Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tips for Writing for Adult Online Learners

When developing e-Learning training materials, you need to carefully plan what you are going to write.  In fact, the writing in an e-Learning course represents your voice, the voice of the instructor.  It is the “star of the show” and must be engaging, well organized, and clear.  Your writing must also address all of the learning objectives so that participants who complete the training are able to achieve the instructional goals of the course.  And, don’t forget about who you are writing for!  Know who your audience is and write specifically to engage their interests and meet their needs.

Here are some important things to remember when writing for adult online learners.

Adult Learners:
·         Adult learners need to be able to immediately connect what they are learning to what they already know.  Training needs to be task-centered and provide authentic situations, illustrations, and problems for participants to solve.  Adult learners also need to be given opportunities to reflect on the content as part of the process of applying it to their current situation.

·         Be aware of what adult learners already know about each topic.  Information that is considered to be common knowledge can be referred to but doesn’t need to be explained in detail in the content.  If you feel that the information is critical to include, a good option would be to include it as a resource page that can be accessed at the discretion of the learner.

·         Start by defining exactly what you want participants to learn and to be able to do after completing the training.  Clear goals and learning objectives tell participants why they need to complete the training and what is expected of them.  Clear learning objectives also provide a roadmap for developing the content, activities, and assessment.

·         After you have determined what the goals and learning objectives are, develop a clear, concise outline of the content before you start writing.  

·         When the outline is complete, check the goals and learning objectives again to be sure they match the content. Follow your outline to write the content. 

·         Introduce the content to your participants.  Draw them in.  Make the participants the center of the learning experience.  Help them understand why this training is important to them.  Let them know how the content is organized and how long it should take them to complete the training. 

·         Keep your writing focused.  Only include information that is directly related to the topic and learning objectives.  Sidebars might seem to add interest to the content, but in an eLearning situation they are very distracting to the learner and cause confusion.  If the information is important enough to include, then it needs to be covered under a learning objective and have a place in the outline.

·         Content needs to be interesting, relevant, and meaningful to the learner.  Use illustrations that your audience can identify with.  When possible, incorporate stories, examples, and scenarios into the content to give the information context.  Use real people in real situations.  Adding drama and emotion helps engage participants and helps them remember the content.
·         Write using a conversational voice, as if you are talking directly to your participants.  Conversational writing is about connecting with your audience.  It sounds natural and genuine, especially when read aloud.  Here are some additional things to remember about writing in a conversational tone:

o    Use contractions like you would normally use when you are talking to someone.

o    Don’t be afraid to ask your participants questions.

o    Use “I” and “you.”

o    Use an active voice with action verbs:  “He passed the salt to her.” Rather than “The salt was passed to her.”

o    Read aloud what you have written and listen to how it sounds.

·         Write using short, concise sentences and paragraphs.  Start every paragraph with a strong topic sentence to help learners understand what the paragraph is about with just one reading.

·         Start each main section with a brief introduction that gives participants a general idea of what the topic is about, why it matters to them, and how it connects with previous topics.  At the end of each main section, summarize the points that participants need to remember.

Topic introduction example:  In the last section we learned about the capabilities of the RNR Tool and how using the tool streamlines program selection for individual offenders.  In this section we will learn more about the RNR model and the framework behind the tool.

Topic summary example:  The RNR Tool is a valuable aid to law enforcement workers.  By matching specific characteristics and information with a database of possible programs, it provides a reliable method for accurately identifying the programs that will be most beneficial to individual offenders.  Next we will look at how the RNR Tool relates to the RNR model framework.

Practice:  Did you notice that this summary example needs some work?  It might be OK for a print document, but is not optimal for an online learning module.  Read it out loud and you will see what I mean.  Rewrite the paragraph so that it has shorter, more concise sentences and is easier to read.

Suggested re-write:  The RNR Tool matches specific characteristics and information about offenders to a database of proven solutions.  The report the tool generates identifies specific programs for each individual offender.  The report also predicts how effective the suggested programs will be for each offender.  Next we will look at how the RNR Tool related to the RNR model framework.