Building Sticky Learning: Tips from Kathleen Witjing at eLearning DevCon

Building Sticky Learning: Tips from Kathleen Witjing at eLearning DevCon


Last week I traveled to Salt Lake City for eLearning DevCon, a conference targeted at elearning designers and developers. On Tuesday, I shared my reflections on sessions by  Jeremy Friedberg of Sponge Lab and Curtis Morley of Franklin Covey. I also attended a fabulous session from Kathleen Witjing of MedStar Health, who shared her excellent tips for creating really sticky, effective elearning courses.

Building Sticky Learning

Witjing demonstrated a health education training program that included interactive simulations, complex branching scenarios and realistic decision-making situations. Witjing spent the bulk of her presentation focused on how you gather together the materials for an elearning course – just as she advises designers to spend the bulk of their time constructing the design document before embarking on the actual construction of the course.

Witjing recommends starting with a strong foundation of understanding your audience and the critical information they must master before developing a single thing. Her tips:

  • Know your audience. This is part of the overall challenge to reduce the cognitive load (see previous post for more on this point!). Help learners understand information and learn skills effectively by understanding their context, including their cultural context. Use language, information and context that is relevant and connects to your audience’s existing experience.
  • Help learners encode information. Witjing delved in detail into the neurological processes of creating memory. There are several levels of memory, from observation to retention; to create lasting, long-term memories, people must not only pay attention to the information but encode it meaningfully. Repetition, connecting information to relevant experiences and making the information comprehensible are pieces of the encoding process. To help learners encode information, take these steps:
    • Ask learners a question.
    • Invite them to imagine a scenario.
    • Present information learners need to actively question to move forward.
    • Relate information and examples to things learners already know.
    • Ask learners to interact with environment or make a decision to move forward.
  • Find your gladiator. You need a subject matter champion to help you collect, organize and process information.
  • Use a map. Creating a learning process map not just for you, the learning designer, but for learners.  A visual representation of entire learning process helps learners too, as they can visualize their progress and understand how much they have achieved.
  • Spend your time on design. Per Witjong, “Course development should be really quick because all the decisions have already been made. Design is like the hard bike ride up a big hill and and the development is just the fun coasting downhill.” As you develop a project timeline, invest your time heavily in designing the learning process before developing the learning materials.
  • Reviewing content and testing technology are not the same thing. When you have a draft version of your course, ensure that you both test the technology in action and review the learning process to ensure it conforms to the process you designed in step 1. This is where your subject matter expert is an invaluable partner.
  • Do a 360 review. Are managers observing workplace improvement? What is the reaction from learners? How are you measuring the change in behavior? What can you do differently next time? Collect this feedback and information in order to improve not only this specific course, but the process you undertake as you implement your next elearning project.

Witjing’s sample course – on fetal heart monitoring for nurses – demonstrated how elearning developers can enable professionals to study, practice and master highly technical information in an interactive environment. Any comments on her ideas?


Image Credit: .imelda on Flickr