by Alex Shortsleeve

Whether you’re developing a course or learning to code, you need to know how you learn

Companies and institutions, whether they are for-profit or non-profit, are expanding. Not only are there more multi-national corporations today than 20 years ago, their staff and employee bases are growing as well. Apple and now Amazon have become the first trillion-dollar companies. With this type of expansion comes the need to train and develop their workforce. Though much of their growth is due to the growth in technology, these same technological innovations can be applied to training them. The concern now becomes the ability to train thousands of workers across countries and continents.

Technology allows you to reach them, but generating the training results that are needed is a different question. To be as effective with thousands of employees as you may have been with just a few hundred is still achievable, but it may need to be conducted asynchronously. Therefore, your ability to keep your audience engaged, interested, and learning becomes that much more important.

Yet, as we will discover, individuals learn using a variety of learning modalities. Therefore, it is also important to develop your online courses in a variety of formats.

You will also discover that this approach will work well when you are learning to code.

Benefits of an engaging course

Creating an engaging course can sometimes be difficult because the content may be either complex and difficult to comprehend, or lengthy. In addition, the online course could be developed in such a way that can only be described as “boring.” Courses like these are why many individuals will not complete the training, try and fast-forward through it, or passively listen so that retention is minimal.

Although many training courses are still conducted live via instructor-led training, more and more are now being converted to either online or in a blended format that combines both live instructor-led and online.

If you have a charismatic instructor, the training course could still be engaging even if it lacked some of the basic design features. Let’s face it, not everyone can be charismatic, which then changes the focus on the course itself. But to reach a large audience, blended or online becomes a requirement.

Now imagine if you develop the online course in a very engaging way. If so, you can expect several benefits to begin to manifest themselves. These can include the following: higher completion rates, better retention results, enhanced employee morale and motivation, a clear understanding as to why they are taking the course, and improved performance results.

How you design your training course can have just as much impact — if not more — than having a charismatic instructor. Before you decide how to make your course engaging, you will need to decide the format.

If it is blended, then this will require that some of the course be conducted online. If you choose to have the course completely online, then the options would be to have it as either synchronous or asynchronous, or a combination of both.

In the beginning

Think back to when you were in first or second grade. When you were just beginning to put two and two together and to form words and sentences. As you were learning to read and identify the word “apple,” the teacher would write it on the chalkboard, then pronounce it and ask you to repeat it. She then would most likely draw an image of the apple on the chalkboard. Finally, to get the message across she would then pass around an actual apple to all the students, so they could further identify it by its texture, weight, and color.

Unfortunately, as you progressed through grade school and eventually high school and college, the teaching modality that became prominent was the lecture format — along with enormous amounts of reading material such as your expensive textbook. In other words, as a child the teaching and learning modalities included visual, aural (audio), read and write, and kinesthetic — not so much today.

Neil Fleming, researcher and former school teacher and administrator developed a way, called VARK (Visual, Aural, Read/write, Kinesthetic), to identify how individuals learn. In addition, it also led to an understanding of how individuals teach. Fleming discovered that whenever a teacher used a multi-modal (all four modalities: visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic) approach to their teaching, students scored better and retained more information than those teachers who did not. Therefore, using a VARK approach in the instructional design of your courses makes sense.

Using VARK can initially be a simple process. You first must understand how each of the modalities work with the format of your courses and the resulting software that is used to create the materials and subsequent user experience. Today’s technologies allow for you to design your courses with these different modalities in mind. Remember, each user learns in different ways so developing your courses in a multi-modal approach can pay huge dividends in user retention and knowledge implementation. Let’s look at some examples of how we can do this.

There are several types of instructional design software that can be used in developing your courses and utilizing these different modalities. Before we can examine these, let’s first confirm what each of these modalities could encompass.

Visual can include any of the following: videos, pictures, flowcharts, and graphs.

Aural refers to audio lectures, narration, sound effects, and two-way discussions.

Read/Write could include textbooks, manuals, lists, and terms and definitions.

Kinesthetic would then include formats such as interactive or simulated presentations where the user needs to participate. It can also include application of principles and application of real-life examples such as in either a case study or a review of a personal experience.

Now that we have a better understanding of what each of the learning modalities entails, we can now look at how we can design our online courses to include them. There are of course a variety of eLearning and other multi-media tools that can be utilized to create your materials. I personally like to use Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Lectora Online, TechSmith Camtasia, and TechSmith Snagit.

V is for Visual

Consider that some of your users will respond and be better engaged with your materials if they can see a diagram or drawing of it. Although much has been said about PowerPoint, and not all good, it can be used as a foundation for many of your learning courses.

Included in the Visual format is the choice of your design theme. Here is an example of a presentation I did on Food Safety using a design that captures the imagination.

