When instructional designers are working in higher education, they have to think differently than they might have 20 years ago when it comes to their audience. College campuses have changed dramatically in their student demographics over time, with non-traditional students becoming the norm. Instructional Designers need to always think about the different aspects of their audiences at higher-ed institutions. The New York Times had a great article detailing some of the biggest misconceptions about today’s college students.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing for today’s college students:
At eVersity, we have students who range in age from 18 to nearly 80. As a designer, I must think about the life experiences someone at the age of 18 might have never had, for example, buying a house, but someone at the age of 55 has done several times. I must design for all ages, otherwise I lose them.
2. Backgrounds / Life Experiences
We all know people come from different backgrounds and life experiences. In designing college courses, you never know who is going to take a course you designed. Are they in this course because they will find a career in this particular subject matter? Are they taking this course simply as an elective? Are they professionals that have had real-world experience in this topic or is this their first time every reading about it? Always keep in mind that everyone has a different background and you must design with that in mind.
It’s hard to find someone who feels they have too much time in a day to get everything done that they need. Especially a college student who is working multiple jobs while taking care of a family and taking an online course or two. It’s hard to find time to fit it all in. However, we as designers can help alleviate some of that worry with our design. For example, think about ways you can remove barriers for students by giving them all the information they may need to complete an assignment on one page. Something that may take us 5 minutes to create might save a student an hour of searching.
4. Attention Span
Great! You’ve made it to #4. I’ve managed to keep your attention. A lot of people might not have that ability with black text on a white screen. Think of ways to keep the constantly engaged. Adults have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. Yet, you want them to read 40 pages of a textbook without any other engagement? Good luck. Think of triggers to grab their attention. For example, insert a short video to break up the text. Chunk out the content so they have to click “Next Page” every few minutes. Add an image that showcases key points from the text. Ask them a question to let them interact with what they’re reading. You have their attention for this moment and this moment alone. Don’t waste it.
These are by no means the only things we should think about when designing for today’s college student. What are some other areas we need to think about? Let us know in the comments.