Who has knowledge gaps, is easily overwhelmed and has difficulty solving problems? You’re right—a novice in a particular content area.
Compared to an expert, a novice will have a limited network of mental structures or schemas related to the subject, a reduced ability to make relevant perceptual discriminations, fewer paths for recalling information and inaccurate or fuzzy mental models resulting in less competent problem solving.
When designing for novices, we need to accommodate their mental structures in order to bring them to a level of competency as gracefully as possible. Here are some design tips for creating online courses for novices.
Five Strategies for Novice Course Design
Focus on Actions. When designing for beginners, avoid overwhelming them. How can you whittle down all the information? Focus on the essential skills they require in the workplace and the knowledge that supports these skills. Remove anything that does not support the skills you want to teach.
Motivate. Some people dread learning something new—they may find it overwhelming, they may be biased against the subject or perhaps they’re not thrilled with online learning. We all know that motivation improves learning, so make your next course exciting.
Let learners know from the start how the training will benefit them. Maybe it will make work easier or faster or maybe it will make them safer. Perhaps they’ll be able to leap over a building in a single jump. Whatever it is, make the course beneficial to their lives. And when possible, try to keep things engaging, interactive and on the lighter side.
Organize, organize. The key to efficient encoding in long-term memory and fast retrieval of information is a well-organized network of knowledge. Beginners don’t have an orderly and organized framework in which to fit their new knowledge and skills. You can help this situation by providing a visual of a simple framework showing how the course’s information fits together. Most important, provide novice learners with content that’s logically organized for how they will use the information.
Relate Content to Something Known. If you’re writing for novices, they may have very little familiarity with the content of the course you’re designing. When a person has no frame of reference, it’s difficult to learn something new. To ease the transition into a new universe, relate the new content to something learners already know.
You can do this explicitly by directly referencing the known, as in, “You already know how to enter time into a time sheet by hand, this new automated system is based on the same concept.” Or use an analogy to assist understanding. For example, “You know the frustration of opening a file drawer to find that some folders are missing and you don’t know where they are. Patients in the early stage of dementia experience something similar with their own memory loss.”
Use A Spiral Approach: Throughout the course, try to spiral around and touch on previously taught content, particularly when learners are practicing. If you can unobtrusively refer to information in earlier topics or include lower-level skills when practicing higher-level problem solving, you increase the opportunities for learners to build a strong network of knowledge.