Note-taking and E-learning: Lessons for Learners and LX Designers

With all the talk of creating short, consumable, e-learning, most are long, boring, and difficult to retain. Think about it: When was the last time you took a self-paced e-learning course that was so long, you wanted to give up out of shear frustration? As you took the course, the impending final assessment loomed, and all you could think about was that there was no way you were going to pass the final quiz because you just knew that you could not possibly retain everything in one sitting. The last thing you wanted to do was go back through the module and retake the assessment, which would almost certainly have a new set of questions.

This topic has become very personal to me lately, as I learn a new industry; the mortgage industry. I am taking a series of self-paced e-learning courses as one means of learning about the mortgage industry. Moreover, I have set a goal to earn a master certificate by the end of the third quarter, which requires the completion of 20 e-learning modules, each with an assessment. It is not a complicated process, but when many of the modules are 90 minutes and filled with lists of mortgage terms, regulations, and processes, retention is a major issue.

Learned the Hard Way

I learned my first lesson the hard way, when I took a lackluster approach to the first course and failed the assessment. It was much more difficult than I expected, even though the content did not seem very complex. I mean, how difficult is it to remember the difference between adjustable rate negative amortization mortgages and balloon mortgages? It was painful to go through the 20-question assessment, knowing I was going to fail. It was even more painful to go through the module again, and actually pay attention. I struggled to pass the assessment on the second try.

Embarrassing. I admit it!

The thought of going through that process again made my blood boil. If I was going to make it through 20 courses like this, I was going to need a new strategy. And then it hit me. I'll just take notes.

As I took the second course, I had a note opened in Evernote. I took notes on topics that were new to me, that I thought might be on the assessment, and that I found especially complex. This time when I took the final assessment, I was not stressed, and I scored very high. Since that second module. I have taken notes in Evernote on twelve other courses. Not only have I passed all of the assessments on the first try, but I retained more information because I took notes, and by storing my notes in Evernote, I created a searchable database of mortgage industry content that I can reference anytime, anywhere.

Lesson for LX Designers: Design Note-Taking into E-Learning

My own experience has reminded me that as an LX designer, I need to put myself in the shoes of my audience when it comes to their experience taking a self-paced e-learning course. What can I do to help people retain the information that is important to them? What can I do to relieve some of the stress that exists when there is a lot of new material to cover, and there is an assessment at the end? One design step that can help is to include a mechanism for note-taking in e-learning courses. When we design classroom training, we automatically consider note-taking and with no effort at all. We build white space into workbooks and handouts and we even label certain pages entirely for "notes." Yet, with e-learning, we hardly ever design note-taking into them. So here is a lesson for LX designers: help your learners retain what you have designed by empowering them to take notes while they take your e-learning courses.

Lessons for Learners: Take Notes

So if you are a learner, taking a lengthly e-learning course, take notes. I use Evernote because I can have a note up on my screen next to the e-learning course and type notes while I take it. You don't have to use Evernote. Use Outlook Tasks or Microsoft Word. Use a college-ruled note book for all I care. But if you want to retain more from self-paced e-learning and reduce the stress and distraction of memorizing enough to pass the assessment, take notes.

Learners: Do you take notes when you take a self-paced e-learning course? Designers: Do you consider note-taking in your e-learning designs? Comment below whether you do or do not and why.

Bill Cushardauthor and Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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