This CQ Dossier focuses on how to provide effective e-learning to learners on an individual basis. The dossier provides several training strategies and techniques that have proven effective in scientific research. Effective technology-driven Instruction (TDI) helps build and maintain talent (e.g., motivation, effort and job performance). This investment in talent leads to a plethora of positive organizational benefits.
Identify individual differences that influence results
Individual-level training effectiveness factors refer to any learner-specific traits or qualities that may impact learning outcomes compared to other individuals who experience the same training session. An example of individual- level impact would be learners with high pre-training self-efficacy scoring higher on learning outcomes than learners with low pre-training self-efficacy. It is best to screen employees before instruction to ensure that they are ready to learn.
Use appropriate theoretical model for implementing training
One of the most effective models for implementing TDI is The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (Mayer, 2005). The model contains several principles that are unique for TDI in that the principles acknowledge that learners learn differently in an on-line setting versus a more traditional location. The model relies on three key assumptions.
First, the dual channel assumption holds that one channel (the eyes/visual channel) receives and processes visual information while a second channel (the ears) receives and processes verbal information.
The second assumption is that individuals are limited in their ability to process information in either channel. Based on this assumption, utilizing two channels is difficult and so a learner may be forced to pay attention to certain information while neglecting other pertinent material (Mayer, 2005).
The third assumption is based on the idea that when learners engage in actively processing information, deep learning occurs. With deeper learning, the learner pays attention to important information being presented, organizes both visual and auditory information into meaningful chunks, and combines this information with previous knowledge. This active processing increases problem-solving and applying new information to situations (Mayer, 2005).
Applying the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning in e-learning instruction
One of the issues with TDI instruction is the problem of cognitive overload. For most learners in a TDI instructional setting, cognitive overload occurs when one channel is overloaded with excessive processing demands. For example, on-screen text appears concurrently with animation such as when using a pedagogical agent. This effect results in the learner splitting attention between visual information that is shown and information that is read, resulting in limited processing (Mayer & Moreno, 2003). To overcome cognitive overload, it is important for Training and Development (T&D) designers to focus on:
providing coherent verbal and pictorial information;
guiding learners to select important words
and images and reducing the load for a single processing channel (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).
Based on these principles, it is important that e-learning training designers provide instructional material in both words and pictures to reduce cognitive overload (Towler & Mitchell, 2013).
Engage the learner through training the trainer
E-learning is different from traditional training because of the differences in social contact between trainee and instructor. This contact can be limited or can be distant yet rich such as when using teleconferencing. However, research shows that the way in which trainers interact with trainees is important in both traditional and e-learning environments (Towler & Dipboye, 2001). Learning in an asynchronous environment occurs at a trainee’s own pace while a synchronous environment requires that the trainee and instructor interact in real time. An asynchronous environment can provide trainees with greater flexibility than traditional classrooms (Towler & Mitchell, 2014); however, this type of environment offers little interaction between trainee and instructor.
One way to overcome this limitation is through designing asynchronous PowerPoint presentations with narration by the trainer (Towler & Mitchell, 2014). Trainer communication style is an important factor in determining the success of an asynchronous learning environment. An effective trainer communication style can reduce social and psychological distance between trainers and students (Towler & Arman, 2013). The instructional content and the delivery of the material are central elements in ensuring learning occurs.
Given the widespread use of PowerPoint slides with narration, trainer expressiveness is an important factor. An expressive trainer is one who shows appropriate vocal intonations and is generally fluent through sounding natural and normal in rate of speaking (Towler & Dipboye, 2001). When trainees listen to expressive trainers, who deliver information in a well-organized way, they react more positively to the training course, recall more information, and are better problem solvers than trainees who listen to inexpressive trainers (Towler, 2009; Towler & Dipboye, 2001).
Include Relevant Information in Instructional Materials
In TDI, the learner is autonomous and it is important to capture the attention of the learner to promote active learning because this leads to transfer. One issue for training and development designers of e-learning courses is the inclusion of interesting information that is tangential to the topic. A seductive detail is ‘‘highly interesting and entertaining information that is only tangentially related to the topic but is irrelevant to the author’s intended theme’’ (Harp & Mayer, 1998, p. 1). Seductive details are perceived as interesting by learners because they may be personally relevant, novel, or graphic. By creating emotional interest, seductive details should have a positive effect on trainee learning. However, empirical research suggests that they have the opposite effect. Thalheimer (2004) reviewed nine studies producing 24 comparisons of baseline training conditions with the addition of some form of seductive details. Across 16 studies, inclusion of seductive details had a negative impact on learning (mean d = 5.70). Although the inclusion of seductive details harms performance on recall tests, few studies have examined the effects in technology-driven instruction (TDI). Two studies used computer based training found no effect for seductive on recognition tests and a positive effect of seductive details on transfer performance (Towler et al., 2007). It seems prudent to balance interesting material with specific knowledge for the skills to be learned.
In conclusion, this dossier provides recommendations on how to provide effective e-learning to individuals. It is important to grant the learner autonomy and at the same time to provide instructional materials that keep the learner engaged. Although the instructor role changes in TDI, the role is still important and can influence learner motivation and learning.
Identify learner-specific traits that impact learning in TDI
Learners learn differently in an on-line setting vs. traditional classroom
When learners are actively engaged, deep learning occurs
Minimize cognitive overload during TDI instruction
Instructor delivery is important in TDI instruction
Reduce information that is tangential to instruction
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Mayer, R.E. (2005). Cognitive theory of multimedia learning. The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (pp. 31-48).
Mayer, R.E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.
Towler, A. (2009). Effects of trainer expressiveness, seductive details, and trainee goal orientation on training outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 20, 65-84.
Towler, A. & Arman, G. (2013). Trainer communication style and training outcomes. In M. Paludi (Ed.), Psychology for business success (Vol. 3, pp. 103 – 114). Santa Barbara, CA : Praeger.
Towler, A. & Dipboye, R. (2001) Effects of trainer expressiveness, organization, and trainee goal orientation on training outcomes. The Journal of Applied Psychology. 86: 664-73.
Towler, A., Kraiger, K., Sitzmann, T., Van Overberghe, C., Cruz, J., Ronen, E., & Stewart, D. (2007). The seductive details effect in technology‐delivered instruction. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 21(2), 65-86.
Towler, A. & Mitchell, T. (2014). Facilitation in E-Learning. In Kraiger, K., Passmore, J., Nuno Rebelo dos Santos, & Malvezzi, S. (Eds.) The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Training, Development and Performance Improvement
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.