Designing E-learning Courses for Adults with Low Education Levels

Designing an Effective E-learning Course for ESL and Adult Learner Populations with Low Education Levels

As an instructional designer, you have a lot of variables to take into consideration to create a successful e-learning course. One of the most important variables to learn about is your audience. During analysis, it’s critical to get a good understanding of the learner demographics—age, gender, computer proficiency, language skills, and education level.

Recently, our instructional design team at SweetRush took on the challenge of designing a series of e-learning courses in which the learner audience was a bit different than usual. Often our courses are written for individuals with at least a high school education, and sometimes a college education and several years of professional work experience as well. For this e-learning project, our learner population included many English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, who read at a fifth-grade level in their native language and with even less proficiency in English. During the analysis phase, we also discovered that many learners were not very computer literate.

My team of instructional designers put their heads together to come up with some concrete, global guidelines for this particular audience, and I was pleased with the results.

Reach Your Audience: Five Tips for Designing E-learning for Adults with Low Education Levels

1. Design a simple e-learning user interface
Avoid complex, non-intuitive navigation. “Easter eggs” can add a bit of fun sparkle to a course, but can be confusing or easily missed by learners who are not as computer savvy, or those who need to focus all of their attention on the content itself. Also, make sure buttons are labeled within the interface, and that the learner has access to simple orientation and navigation instructions that can be reviewed at any time.

2. Write using simple, short sentences.
Add pronunciation guidelines for more challenging words or industry-specific terminology.

3. Maximize the use of visuals such as infographics and relevant stock photos.
A picture speaks a thousand words and with any audience, imagery helps the message stick.

4. Use on-screen text and visuals that support the audio.

  • Let the audio drive the page, while key text and related graphics support the message.
  • Your audio should not exactly match the on-screen text.
  • Be sure your audio is not addressing Topic A while the text on-screen focuses on Topic B; this can be confusing for all learners, and even more so for this audience. Two simultaneous messages will result in no message being delivered.

Check out an earlier blog of mine for a more in-depth discussion on audio scripts for e-learning courses: Press Play: 5 Tips for Writing Audio Scripts.

5. Provide a supplemental full audio transcript.
An audio transcript allows learners to see the written audio script in case they need to digest content at their own pace. Be sure to make learners aware of this e-learning course feature as part of the orientation guidelines.

Of course, there are other features you could add to take things to the next level with this type of audience, such as animations and video to help support content visually. Gaming elements, like points for quizzes, could add engagement as well, but be mindful to keep them simple. In our case, the team focused on nailing the basics; our budget was limited and the timeline was somewhat aggressive—a common situation for many of us!

Do you have a best practice you use or common pitfall you see when designing e-learning for a similar audience? Share it with us by adding it as a comment below.

Interested in more instructional design tips? Check out our Instructional Design Effective Learning Techniques page for more articles.

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