How do I use this thing? Learning to learn from e-learning

18 Apr

It is a timeless scene: A high school class is about to begin, and just about every student pulls out their notebook and pen, perhaps a text, ready for the lesson. Inevitably, there are always one or two kids who just sit there, empty-handed and desk uncovered. The teacher wearily prompts those students: “Would you care to join the class today by getting out your notebook and pen?” Most of the time, with visibly exaggerated fanfare, they will prepare to join

At least he Jeff didn't come empty handed.

At least Spicoli didn’t come empty handed.

the lesson.

These kids don’t need to be told how to learn in class. Most will take notes, raise hands, ask questions, highlight text. But there is nothing instinctive or natural about it. They have learned through their school years how to learn, or at least how to give the appearance of learning. They do it because they were taught to do it, and it is a skill that improves with practice. (Whether this is a good system for a modern classroom is debatable, but that’s not the point here.)

Even though I have been designing e-learning for years, I was recently reminded of the importance of teaching learners how to learn in what for many may be an unfamiliar learning environment: alone at their screen. Instructional designers should know that learner analysis is part of the job, but we should dig in to find if there is a place to learn how to learn in our e-learning programs. It took this video from the Global Online Academy to remind me of this valuable lesson.


While we can safely assume that manipulating mouse and keyboard through an e-learning course is a familiar enough activity, we should not assume that learners know how to use it as they would a live, classroom session. Depending on our audience, we may need to take on the responsibility to teach learners effective ways to learn from an online course. Strategies may include:

  • Copying-and-pasting into a digital notebook
  • Bookmarking more difficult sections to return to after an initial pass
  • Pointing out ways to contact subject matter experts (SMEs) and instructional designers to answer questions
  • Using course links effectively
  • Doing independent search, clip, compile and share activities around the topic (PKM), formally or informally
  • Taking traditional notes on paper (back to the future!)

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