Active Listening In eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know
“I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”, Ernest Hemingway once said. More than a half-century later, little has changed; indeed, most people don’t listen, despite listening being one of the most important human skills. The way we listen can have a major impact not only on our personal relationships, but also on our professional lives and job performance.
A good listener has the ability to better understand and process information; a great listener has the ability to use this information to negotiate, influence, and avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. But what does it take to become a great listener? Only one thing, actually: Practicing and improving your active listening skills.
Having active listening skills means that you are able to communicate effectively and create deeper connections with others. Active listening is an essential quality all learners should have, as it can greatly improve their communication skills and help them build strong relationships. In this article, I'll delve into the basics of active listening that every eLearning professional should know in order to develop eLearning courses that enhance learners' active listening skills, so that you will be able to help your learners to engage both mentally and emotionally in every conversation, and achieve long-term success in their personal and professional lives.
First Things First… What Is Active Listening?
While “hearing” and “listening” are two words that are often used interchangeably, there are many contrasts between them. While hearing is the involuntary act of perceiving sound, listening actually requires some effort. The individual must first choose to concentrate, and then, the brain has to process this information to add contextual meaning. During active listening, our minds focus on the information just received and process it accordingly; this is when truly amazing learning experiences take shape. This also explains why active listening is not just listening to what is being said, but also absorbing it. It involves focusing on the subject matter, processing it, and comprehending the concepts. To best illustrate the idea of active listening think back to a time when you sat in on a lecture or meeting and remembered absolutely nothing that was discussed after the fact. This is a perfect example of hearing instead of active listening. You may had been present, but your mind was not.
As far as the cognitive processes involved are concerned, while you are actively listening, your brain goes through a variety of different tasks. It must first understand the context of the eLearning content presented, then pair it with personal feelings, experiences, or previous knowledge. While actively listening, your mind also takes subtle nuances into account, such as gestures, expressions, colors, images, and body language. Even the pitch of someone’s voice or their tone plays an important role in the process. Only after all these factors are taken into consideration, your brain can then begin to absorb the information.
When the process of information recall takes place, learners are triggering their memory schemata, which improves comprehension and helps them identify which eLearning content is useful and relevant and which can go by the wayside to make room for really valuable data. Thus, they are able to absorb the key takeaways of the eLearning course and commit them to their long-term memory, rather than being overloaded with all data that is flowing into their mental pathways.
Active listening is so crucial in online learning environments because it distinguishes learners who are actually participating from those who are merely going through the eLearning course material. When learners are actively listening during the eLearning course, they are able to more effectively process the information and engage with the subject matter, instead of merely being passive observers. They can also access knowledge that they’ve previously acquired to make connections with new concepts or ideas, and decide how to apply this information in real world settings.
9 Tips To Enhance Active Listening Skills In eLearning
Active listening skills can be difficult to master and therefore it takes time, determination, and patience to become an excellent active listener. In order for your learners to enhance this excellent communication skill, consider the following tips:
- Grab the attention of your audience with interactive learning activities.
Include interactive scenarios, simulations, and presentations that grab the attention of your audience and make it virtually impossible for them not to actively listen to the subject matter. If your learners are engaged in the learning process and feel as though you are creating a connection with them, they are more likely to focus on the eLearning content and not be distracted by outside stimuli. Use bright colors and graphics to draw attention to key concepts or special fonts to make the takeaways stand out on the page.
- Include a summary at the end of every eLearning unit.
Summarization is one of the most effective ways to encourage active listening among your learners. Provide them with a summary at the end of each eLearning unit that gives them a quick overview of the main takeaways, so that they can focus directly on what they need to know and trigger their active listening abilities.
- Link subject matter to previously knowledge.
Include exercises and eLearning activities that encourage your learners to access previously learned knowledge so that they can create that all-important connection. When they are able to associate new concepts to what they already know they are more likely to actively listen, as they are already familiar with the subject matter and the new information sounds more meaningful to them.
- Assess learners newly acquired knowledge.
