3 Ways To Promote Interpersonal Communication During Or After eLearning

Why You Need To Promote Interpersonal Communication In Online Learning  

Outside of the academic space, the goal of most eLearning is to get people to act differently; whether it’s learning how to implement a new reporting procedure at work, a new technique for dealing with a customer over the phone, or simply washing one’s hands before they go back into the kitchen. The health behavior field is similar in that way; the goal of health behavior researchers and practitioners is also to get people to act differently – but this time it’s behaviors like quitting smoking, becoming more active, or not texting and driving. In this article, I will discuss the importance of interpersonal communication and 3 ways of promoting it in eLearning.

The vehicle for producing the desired behavior change in the eLearning field is obviously eLearning content, whereas in the health promotion field it is often a communication campaign. A recent article in the Journal of Health Communication by Emily Brennan and colleagues explored the impact of interpersonal conversation on the effectiveness of an anti-smoking campaign. They found that those who talked about the ads they saw with other people perceived the ads to be more effective and intended to quit smoking at higher rates than those who were exposed to the campaign but did not talk about it afterwards.

The applications of this line of thinking to eLearning design is interesting. After all, the goal in both fields is to promote behavior change. Consequently, it could be expected that facilitating interpersonal communication during or after learners complete eLearning content may lead to the same effects: A higher intention of actually changing behavior. This is already implicitly included in many articles here and other sites that stress the importance of including social learning in an eLearning campaign; providing the opportunity to share and interact with other learners is consistent with many learning theories and even epistemological positions, including constructivism.

Keeping that hypothesis in mind, let’s take a look at 3 ways to promote off- or on-line conversation in your learners:

  1. Make it an activity.
    The easiest way to stir up interpersonal communication in your learners is to actually integrate conversation as an activity in your eLearning content. One of the more popular ways to get learners hooked into content is to present an engaging case study at the beginning of a course or section to demonstrate the real world benefits of learning the specific material. I have definitely used this method before and it is a great way to make the content relevant to the learner. Next time you design a course, consider making the learner do all the work! Pose a challenge to them at the outset of a specific section: Find another person and simply talk about the ways the topic might impact you. The learner can share examples from their life, and their conversation partner can also share. And it doesn’t have to just be at the beginning of a topic, there could be many places where content could be replaced with instructions to talk with a coworker. There are multiple benefits to this approach. Firstly, it facilitates conversation about the content, which may lead to improved outcomes. Secondly, although I’m sure everyone out there is writing awesome case studies to preface instructional content, it is really challenging to write a story that will speak to each individual equally. By asking the learner to think about how the material is personally relevant, you can increase the likelihood that every learner is motivated. And thirdly (and most importantly), it saves you from having to write another case study. What a sweet deal, eh?
  2. Ask the hard questions. 
    Another strategy for promoting conversation outside of the eLearning environment is asking really hard, reflective questions. And by hard, I don’t mean university level calculus (or even high school math if I’m being honest with myself), I mean questions that really make a learner think. This could include really challenging branching scenarios. Writing really good scenarios if a difficult skill, but ideally each path should ideally be a plausibly correct answer. Imagine a branching scenario where a manager is confronted with a sexual harassment complaint and has to decide how to act. The manager (and the learner) is confronted with a series of potential actions, each of which might be correct. What a tough challenge! It is these types of hard questions and decisions that will bring your learners to talk about the content to others. They might ask a coworker during lunch “I was taking the managers course today and they had this really tough scenario in it, I had a hard time figuring out what was the right decision. What would you do in that situation?”. These are the types of conversations you want to promote!
  3. Make it engaging. 
    The third way to promote conversation about your eLearning is easy to say but extremely challenging to achieve: Make it perform great from top to bottom. As we all know, terrible corporate eLearning can also be the subject of many conversations, although I’m not sure whether those conversations will lead to improved attitudes about the content. What will promote effective conversations is designing a killer experience that your learner will love. If a learner finds an eLearning experience both cognitively and effectively stimulating, they will be sure to talk to their coworkers about it.

Do you have any other ideas for how to promote off- or on-line interpersonal communication about eLearning content? If so, please tweet to me @adamgavarkovs!

Reference:

  • Emily Brennan, Sarah J. Durkin, Melanie A. Wakefield & Yoshihisa Kashima (2016) Talking About Antismoking Campaigns: What Do Smokers Talk About, and How Does Talk Influence Campaign Effectiveness?, Journal of Health Communication, 21:1, 33-45. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10810730.2015.1039675
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