A teacher starting in the development of a Web-based learning experience would best be served if they knew characteristics of the students enrolled in their class. In instructional design terms these are known as entry level characteristics and consist of information, such as, general information, specific characteristics, and learning styles. Research has shown that knowing these characteristics prior to delivering the class can help the instructor tailor their material to the learner and increase learning outcomes.
General Entry Level Characteristics
General learner entry level characteristics are ones that most learners have in common. These can be gender, age, or education. Learners may have different access points to the course but these are still considered general characteristics because all learners have them.
Specific Entry Level Characteristics
Specific entry level characteristics focus on skills the learner must have prior to taking part in your educational offering. What this means is that students must have prior knowledge, or experience, to optimally participate in what is going to be delivered in the Web-based learning experience. If for example, a web-based course was covering upper level accounting skills, the pre-requisite for the course could be training in developing and understanding spreadsheets.
These specific characteristics can be assessed using some sort of inventory such as a survey. Because you will delivering a Web-based learning experience, it might be best to use an online survey to perform this assessment. The by-product knowledge would be that you will be able to assess how well the potential students navigate and manage the inventory.
Assessing Learning Styles
There has been much research undertaken in regards to the affect of tailoring materials to the learner preferred learning style. A learning style is the participants preferred way of taking in information. For example, they could be visual learners, kinetic learners, or best learn through exploration. With Web-based learning, it’s not always possible to meet the needs of specific learning styles, but ways can be developed to accommodate most styles.
How to Assess Entry Level Characteristics
One of the best ways to determine the entry level characteristics of learners in Web-based learning is to perform an assessment inventory of the learners. This assessment inventory can be done via a computer survey or via paper or even with personal interviews. These inventories should include a battery of questions that take learners through all possible preferences of learning. These assessment inventories should be thorough but not too exhaustive. Learners should be able complete them in ten minutes or less.
It is important to realize and communicate that while learners do have learning style preferences, not all learning styles can be reasonably accommodated. Web-based learning does have its limitations, and it is best to spell these out upfront to avoid any misunderstandings.