By integrating tests and exams at the end of each lesson you gain the ability to assess whether or not your learners are actively listening. If they can correctly answer the questions and show a mastery of the topic, then you can rest assured that they are actually paying attention to the eLearning content presented. This also prompts them to pay closer attention in future online lessons, as they are aware of the fact that they will be tested at the end.
- Give your learners time to reflect.
Create brief pauses in between online lessons to give your learners the opportunity to reflect upon the subject matter and tie it to real world challenges or ideas. You can also use this time to ask them questions that encourage reflection, such as expressing their thoughts about a particular story you have shared or ask them to identify trends out of the eLearning material just presented.
- Provide feedback.
Reflecting to what is being said, either orally or in writing, will both help you understand that your audience is actively listening and at the same time will offer your learners the chance to clarify their points. Providing feedback encourages expression and deepens understanding. Encourage your audience to ask clarifying questions, paraphrase what you hear, and summarize their statements, comments, and messages. Boost knowledge retention by asking them to paraphrase what they have learned too. Have them sum up the eLearning unit in their own words, with just a sentence or two. Then, you can review their summaries and provide constructive feedback, clarify any misunderstandings they may have, and distinguish active listeners from those who are just passive observers.
- Teach them not to criticize.
Being judgmental will greatly compromise the effectiveness of a good listener. Teach your audience that when they hear something alarming in what other learners say during a synchronous eLearning session, they may feel alarmed, but they should try not to mentally criticize beforehand what they heard and jump into conclusions. Instead, they should be patient and try to follow the reasoning and train of thought of the other person. Most importantly, they should resist the urge to use negative facial expressions to convey their emotions if a web-camera is on. They should rather keep an open mind, wait until their virtual classmate develops his or her point of view, and avoid letting their personal filters and assumptions distort what they are listening to.
- Teach them not to interrupt.
Interrupting sends a variety of messages, all of which are negative. It frustrates the speaker and sabotages the understanding process. As a facilitator of the eLearning process do not leave space for interruptions. Teach your learners before asking questions to make sure that they let the other speaker finish what they are saying, even if they are expressing an opinion they do not agree with. Make them understand that by interrupting their virtual classmates, they will both lose the chance to know the entire argument, and they will force the speaker to repeat it after their interference.
- Respond Appropriately.
This is of utmost importance, especially when online discussions take place. As a facilitator of the eLearning process, refrain from suggesting solutions before you are specifically asked for your advice. Active listening communicates respect and understanding. Treat learners in a way that you think they would want to be treated and avoid letting them know how you would handle a similar situation, unless they ask for your opinion. Then, be honest and open in your response, always by trying to stay focused on the subject; sometimes it is easy to stray away from the topic, so keep your questions and comments relevant.
Types of Questions You Should Ask To Enhance Active listening Skills In eLearning
The most effective way to help your learners develop their active listening skills is by using skillful questioning. Questions that require your audience to be active during the learning process and emphasize the importance of active listening, are key to successful communication. Use your eLearning scenarios and quizzes for asking questions that generate curiosity, stimulate reflective conversation, and invite new possibilities. Consider using the following types of questions:
- Open-ended questions.
They offer the widest possible scope for responding and they extend the understanding of the subject matter in a variety of ways.
- Probing questions.
They ask for further clarification of the answer, which helps your learners express themselves in different ways.
- Hypothetical questions.
They encourage the introduction of new ideas and alternative approaches to a solution.
- Reflective questions.
They check the level of understanding of your audience and they provide them with valuable feedback.
These types of questions encourage your learners to use their critical thinking skills in order to extend their understanding of a particular concept. The more powerful the questions of your eLearning course are, the more engaged and interested your audience will be, and the more challenged they will feel to pay attention and stay focused on the eLearning content.
Active listening is a powerful tool that makes a world of difference when it comes to knowledge absorption and retention. By using the above tips you can create eLearning courses that develop your learners’ active listening skills while boosting engagement and interactivity.
Now that you know everything you need to know about active listening, you may be interested in learning other ways to improve your employees’ performance. Read the article 5 Tips To Develop Custom eLearning That Improves Employees’ Performance and discover how custom eLearning can motivate your staff to use their talents and skills to the fullest capacity.