Rather than just listing or describing the results of a survey, depicting it in a more visual form can drive additional discussion and review on the findings.

A is for Aural

Button is only an image

There are several ways to incorporate audio into your eLearning. You can include podcast recordings or links to other discussions and presentations such as TED Talks that allow the user to hear what is being discussed.

In addition, there are a variety of live discussion presentations that can also be incorporated using tools such as Adobe Connect, WebEx, and GoToMeeting. These types of meeting software allow the listener to participate as well by either typing in their comments within a chat room or actually speaking directly to the presenter using their own microphone.

R is for Read/Write

Yes, this sounds like the old traditional type-set document, but with today’s technologies, you can create user-friendly text in a much more enjoyable experience. In addition, using discussion forums can allow for the shyer user to express themselves.

If you remember seeing the Harry Potter movies, in one of the scenes, Harry is reading a newspaper, but the images in the newspaper are actually moving. In the example above, I used the software from FlipBuilder to enhance my newsletter and allow users to virtually change the page.

You can also add video links to make your text come alive.

K is for Kinesthetic

Now you are probably wondering how we can do this virtually. It is easier than you think. Fortunately, with many of the tools mentioned before, you can incorporate user participation within your learning. Although you can develop such examples as drag-n-drop where the user drags an image or text to a particular spot on the screen, or hotspots where the user must select the correct location on an image, it can also include discussion forums.

A kinesthetic approach also includes “making it personal.” This would include discussions on a forum that requests the user to write about an experience they had that reflects the question. Taking it even further is the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality software where the user is immersed in their world allowing them to interact with its features. This creates a simulation of their environment.

In a recent article titled “Why Virtual-Reality Training for Employees Is Catching On,” author Davor Gaspervic writes about how many organizations in different industries are adopting this type of kinesthetic approach.

Learning to Code

To go further behind the scenes and view how these different instructional design methods and software systems are built, one simply must look at the different programming languages used to create them.

As a student learning to code, it can be very beneficial to understand the concept of VARK. Two areas to consider when coding is the User Interface (UI) and the User Experience (UX). Both of these require the coder to consider how a User navigates and operates various software and websites. Remember that VARK stands for visual, aural, read and write, and kinesthetic. Now think of the various computer languages that are in existence and how each of them can enhance the UI and UX.

How can this knowledge assist students of coding? Well VARK can also assist the student in learning the many new languages. For example, if you are just getting started in learning how to write code, you will quickly discover that HTML5 and CSS can reflect the visual and read and write portions of VARK, but JavaScript certainly encompasses the aural and kinesthetic approach. JavaScript allows you to create interactive content for games as well as helping to develop audio and video presentations.

As to learning how to write in these languages, students need to consider how they learn. Then find ways to use learning materials that explains how to code in their preferred learning modalities. In other words, look for videos, podcasts, print tutorials, as well as exercises that allow you to put your coding into practice.

What many of you may already know, and for those who don’t, freeCodeCamp offers these various learning modalities for their coding students. As a student myself, I quickly discovered this truth. What is even more apparent is the platform for how you learn.

As you can see on the left, you have your written instructions. But if you needed assistance you could simply click on the “Watch a video” and view as well as listen to additional material. This speaks to the visual, aural, and read and write portions of VARK. By entering the code solutions in the center and seeing your results to the right, the kinesthetic as well as visual approach is demonstrated.

What is even more apparent is how the projects you are asked to create as part of their certification process will require that you utilize and demonstrate your ability to design in a multi-modal approach.

For example, in one of the projects titled “Tic-Tac-Toe”, you are asked to develop a game in which the user needs to place their icon in a row of three to win the game. The user will not only see the visual aspects of it, they will hear a melody when they win, lose or tie the game. The fact they are participating in this game involves the kinesthetic approach.

(Courtesy of @konikodes)

So, the next time you start to code in order to create some type of game such as in this example, or are developing your first website, remember the UI and UX. By using all the learning modalities in your presentations, your user will come to enjoy their experience with your site or game.

In addition, don’t forget to discover how you learn and then seek those modalities when you are learning to code. VARK itself allows both learners and instructors to express themselves in a variety of ways. Click on the link to find out how you learn. Just remember to be conscious of this fact the next time you attempt to learn a new computer language.

Final Thoughts

If you are thinking of developing training for your staff, students, or patrons, it is essential that you develop it in an engaging format using whatever software is available. Online courses need not be static and boring anymore. With the different technologies that are now available, incorporating the four different learning modalities of Visual, Aural, Read/Write, and Kinesthetic should not be difficult.

Use your imagination to create not only entertaining tutorials but engaging as well. Before you can produce material that is engaging while incorporating all the learning modalities, begin by applying it in your own learning — whether it is coding, instructional design, or any other skill set you are looking to develop.