Design better e-learning for adults with 5 lessons I learned from teaching tough high-school kids

Design better e-learning for adults with 5 lessons I learned from teaching tough high-school kids

I honed my teaching skills in a rough part of town training the toughest audience there is: high school kids. They will exploit any weakness and will not hesitate to tell you exactly what they think. If you dare lose their interest, things can go very wrong very fast.

Now I design e-Learning for adults, but I always take some time to consider how to get and keep the learner’s interest so that they finish the course prepared for productivity, and not just holding a piece of paper with a mark on it.


Don’t overcomplicate things or confuse your students with stuff that isn’t relevant to THIS lesson. While it is tempting to share things YOU think are interesting, remember your student is on their own individual learning journey and may not have the full context yet.


Participation and interaction are powerful learning tools, but I have seen plenty of lessons go wrong because the learning value and purpose of each activity was not clear and upfront. If you waste their time, you will lose your audience just as quickly as if you had given them a whole bunch of reading.


Wonder and curiosity nurture interest, so try to build opportunities for the students to explore for themselves. This equips your learners to continue to improve on their own and prepares them to tackle new challenges. Think about including things like simulations or branching scenarios.


I have seen too many courses designed with all of the testing at the end. Lead lessons with an opportunity for learners to experience success early, and continue offering chances for success throughout. Not only does this allow them to motivate themselves, but can also help identify and support strengths and weaknesses early.


Adults like to have fun too, but instructional designers often stop as soon as they cover the required content. When you take the time to make your course something people actually enjoy doing, you will see your training time go down and on-the-job performance improve. A little gentle humour is often appreciated.

High school students don’t put up with lazily designed learning, and neither do adults. If you lose their interest, you lose the lesson. You won’t see it on your evaluation – you’ll see it on the job.