction through workshops, staff meetings or peer coaching groups.

In summary

All of the ideas we’ve discussed – adaptive delivery of the content, gamification and peer interaction – can be introduced independently or in combination. It all depends on what’s needed to make sure your content delivers for stakeholders and for learners, and the practical feasibility of making all this happen given the technology and human resources at your disposal.

A good place to start would be to take a look at your learning platform and what it’s capable of delivering. If you don’t have a learning platform, you now know what features to look out for.

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Enhancing the digital learning experience
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