Learners studying from home frequently struggle to complete their course work. Here are ways you can improve the design of your course to help them.
As a master procrastinator, I am always looking for advice on time management—and paying attention to tools and techniques that help me get down to work and stay focused. This is a common problem for many adults—students and professionals alike. Avoiding difficult tasks seems to be part of human nature, even when the avoidance itself adds stress and leads to dissatisfaction.
This is a serious problem for educators. Learners who have difficulties with time management and focus are more likely to become disengaged and drop out. This leads to losses in sales and lower learner satisfaction, which is bad for you, but it also is bad for learners who may sincerely want to complete coursework, but feel at a loss to change their study habits.
Fortunately, you, as an educator, have several steps you can take that will help your learners stay focused, manage their time better, and complete your course.
1. Give learners a clear outline of the course so they know what to expect.
Many people will put off tasks they are unfamiliar with. The mere fact of not knowing what to do—or not knowing what comes next—can keep someone from dealing with even a trivial task for years. When it comes to your lessons, being clear with your learners about what they should expect from each lesson can help them stay on task.
In practical terms, this means keeping a course syllabus in plain sight. If you’re running a lifetime learning course with no fixed syllabus, then create an onboarding lesson that learners can complete within a few minutes that will familiarize them with the format of your content.
The same holds true for lessons. Use the start of each lesson to give a bullet point outline of what will be covered to refresh learner interest. If learners recognize the material, it will also give them more confidence in their ability to complete it.
2. Include time estimates for how long you expect lessons to take.
Would you ever start watching a video on YouTube if the video didn’t say how long it was? Probably not. We like to know what we’re signing up for, even in minor matters. With course lessons, learners are often bad at guessing how long it will take them to learn an unfamiliar concept. Giving them an estimate for how long the lesson will take can lower their hesitations enough that they’ll hop to it rather than putting it off.
3. Keep the lessons under twenty minutes.
Speaking of timing, keep lessons short. Learner retention rates decrease the longer a lesson goes on, especially for lectures where there’s no active engagement from the learner. Keeping them concise not only helps learners get started, it helps them remember more.
Micro content can be a huge boon here. These are lessons that learners can complete on their mobile phones in about five minutes. By engaging a little bit at a time, multiple times a day, learning your material becomes a habit.
Of course, some content will take longer for you to cover. But if you find yourself going past the twenty-minute mark, it might be time to split your lesson into shorter segments and add some review quizzes for learners to check their knowledge along the way.
4. Eliminate distractions using focus mode.
One of the features that we introduced with our 3.0 launch was a “focus mode” to help cut down on distractions, so that learners aren’t tempted to turn away from their course to go elsewhere on your site. Focus mode removes a number of visual cues that are not necessary for when learners are studying the lesson itself. It makes navigation collapsible, reduces the number of call-to-action buttons on the screen, and eliminates main navigation, sidebars, and footers.
The same principles can be applied to other areas of your course as well. If you’ve chosen a design without enough margin padding, or with a dense font, or if you’ve added too many other visual distractions onto your lesson page, it can make it hard for learners to focus on the important material. In this case, less is more.
5. Use lesson timers and set deadlines.
For some parts of your course, adding a visual timer for completing course elements can give learners enough pressure to double down on their course work. It’s also a way to encourage learners to focus more intensely at the material at hand.
Deadlines can serve a similar function. While deadlines can seem stressful at first, the reality is that, for a procrastinator, lack of a deadline means whatever task they have hanging over their head will never end. Setting a deadline is a way to keep learners accountable so that they fulfill their course requirements, instead of putting them off indefinitely.
6. Offer “streak” badges for learners who hit their targets.
Procrastination is also related to motivation. Offering a “streak” badge for learners who complete lessons on consecutive days, for instance is a tried and true way to keep learners signing in to the course. This may not look like time management in the strictest sense, but helping learners break bad procrastination habits has the same effect.
The way you structure your course can help your learners beat procrastination.
Many of us are accustomed to thinking of learner motivations as factors outside of our control. This can be an incredibly disheartening mindset for educators facing low engagement rates. But if you account for how your course is organized—and make use of the tools at your disposal that can help your learners stay focused—you can help your learners achieve their goals without making them feel hounded or micromanaged.
That’s a win for everyone.