I get a lot of questions about interactivity from those who are just getting started. Typically they begin with a lot of subject matter content and they’re not quite sure how to make the course interactive.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to building interactive elearning. But if someone’s just getting started here are the three tips that I usually share:
Make it Relevant
The first step to interactivity is relevance. The worst thing is having to take an elearning course that is completely meaningless. I’ve never had a job where I’m in a position to be bribed. Yet in many of the organizations I’ve worked, I’ve had to take courses on how not to receive bribes. What a waste of time!
And many of us experience this type of irrelevant elearning. We’ll get an email in November reminding us to complete a bunch of courses by the end of the year. When that happens, I contact the HR person to see if I can get around those requirements. But unfortunately the person’s already taken the course on how not to get bribed. So I’m usually out of luck.
While relevance doesn’t equate to interactivity, it does equate to an engaged learner. And an engaged learner is more apt to learn and not be dependent on interactive gimmicks (which is what we usually start with when we try to make the course interactive). So before you look to build interactive elements in your course, determine how to make the content relevant to the learner.
- Talk to your potential audience and let them share ideas on how they’d use the content. Their ideas are a good resource for scenarios.
- Interview new people who may have recently experienced the training to get feedback on what worked and what didn’t and how they feel the course relates to the real world.
Let the Learner Explore
A large part of learning is about forming a hypothesis and then testing it out. Often we fail, but the process of reflecting on an idea and then testing it is how we learn, whether we’re right or not.
There’s a lot of opportunity in elearning to let the person explore the course content and provide places for them to reflect and test ideas—“What happens if I make this choice and click here?”
Another value in exploration is that it allows the learner to determine what information is relevant or not. For example, if I know how to do something I can skip over that content and get to the content that I’m not sure about.
Unfortunately most of the elearning courses I see are linear and not very interactive. Linear isn’t bad on its own. Sometimes it’s preferable to get the information in a simple linear process. But what tends to make the linear course unbearable is when the course navigation is locked. And we tend to lock it because we’re worried that the “learner will not get all of the information.”
That’s faulty thinking which we’ll cover in the next section. For now, look at your content and determine how you can craft an environment where the learner can explore and get to the information she needs.
- Instead of creating a linear path of information, look for ways to let the learner find information or access it in different ways. At a minimum, give them some control over how they choose to get the information.
- Get the learner to “touch the screen.” It’s interactive because it engages a different sense and it forces YOU to find new ways to present information.
Here are a couple of simple examples:
In this first example, we could just create four screens and have the learner go through them in order. But instead we give them the freedom to select a tab. This does two things: it lets them touch the screen and they get to choose what they want to review. It’s simple, but it’s an easy way to convert your click-and-read content to something more interactive.
In the next example, you’re required to view three tutorial videos. Like the example above, I could have had the learners click on each video link and go through it in linear order.
But instead I freed up the navigation by letting the learners choose a video and then drag it to be played. By having them drag the video I get them to touch the screen. And I also give them the freedom to choose the video they want to watch. If this were a real software course, the learners may not need all of the tutorials. So why would I want to lock them into a linear path?
The two examples above are simple, but if you couple this type of interactivity with relevant content, you’ll be on your way to building an interactive elearning course.
Get the Learner to Pull Content
Relevant content is good and mixing it with screens that allows people to click and explore helps. But probably the single biggest thing you can do to transition from non-interactive to interactive elearning is craft an environment where the learner has to pull information in rather than us push information out.
The easiest way to do this is to craft decision points in the course. Force the learner to make decisions and then give them a way to collect the resources they need.
Some people won’t collect anything. They’ll jump in and make some educated guesses. Sometimes they’ll be right and sometimes not. That’s OK. They’re fine getting feedback and making adjustments. Others will not make any decisions until they’ve done an exhaustive search of every piece of information. That’s OK, too. In both cases you’re engaging the learner and giving them the freedom to make decisions and learn in a way that engages them.
The key to this approach is in how you structure access to the content. There are a number of ways you can get the information to the learner (which addresses the argument for locking slides).
- Set the stage by providing some contextual information.
- Create decision points where the learner is challenged to demonstrate their understanding. We don’t want them just reading or listening. We want them to reflect and process. