Think about how you want your learners to feel when they’ve completed a course. Most would say they want their learners to feel educated, but what about empowered? You might hope they feel more capable, but have you ever wished your learners felt more enthusiastic and energized when they hit that completion button?

While your learner objectives vary from role to role and organization to organization, thinking more critically about your training programs and how they make your learners feel is the first step in creating more motivated users and meaningful experiences. 

Unfortunately, some long-held learning myths stand between your program and the actual, deep-down, behavioral-changing, cognitive understanding experience you want your learners to have. 

If you feel like you keep brainstorming only to come up with the same lackluster results, these myths could be tripping up your instructional design: unlearning them could be the secret to your next great training program. 

Myth #1: The more interactions, the better

The truth: Interactions only work when they create connection.

When eLearning became the gold standard for corporate training, there was an outpouring of methods to get learners excited about the material and more engaged in the process. Somewhere along the way, building interactions became a crutch for true connection between learners and content. If users had to click a button, slide a bar, or otherwise interact with the training course, that would increase their engagement, right?

Well, yes and no. While they may be physically interacting with the program, there’s no guarantee that interaction translates to better results and retention. In fact, when there is too much interaction, learners get used to it and simply click to get to completion faster. Essentially, interactions can help users fake mastery. Use interactive learning when it makes sense and creates a true connection between the learner and the content. Interactions should surprise and delight while helping the learner practice a skill, and they shouldn’t be used in place of good content. 

Myth #2: Learner style is the most important factor in design

The truth: Consider the learner environment before personal preferences.

One of the most common myths about learning is that learner style is one of the most important factors in instructional design. You’ve probably heard someone say they’re a visual learner or that some people process audio information better than reading text on a screen. 

All of this may be true, but it’s also impossible to create learning that caters to every individual’s learning style. 

That’s why learner environment has become more prevalent (and more useful) in creating engaging, timely, and relevant learning experiences. 

Five years ago, instructional designers had much more control over their learners’ environments because usually the content would be experienced in a similar setting, no matter who was experiencing it. Today, it’s just as common to work from home, in a communal office space, or even a car as it is to work in a formal office setting. 

Creating learning experiences that fit those environments is more important than focusing on learning style. Consider a learner who needs to toggle the sound off because they’re sharing a space or one that prefers listening to podcasts in their car. Create learning that can be experienced in a variety of environments and worry less about learning styles. 

Myth #3: Voiceover means word for word

The truth: Redundancy can actually decrease learner retention.

Professor of Psychology at UC Santa Barbara, Richard E. Mayer, is the author of the redundancy principle in psychology, a theory that warns that elaborating too much on the same point can actually interfere with learning. Redundancy increases memory load and, even if the intentions are to fortify a concept, can backfire when it comes to retention. It’s a dual effect of information overload and discarding less-vital data. 

When using voiceover as a tool for engagement, remember the redundancy principle: Your learners can already read what’s on the screen and don’t need someone to read it out loud for them. Instead, use voiceover to reinforce ideas or offer a short overview of longer text. Text and voice should work together for a holistic learning experience—they don’t need to be the same thing. But keep accessibility in mind, and make sure captions are available and the learner won’t miss crucial information. 

Myth #4: Flashy graphics grab user attention

The truth: Graphics can cause overstimulation.

Flashy graphics, GIFs, and animations can definitely enhance learner experience and direct attention, but they can become a classic case of “too much of a good thing.” You want your learners to use their energy to learn—not try to decipher what’s important and what isn’t on a page. In some cases, it’s best to skip the flashy graphics and opt for clarity over trendy fonts, clips, or animations. 

Myth #5: Practice makes perfect

The truth: Practice might just make learners really great at practicing. 

We’ve all heard the old adage that practice makes perfect, and it’s tempting to apply that to learning and instructional design. If a learner practices the same skill over and over again, that gets them closer to total mastery, right? But sometimes, practice, while a great way to fortify skills, isn’t a measure of actually grasping material and putting it into real-life scenarios. 

Instead of asking your learners to simply practice a new technique, policy, or skill, ask them first to think critically about it. If you encourage discussions about why a new skill is useful or use roleplaying scenarios to help learners know when to deploy a specific procedure, it’s more than just practice, it’s understanding. Understanding the whys, whens, and wheres of new training is more effective than practice, no matter how frequent. It stops learners from going through the motions, and it increases their engagement, retention, and overall buy-in from training. 

Myth #6: Enjoyment is a good assessment tool

The truth: Learners might enjoy their training, but it doesn’t mean they’ve mastered it.

We often expound upon follow-up questions and surveys as a way to measure sometimes-slippery eLearning ROI. And, naturally, one of the things you might be curious about is whether or not learners actually enjoyed the program. Enjoyment seems like a good assessment tool because you assume that if learners are having a good time, it enhances the overall learning experience and therefore, improves mastery and retention rates. But while knowing whether or not learners enjoyed training might be a useful metric for satisfaction, it doesn’t actually tell you much about what they’ve learned. Surveys are always a great tool for assessment, but they shouldn’t be your only follow-up tool. Tools like performance evaluations and follow-up training give you a better idea of whether or not users are retaining and deploying their training outside of the module. 

Myth #7: Learners know best

The truth: Use autonomy judiciously and in conjunction with more objective assessment. 

No one likes to be told what to do. This is especially true for things like mandatory compliance training, so we often use autonomy as a tool to engage learners and enhance the experience. But before turning users loose on a topic, it’s important to remember that choices are good but only when utilized within the right context and parameters. For one, letting users skip around topics without demonstrating mastery or retention could result in “gaming” the system to fast-track to competition. If you choose to utilize autonomy to allow users to skip modules, make sure they can first demonstrate their abilities by taking a chapter quiz or answering discussion questions. 

You might also be tempted to use self-reported surveys or completion rates to allow users to prove comprehension, but remember that individuals are notoriously poor at assessing their own proficiencies. Without clear assessment tools, self-reporting could negatively impact your ROI. If you do choose to have users self-report, use objective methods like answering questions or proving cognitive ability, rather than simply saying they’ve completed the course. 

Myth #8: Video is the king of content 

The truth: Media comes in all shapes and sizes, and video is just one tool.

In the past few years, much has been made about the differences between generations at work. Some of the most prevalent learning myths surround how millennials love video because they’re a generation of YouTube self-learners, while Gen Zers are digital natives who prefer collaborative learning. Video has become a de facto bridge between the generation gap at work because it’s something we can all agree on. Video captures attention; it’s more dynamic; it can depict any number of situations, roles, and responsibilities. It’s the great equalizer of eLearning content. 

Video is great. But if we stopped there, we’d be missing out on all of the other amazing tools and media types at our disposal for creating holistic learning environments for all generations. Some of the other media tools we love to use include:

  • Quizzes and polls
  • Infographics
  • GIFs
  • Discussion boards and forums
  • Text 
  • Animations
  • Characters and avatars
  • Games
  • Virtual reality
  • Augmented reality 

Video is just one tool in the never-ending  options of media you can use to capture your learners’ attention and get them excited, engaged, and enthusiastic.  

A final word on learning myths

Separating fact from fiction in instructional design is difficult because most projects have the best intentions. We all want learning experiences that empower and ignite learners to see real change in their behavior and understanding. It can be difficult to think objectively about learning myths because they’re concepts that have been floating around the eLearning industry for decades. Challenging what’s always been done might require a difficult conversation or searching for a new instructional design partner, but the truth is that your learners are always worth it. 

Are you ready to challenge some of your organization’s learning myths? Let us know and we’ll help you create your new training reality.