Finding the Most Effective Course For Your Learning Objective

Traditional methods of educational transference (books, lectures and most online training programs) have far less of an effect on contemporary employees than one might think. Today, reaching employees and positively changing their attitudes and behaviors is becoming increasingly difficult. They have been beaten down by many of the outdated and monotonous online training courses that are currently available. For example, does this sound familiar?

  • “How can I click through it as fast as I can and still get credit?”
  • “Really? Can’t I just test out of this?”
  • “Ugh…. This is just a waste of time when I have so much work to do…”

We, as educators and trainers, have no one to blame but ourselves. In a rush to get everyone trained and compliant, and to do it as fast and cheap as possible, we have forgotten that the reason we build these courses and employees are taking them is so that they will LEARN and RETAIN something important. Which will, in turn, make them BETTER and MORE EFFICIENT employees. Let’s be a little forward thinking here. If you deploy a soft skills course that helps your employees make smarter and better decisions, they become better employees. Your company will make more money, lower potential liabilities and become a better place to work. This is what it is all about. This is the ultimate goal.

As a good educator, HR Director, COO and even CEO, you have to do everything you can do to stay one step ahead of your target audience. You have to engage them. You have to empower them. Make it fun. In the best of all worlds, employees participate, become engaged, have fun and … poof… they learn and retain something important. They make positive changes in what they do and how they do it. As a good educator, you want to present courses that influence employees to:

  1. Actively participate
  2. Become engaged and have fun
  3. Positively change their attitudes and behaviors
  4. Retain the information presented
  5. Become better employees
  6. Increase their productivity and your bottom line

But before we can get to the Utopia above, let’s step back a little bit and work our way there. In a review of the science of learning, based on the seminal work in the field led by Dr. Benjamin Bloom back in the 1950s and 60s (i.e. Bloom’s Taxonomy), there are three domains in which learners attain information:

  1. Cognitive (learning facts and figures)
  2. Affective (feelings, emotions and life experiences) and
  3. Psychomotor (hands on)

A major goal of Bloom’s taxonomy is to motivate educators to focus on all three domains, creating a more holistic form of education. The combination of all three domains is equivalent to learning through experience. There is a lot of truth to the old expression that says “experience is the best teacher.” Unfortunately, we can’t have our employees experience every topic we are educating them on, especially in soft skill areas (think harassment, theft, anger management, etc.). To be the best educator, you want to find a course that leverages as many of these learning domains as possible based on what your learning objective is.

The majority of elearning courses already address the cognitive domain. The courses that are simply modified slides, pictures and voice-over can present facts and figures to the learner. For the affective domain, there are new courses available that present content in a way that triggers feelings emotions and life experiences. These courses combine interactivity, real-world experience, critical decision- making and consequences in a way that internally resonate with the learner. As for the psychomotor domain, online delivery hasn’t quite made it to the level of being able to allow learners to touch, feel and physically manipulate objects. Think along the lines of those big flight simulators that you can sit in, or one day something akin to the fictional “holodeck” on Star Trek.

So how do you select the most effective course for your learning objective? First, what is your learning objective? Is it facts, figures and procedures based like Microsoft Office training? You’re in luck, as there are many traditional courses available for you to choose from. If they include visual guides on procedures and features that users can train on as they go, they can be quite effective. It gets a little more difficult when your objective involves human interaction or decision-making. For example, soft skill objectives like sexual harassment prevention or ethical reasoning become much more attainable if you utilize a training course that incorporates learning principles that reach the affective domain. The vast majority of your target audience will already know that it is not appropriate to sexually harass someone or embezzle from the organization or their clients. The employees who don’t understand these things (and there are some, I’m sure), shouldn’t be employed by you. So showing them a slide and having them listen to voice-over of factual information like “The EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment is….” really is not doing them any good. And it isn’t benefitting you either. Yet this is what most courses do. This is a ‘they read it, therefore they should know it and do it’ fallacy that you should be very prudent not to fall victim of.

Your objective, as a good educator, is to create an environment conducive to compliance AND effective learning. Not just picking a course because it checks the box.

Let’s further explore our example learning objectives of sexual harassment prevention and ethical reasoning. Where the majority of your target audience would never harass someone or do something unethical, some of them may. You may not know exactly who they are right now, but THESE people are your targets. They already know that they are not supposed to do it, but they still do. Why? Because they think they can get away with it and/or they don’t internally comprehend the consequences of doing it, getting caught, or the effects of their actions have on others. So how about finding a course that allows them to experience realistic consequences of these inappropriate actions? Not one that just tells them what could happen, or view someone else doing it, but permits them to experience it for themselves? These new courses are out there. And they are incredibly effective for learning objectives like these. The best ones incorporate interactive video scenarios where trainees assume the roles of lead characters and make decisions that alter the storyline and outcome. They allow users freely make good and bad decisions and play it out before they live it out.

So in summary, as an educator, trainer and leader, you have a responsibility to your learner—and it is not just selecting a course that makes them compliant. If you can quickly ascertain the type of learning objective you have, make a determination which of learning domains you need to tap into to most effectively address your learning objective, and match an engaging course that best puts those two together, then you are well on your way to having smarter, more efficient and happier employees. And employees like that make your organization thrive—and you a hero.

Good luck out there!

David Versaw, of WILL Interactive, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the advancement of serious gaming and simulation technology. A sought after speaker and motivator in education and training forums, Mr. Versaw has helped transform the way educators utilize new immersive technologies to reach their intended audiences and positively change their attitudes and behaviors.