by Maresa Molloy, Instructional Designer
I recently came across an article by Tom Kuhlmann of the Rapid E-learning blog entitled “Are Your E-Learning Courses Pushed or Pulled?” Although a few years old it got me thinking, because the issue is still completely relevant today. Is it better to push content onto learners or is it better to let learners decide what learning content they want or need to learn? And isn’t there an inherent risk in letting the learner make such an important decision?
The push approach to e-learning
The push approach to e-learning is very traditional. Like a school curriculum which is laid out module by module, traditional push e-learning programmes follow a similar cycle:
Learners work through each module in sequence and take the assessment at the end to test their knowledge. Each module is compulsory and while learners might encounter knowledge checks as they work through the content, the final assessment tests their learning on the entire programme.
A push type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:
|It’s a traditional style of learning which most learners are familiar with.||Learners must complete all modules, despite the fact that they may already be familiar with some of the learning content.|
|You can ensure that your learners have at least seen the entire programme.||It assumes your learners approach the programme with the same amount of prerequisite knowledge and need to acquire the same amount of new knowledge.|
|It can enlighten learners to new information they would not have otherwise read.||Learners may not be motivated to learn all of the content, especially if they feel they already know it.|
The pull approach to e-learning
The pull approach to e-learning is based on what the learner wants to learn. It recognises that some learners don’t need to take the entire programme and that different learners enter the e-learning programme with different levels of knowledge.
As with the push approach to e-learning, you provide learners with all the learning content, but you arrange it in a way that the learner gets to choose which modules they want to take in order to fill in their knowledge gaps.
You also create a reason to use the content (objectives). For example you could present learners with a real-life task or question they would typically encounter in their work or role, and allow them to choose which modules they want to take to be able to complete that task or answer that question.
For example, a pull type e-learning programme on improving the Customer Service skills of Waiting Staff would typically begin with the following question:
“It’s a busy Friday night at the restaurant, how would you serve your customers to ensure that they have a pleasant and satisfactory experience?”
You then provide the learner with modules on Customer Service such as Communication Skills; Preparing and Serving Food; and Etiquette and Complaints Handling.
The learner accesses the modules that they believe will help them to answer the question satisfactorily and skips the learning content that they already know. At the end of the programme, they take an assessment which allows them to answer the original question on how they would serve customers satisfactorily.
This type of e-learning programme is illustrated below:
A pull type e-learning programme has its advantages and disadvantages:
|Learning is interactive and engaging.||Learners skip modules which may enhance their knowledge.|
|Learning is set in context, i.e. it replicates real-world scenarios.||The non-traditional format may not appeal to all learners.|
|Learners have autonomy over their learning and are more motivated to learn.||Some learners may need more guidance in their learning.|
Push or pull?
So which approach should you use in your e-learning – Push or Pull?
Push type e-learning programmes are more suited to delivering compliance-based programmes and when you want to ensure that your learners have at least viewed all of the learning content.
On the other hand, pull type e-learning programmes offer instructional designers more of a challenge but at the same time more flexibility. They’re more suitable for when you want to give learners real-life scenario-based challenges to complete, opportunities to improve their performance, and autonomy over their own learning. They are ideal for non-compliance training and just-in-time learning.
Knowing which approach to use requires an understanding of your learners and what will best serve their needs.