Designing e-Learning Courses for Adults

One of the largest challenges of designing eLearning modules is ensuring the course is accessible for its users. In many cases, a significant chunk of the users are adults as opposed to young learners, and there are some factors to consider when designing for this demographic.

I’ve listed and briefly touched upon several of those factors below, but please check out eLearning Industry’s articles: 9 Tips to Apply Adult Learning Theory to eLearning and Fool-Proof Onboarding Plan for New Employees with Limited Tech Know-How for more information on best practices on designing eLearning courses for adults.

Autonomy

Adult learners thrive in an environment where they feel in control of their own learning. Minimizing the amount of “hand-holding” instruction will grant them the room they need to make their own decisions. Design the course in such a way that allows them to move around at their own pace. Let them pause the course and rewind to past slides and modules if they need to. Make sure they can exit the course and return to their current module. Granting them the freedom to move around in the course will maximize autonomy and help learning materials stick better.

Text & Media

I’ve touched upon this topic briefly in my article How UX Can Be Used to Increase Training Effectiveness, but it cannot be overstated that special measures should be taken to design the interface with adult learners in mind. It can be easy to get lost in designing a course that looks beautiful and elegant, but make sure the aesthetics do not come at the price of usability. The color palette should provide sufficient contrast between the text and the background. Font sizes and font types should be easily legible. Large chunks of text should be broken up with different forms of media, such as diagrams, video, and audio clips.

Purpose

It is imperative that the course content is focused and purposeful. The learner should know why the information they are learning is significant, and there should be no question as to how this information will benefit them. Adult learners need to know why the content is important, as opposed to younger learners who are generally more accustomed to learning environments that focus on simply gaining general knowledge.

Furthermore, Adult eLearners will not want to be made to study content that is not applicable to them or their job role. The advantage of eLearning courses is that they can be targeted to specific groups of learners. It is easy to modify a module for a certain job role in order to ensure the content is relevant to all learners. This will avoid adult learners wasting their time on irrelevant content and helps them feel confident about the material they are learning and how it is significant.

Tech Knowledge

As a designer, it is important to keep in mind that many adult learners have limited tech knowledge and may be resistant to using digital tools to learn. This does not apply to all adult learners. After all, many do use technology for leisure or work and may have years of experience. It’s best to take the time to learn about the users who will be using the course and assess any possible technical knowledge limitations so that you can provide necessary walkthroughs and adjustments. In any case, it is best practice to make the interface as intuitive as possible to foster a positive interaction between the learner and the course.

Feedback

Lastly, asking for feedback at the end of the course helps adult learners feel valued. It gives them an opportunity to voice their thoughts and provide any critique they may have, which can be immensely helpful for improving the eLearning course. Let the learner know you’d appreciate any feedback they may have and make it easy for them to reach out with questions or comments.

Putting It All Together

It’s fairly simple to optimize the eLearning course for adult learners. In the end, it comes down to making the course accessible, taking advantage of the medium to arrange content in a purposeful way, and allowing the learner to navigate freely at their own pace. Gathering feedback is a great way to know if your users are satisfied with their eLearning experience, and to tailor the course if you didn’t nail it the first time. Both users and designers can work together to make eLearning overall a better and more enjoyable experience.