Continuous learning has obvious advantages for online instructors. Here’s how to help your learners build the habit.
Adult learners tend to approach courses with one of two mindsets: either the program they’re signing up for is a once-and-done class, much like a seminar or a college-level credit course, or it’s part of an ongoing learning process. For the former type of course, most learners expect to pay for the course once, but the latter course model often follows the subscription model.
While subscriptions can be a hard sell for many learners, there are some clear advantages to this model—and not just for your bottom line. When a learner signs up for a subscription, they do so with the mindset that whatever they’re about to learn is part of an ongoing commitment in their life. Whether it’s learning a language, playing a musical instrument, or joining a community of professionals committed to advancing their skills, this focus on continuous learning can lead to a powerful educational experience.
Continuous learning doesn’t lend itself to every course model, but if you’re looking for ways to encourage it in your own learners, here’s how to start.
1. Help them set their own goals.
Adult learners have a strong sense of self-direction, and want to be in charge of their own goals. While some may want to work at a brisk pace, blowing by a new milestone every few weeks, others may want to take their time. It’s also likely that your adult learners will come to a course with different objectives: one wants to learn a skill for self improvement, the other hopes it will help them start a new business.
Intrinsic motivation is hard to come by, and when a learner has it, you want to nurture it as much as possible. Offer your learners flexibility as they work through your material by providing a variety of content and allowing them to choose what to prioritize.
2. Make it about the community.
In a normal classroom, learners come through in regiments, with a set of peers all progressing through the same material at roughly the same rate. But a continuous learning environment means people are entering the course in a small but steady stream, and that very few move at the same pace.
Accordingly, it can be harder for a learner to find someone at exactly the same point in the course as they are. The solution is to build a community that focuses on mentorship and camaraderie. If you create a community where new members are welcomed and encouraged to return, it won’t matter if learners come and go.
3. Keep lessons bite-sized.
Continuous learning often involves doing a little bit every day, rather than a lot all at once in large chunks. Or, to put it differently, it’s about building a learning habit. Instead of cramming course material, which is known to lead to poor learning outcomes, continuous learning keeps in inflow of material manageable and constant.
Of course, few learners will be able to build a habit if the lessons themselves are designed to fit a longer format. Learners can pause a video and return to it later, or set aside an article and pick it up the next day, but stopping and starting in that way disrupts their experience. Instead, keep videos on the shorter side, and include short review quizzes throughout to form natural break points.
4. Build a course library.
One way to keep a continuous learning experience going is to provide learners unlimited access to a course library. This can be challenging when you first launch, because for a while you will need to create content at a steady enough pace so that your learners will continue to have material on hand.
But after a while, the courses, supplementary material, and micro content will add up into a storehouse of knowledge that new learners can access from the start. They can queue up courses one after the other according to what matches their interests, and never worry about running out of new content.
5. Set gentle reminders.
Reminders are another key component to building a learning habit. For many learners, falling behind has less to do with negligence, and more to do with forgetfulness. They may use your program regularly for a week or two, then get swept up in some other project. Next thing they know, a month has gone by without them signing in to the course, and they cancel their subscription.
Instead, send your learners subtle notifications either by email or on their phone to remind them to sign in and complete their next lesson. Even better, give your learners control over how frequently they should receive a notification, and what form that notification should take. Maybe a learner wants a phone reminder every day at 8am, right as they sit down at their desk to start work. Or maybe they want an email reminder once a week on Sunday evening as they sit down to review their upcoming goals.
Letting your learners control their reminders not only helps them with their goals and self-direction, the customization increases their chances of success.
6. Acknowledge important achievements and milestones.
Finally, many learners are motivated by small tokens of success. When they hit a 100-day lesson streak, or complete their tenth micro course, they want some kind of acknowledgment of their hard work and dedication. This can be as simple as a course badge, or it can be part of how you add gamification to your course (by unlocking new content, for instance). Whatever option you pick, celebrating your learner’s success helps them push to achieve their next goal.
Continuous learning is about building a habit.
The bottom line is, for your subscribers to become continuous learners, they have to create a habit that keeps them coming back to their lessons day in, day out, indefinitely. This may seem like an exhausting way to learn, but it’s really just like working out. Everyone knows that you can’t show up to the gym for a few months and expect the results to last a lifetime. So, when it comes to learning, think of yourself as a personal trainer to your learners: you’re there to guide and encourage, but first and foremost you’re there to help them meet their goals.