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Custom e-Learning that Challenges All Learning Styles

Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist, allen interactions

by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist and principal consultant 

So often people in my design classes bring up the issue of differing learning styles, most often mentioning auditory vs. visual learners, and how an e-learning module should accommodate those differences. I've noticed a broad general perception that providing both written information and accompanying narration to present content easily solves this problem. It seems to me, though, that this approach is far too simplistic, both in thinking that individual learning styles can be grouped meaningfully in such broad categories, and, even if that were true, that the focus of the design is misdirected exclusively on the "style" of information presentation and not on the substance of the "learning" event. It's hard to believe that a person whom we casually label an "auditory learner" and who feels alienated by boring text presented on the screen will somehow feel engaged by listening to the same boring narrative read to them.

A much more powerful approach is to simply focus on creating an engaging and challenging learning opportunity, provide supporting resources in a variety of formats and media as relevant and practical, and then turn control over to the learner to empower her or him to manage the activity. Exploratory learners can jump right in and learn by trying things; learners who desire more structure can research according to their own preferences before attempting the challenges. This sort of design encourages ALL learners to be actively engaged in the training event, rather than forcing everyone into two rather arbitrary and not very empowering modes of learning. 

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