In business contexts, it is generally accepted that the environment can influence the performance of employees and leaders. But the influence of the online environment is often overlooked when it comes to learning.

Why is this?

A common issue is the sunk cost problem – in other words, a company has invested in a system and they want to use it no matter what. But if you’re forcing your learners to use a platform that they neither like nor find particularly intuitive (like a lot of Learning Management Systems), you’ll face an uphill struggle to create and sustain engagement.

Another factor that is often ignored is how an online space makes learners feel. This might sound a bit flowery, but it’s deeply rooted in the learning theory of behaviourism – we are all conditioned to some extent by the environments in which we live and work. But all too often, the systems used to ‘deliver’ learning overlook learners’ emotional response as they interact with the platform.

Design your online environment with purpose

If you have any choice in the platform you use, try and find a platform that enables you to customise the look and feel of the online learning spaces your learners will be using. Anything that you can do to humanise the online learning space will generate a more favourable emotional response from your learners, which is likely to lead to higher levels of engagement.

Removing clutter from the online environment is also a good idea. In the same way that a cluttered mind makes it difficult to concentrate, a cluttered online environment will distract learners and make it harder for them to focus on the learning tasks.

If you’re able to change the language used to describe aspects of the online learning space, this can also help to increase learners’ emotional connection with the online environment. All too often, the terminology used to describe tabs and pages causes learners to feel that they are entering a dehumanised world, rather than a space that they own and feel connected to. The more that you are able to use language that makes them feel more comfortable in the online environment, the more time they are going to want to spend in it.

Incidentally, the same applies to physical learning environments. It’s no wonder that many courses experience poor attendance – this is often because teaching spaces are often shabby, functional and devoid of personality. If you’re able to reconfigure chairs, use mood lighting, bring in a sofa, and add a coffee machine, you’ll be surprised and how much more time your learners will want to spend in the space.

So when you’re designing an online learning experience, think carefully about the emotional impact that the platform is likely to have on your learners.

And ignore it at your peril.

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Photo by Howard Bouchevereau on Unsplash


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