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How I got better at e-learning by ignoring the completion bar

Intellectually ambitious but with limited spoons, I've experienced the blessing and curse that is the abundance of e-learning resources. With these resources accessible as e-books, video lessons, and interactive exercises that tailor to all levels, it paints the picture that anyone could learn this desired skill, if only they had the discipline to finish it all.

However, in striving to meet all needs, course curricula extend to such a length that the time commitment to complete all of it becomes a hurdle. It's common to bookmark or purchase but never begin, or fade out within the first 10%.

After trial and error, I found that this linear, 100%-completion oriented approach was a red herring goal I needed to unlearn. If I lose steam on a course, it's usually not a lack of discipline, but a signal the current lessons aren't valuable enough to me for the effort I have to invest.

Here are some ways I've responded to that signal:

  • Skip ahead to lessons that sound more interesting. These may require skipped lessons as a prerequisite. With a better understanding of the other lesson's purpose, I have renewed motivation to work through it.
  • Know when to prioritize breadth. Full absorption of every lesson through replay and exercises without peeking at the answer might have caused too much friction. If deep understanding isn’t urgent, I'll decide that a single pass is enough on the remainder. In contrast to fizzling out early on over-engagement and being unaware of the other course topics, I can recognize key words and know exactly where to go for deeper understanding.
  • Know when to prioritize depth. Identifying the 2 out of 10 chapters most relevant to me and deciding the other 8 would give diminishing returns is liberating. Then, I can study those two extra carefully and move on to the next course sooner.
  • Research a different course/ learning medium. Learning from another resource that offers a more intuitive teaching style for me could save tons of energy.
  • Identify other higher priorities. Am I unmotivated because there's no real urgency? Is there another more fulfilling place to spend the same time?

These approaches have helped me maintain momentum that I otherwise would have lost, and see self-experimentation an investment to account for in my learning pace expectations.

A Design Challenge for E-Learning Platforms

As an e-learner, my main goal is to upskill through a learning path that works best for me. But what does the typical resource signal with its user interface? Completion is everything. Follow the path. Stay the Course. Get that check mark of success.

Completion bars, next lesson autoplay, disabling future lessons until preequisites are met, make the cherrypicking approach not readily discoverable. Furthermore, even if I know I extracted the most valuable pieces of the course, the unsatisfying misalignment in the sad faded unwatched videos and the happy checked ones make me feel like a poor student.

What would a site that facilitates and rewards a variety of learning styles and goals look like? How could a user interface celebrate nonlinear, cherrypicked learning? Could a workflow guide users through that curation process, or self discovery of one's learning style?

Top comments (1)

egilhuber profile image
erica (she/her)

I like the idea of users curating their own learning path! Maybe something like an 'exploration mode' could be useful, too. Users would be able to hop around through content without worrying about completion - maybe even set their own goals for what they want to get out of that particular module.