Different PeopleWhen you’re planning your next online course, you may envision all the students in that course as being similar due to their shared progress within a curriculum. But no two students within a cohort will have the exact same learning preferences. Your challenge is in trying to figure out what your audience needs before they ever press a button.

For example, Millennials (born between 1996 and later) often prefer to consume content that’s summarized, succinct, and heavily supported by videos and graphics (think VOX), whereas Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) usually prefer lots of text-based information, with extensive case studies and examples (think Harvard Business Review).

As instructional designers, you have an interesting conundrum: how do you balance these differing learning preferences with the need to create standardized courses that will work for multiple audiences?

Creating personalized learning content is one approach that offers the best of both worlds.

Personalization Aids Engagement

Content which does not relate to the needs and experiences of a specific demographic may end up causing that audience segment to disengage from the course. For instance, if you’re creating an introductory course on how to make use of your local library, a module that focuses on “How to Leverage Print Resources” may appeal to Gen X’ers or Baby Boomers, but it may not fascinate Millennials. The latter might be more interested in learning about using the library’s digital resources, such as online videos and eBooks.

The solution here may be to follow the same organizational layout for your courses (so the format feels consistent for users who move from module to module) while using specific media examples that speak to the needs of the anticipated user population. (For more tips on creating and updating easily repeatable modules, read our previous post.)

Not All Learners Start Off at the Same Level

Even across the great generational divide, you are bound to have some learners who are very familiar with the content being taught and others who are less acquainted with the topic. As a result, not everyone enrolled in the course will appreciate the “standard” content presented. Some will need more onboarding or hand-holding than others.

Therefore, you may want to allow learners with an advanced understanding of the subject matter to easily skip or “test out” of certain sections or modules, while students who are less familiar with the topic are mandated to review the basics of the course. Or, as an alternative, you can provide one standard delivery of the course’s information but include numerous “help” or “for more information” assets that less-familiar users can choose to engage but which more advanced users can ignore.

Catering to User Preferences Will Help Lessons Resonate

Even within groups with similar social, educational, and professional backgrounds, you will still encounter different preferences among learners. For instance, some may prefer to ask questions, dive more deeply into specific aspects of your course, and seek out additional references, while other learners within the same group may be content simply with reviewing the topic summary.

To address such variations, it’s advisable to allow your students to personalize their learning preferences when possible. For instance, you may offer “additional resources” as optional content that interested learners can peruse on their own while the main block (and core requirement) of the course is offered as “mandatory” content for everyone. In this way, all of your learners will get what they need from the course, while each learner can also ensure they’re getting the level of depth that they want.

Leverage Customizable eLearning Tools

All this personalization may sound difficult and time-consuming to implement, but it doesn’t have to be — especially if you enlist the right tools to help you. This is one reason CourseArc allows you to develop standardized yet highly interactive content that appeals to the specific learning preferences of different audiences.

Our platform allows you to create boilerplate courses that offer a consistent look and feel throughout your courses, thus reducing the learning curve as users move through your lessons. But within this consistency you are still free to personalize your content and include unique text, video, graphics, and other content within each version of your course, and serve the needs of the specific audience you’re addressing.