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AI: Assume intelligence

Your learners are smarter than you think

Imagine a typical elearning screen. The learner reads through the copy. They make the logical leap between the content and the image. But what now? There’s nothing more to do on this screen. What could they possibly do?

Oh, of course. Select the forward arrow to continue. Thank goodness for instruction text! Who knows what the learner would have done without it.

I joke, but there’s many a true word spoken in jest. Instruction text, a common feature of workplace training for many years, is just one example of a larger issue: learners aren’t credited with the intelligence, intuition and common sense they possess.

Learners are from Mars, Learning Designers are from Venus?

People criticise elearning as a format that alienates learners from the stuff they actually need to learn. There is some truth to this, but in my experience no one has tried to challenge this idea. Instead, the industry has just accepted it, and focused on trying to cover over it with pretty graphics and complex interaction.

But what if elearning isn’t inherently alienating? What if we just haven’t challenged that idea in the right way yet? Maybe it’s not the format that makes it unrelatable. Maybe it’s patronising instruction text and hard-to-read content that puts people off.

We don’t have to be scared that learners won’t know something. If we understand something well, we can assume a level of understanding in them, too. No need to hold their hand, or define things to the nth degree. If a modern learner doesn’t know something right away, they’ll probably just Google it.

It’s easy for us to imagine learners in a simple way. To put them in categories and assume we know what’s best for them. But easy isn’t the same as right. So how can we make a stand and challenge this? How can we show learners that we see and value their intelligence?

Engage from the outset

At THRIVE, each of our microlearning modules begins with a short intro video. It hooks learners into the content, and introduces the subject at hand. Whether establishing the theme or presenting stats in an inventive way, we try to do something creative with these first 45 seconds.

It’s easy to try and put too much information in, risking a text-heavy animation or one that’s simply too long. THRIVE’s approach is simpler, but much more inventive. It’s more than just nice graphics. It’s that we don’t pander to our learners. We’d rather use that time to get them thinking.

Take our recently released module ‘Carbon and the Climate’. The intro video features no voice-over, and only at the very end does the on-screen text appear: “think there’s nothing you can do about climate change?” We present learners with an apocalyptic landscape, showing through visuals and sound how our everyday actions can have an impact on the environment.

We know that our learners are intelligent people who are aware of the World around them. So rather than telling them what they’re about to learn, we challenge them to engage in a way that means something to them.

Intelligent interactions

We see the same old knowledge checks and end-of-module assessments time and time again. Sure, organisations need to track learners’ progress and where they might need to improve. But these interactions measure recall and not much else. They don’t actually reflect what someone has learned.

But it’s not hard to turn a regular set of recall questions into an engaging activity that really gets our learners thinking. Assume intelligence, add a bit of creativity, and things get more interesting pretty quickly.

Here’s a common THRIVE technique: let them have a go at the questions before they’ve learned any content. It’s not exactly a new idea, but modules often shy away from it, for fear that the poor learners will be confused. But they’re clever people just like you.

Put the questions inside familiar workplace scenarios, and this activity goes from impossible task to compelling challenge. Learners find out the content after the question, regardless of their answer, but they’re now actively engaged with the module.

At THRIVE, we call this effortful learning. We identify exactly what the learner needs to know and give them the tools to work it out for themselves, rather than just passively telling them so they can recall it later.

Research has shown that this active approach can also aid the comprehension and memory that traditional questions look for anyway.

To sum up

In my last blog, I mentioned that our approach to off-the-shelf lets us put the learner’s needs first. But that doesn’t mean spoon-feeding them information or holding their hand through interactions they come across every day.

The trends might be saying that Artificial Intelligence is the next big thing in elearning. It can generate content faster, improve accessibility, even translate in real time. But when it comes to truly engaging people, let’s realise the power of learners’ intelligence first.

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