Variety and online learning

Variety and online learning

Variety, the old saying goes, is the spice of life—it’s also crucial in keeping online learners alert and engaged.

At MindEdge, we see incorporating a variety of learning approaches (including video, text, interactive exercises, flipbook presentations, writing-to-learning exercises, mini-cases, simulations, book excerpts, etc.) as a best practice for learner-centered instruction and education.

Here are four specific benefits of focusing on variety:

  • Variety offers multiple entry points for the learner.

    Learners who quickly scan the assignments in an online course may enter the course with an assignment or activity that appeals to them. Some learners proceed sequentially but others skip around. Some may even start with quizzes or tests as a way of gauging their level of knowledge. Variety is of value to all of these learners.

  • Novelty helps keep the learner engaged.

    Research shows that learners are more likely to lose focus after 15 minutes or so of concentrating on new content (which is one reason why MindEdge looks to keep its video segments short). Variety breaks up the pace of learning; changing the way content is presented can spark fresh interest.

  • Learning variety can better illuminate difficult content.

    Not everyone processes information in the same way. Some learners find video presentations help them master challenging material—others prefer text, some are most comfortable with visual aids. A simple graph or chart can often elicit that “aha” moment. Consider the following graphic about Six Sigma from MindEdge’s “Quality Management Basics” course:


    Six Sigma Bell Curve

    The chart shows clearly that processes working at a “Six Sigma” level are 99.9997% defect-free (or only 3.4 defects per million process outputs) in a way that many learners are going to find quite helpful.

  • Different learning methods reinforce different learning goals.

    Learners benefit when different learning approaches align with outcomes: writing-to-learn exercises, for example, are an effective way to help students in synthesizing what they have learned. Learning games can make mastering definitions or concepts enjoyable rather than tedious. Narrative learning (case studies, simulations) connects with learners in ways that non-narrative presentations don’t.

To make sure that courses, simulations, and other learning resources provide varied approaches to learning, it’s important to plan ahead during the content development process. Instructional designers should consider the sequence and pacing of the learning. They should look for opportunities to introduce new and different learning elements. The pay-off will come in the form of learning that engages, entertains, and informs.


Copyright © 2012 MindEdge, Inc.