4 e-Learning Design Practices for Reaching More Young People

(Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash.)

By Lynda Aaron and Linda Fogarty, International Youth Foundation

The United Nations started World Youth Skills Day (July 15) in 2014 to celebrate and emphasize “the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work, and entrepreneurship.” This year, as communities continue to rebuild and as young people prepare for their futures, it’s never been more important that young people—all young people—have the same opportunities to build their skills. That’s why it’s so important to take the time and care to design with our participants in mind. This is especially true with respect to participants from underserved or vulnerable communities.

Below are four good design practices we learned while adapting instructor-led training design for virtual instructor-led (VILT) and asynchronous delivery. Drawing on the findings of five case studies, the following lessons were collected by reviewing project documentation and quantitative data and through key informant interviews with project teams to draw on lived experiences.

1. Design to be accessible.

Not all young people have full-time access to devices or reliable connections to the internet—but regardless of that fact, all young people deserve the same opportunity to learn the same skills using the same quality pedagogy. Using data from participant surveys and other sources, organizations should consider how to address access for as many scenarios as possible, within project constraints, to ensure all participants can access learning content, with a full experience.

A good practice is to start by addressing the needs of program participants with the least access and then develop from there to accommodate those with the most access. This was front of mind for IYF teams working to deliver a career guidance curriculum (My Career, My Future). As a result, all young participants could access the same content while online, download it to a device offline, or in a small number of cases, even listen to content on the radio and participate using a workbook and WhatsApp chat groups. Context is everything. Being flexible with both low-tech and high-tech tools, resources, and approaches is key.

2. Design to be inclusive.

When interacting with programmatic or curricular materials, participants may ask: “Is this for me? Do I see myself—my characteristics, values, and reality—reflected in this content?” Not surprisingly, if the answer is “yes,” participant engagement improves.

With that in mind, when moving lessons from the classroom to virtual delivery during the pandemic, our Youth Opportunity program designers included diverse images, reflecting different ethnic groups, body types, and gender identities. In PTS Beyond the Classroom, the Spanish language itself was updated to be more inclusive by changing masculine nouns to a gender-neutral modifier of the word “person,” for example, “el estudiante” became the more inclusive “la persona estudiante.” Gender representation within scenarios was also updated to reflect reality—bosses were not always men, for example, and people in caring roles were not always women. Updating content for inclusion should be an ongoing activity to reflect real-time changes and needs. When participants ask, “Is this for me?,” we hope the answer is always, “Yes!”

3. Design pedagogy for the digital environment.

Moving successfully from in-person to digital learning modalities, even with the same content, may require adapting the pedagogy. In other words, it may be necessary to change how knowledge and skills are conveyed.

Sometimes, content does not translate easily from one modality to another. When IYF teams train other individuals to be life skills trainers themselves, much of the learning traditionally takes place in-person. During the pandemic, converting our in-person curriculum to a virtual training-of-trainers modality (VTOT 1.0), we found that the otherwise engaging lessons felt repetitive and tiring. Thanks to the efforts of excellent master trainers, we were able to make minor adjustments in the moment to jumpstart participation. Moreover, we used feedback to upgrade future training sessions.

In the case of Descubre tu vocación—IYF’s Spanish language career guidance curriculum—the same self-directed asynchronous activities used to help young people answer the questions, “Who am I?” “Where am I going?” and “How do I get there?” transferred well from in-person to digital modalities—from workbook reflections to online forums. During our Big 3 intervention in China, curriculum creators understood that to reach migrant workers with life skills messages would require a fundamental redesign of how life skills lessons are delivered. Due to the migrant workers’ specific context, we knew they were likely to be using electronic platforms to engage with content. This was a challenge, but also an opportunity to be creative with an eye toward hyper-localization.

4. Design for engagement. Regardless of modality—in-person, virtual, or something else—creating an enabling environment where young people want to participate is key to meaningful engagement. For participants accessing distance and e-learning because they have no other option, the stakes are even higher. During the pandemic, this meant that expert facilitators and teachers accustomed to an in-person modality needed new ways to engage and retain their young student participants.

In Mexico, meeting this challenge meant that each lesson plan from the Más allá de lo presencial (Beyond the Classroom) version of IYF’s Passport to Success (PTS) life skills program was fully redesigned and developed to adapt to a virtual environment, setting facilitators up for success even if they weren’t accustomed to VILT. Lessons included more frequent moments of engagement, from simple “thumbs up” participation on Zoom to interactive games using items one might find at home. Just as in the face-to-face version of PTS, these interactions are designed to demonstrate the relevance of the content to young people’s daily lives and to offer them an opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment. Flexible participation options are a must.

We hope you find these good practices useful in your own work. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the interventions referenced above—and the design lessons they yielded—we encourage you to explore the case studies in our recently released IYF e-Learning Analysis: Final Report.

Every day—not just YSD or the days following—we welcome your reflections. Please feel free to share in the comments or on IYF’s social media channels.

To access the resource, please click here.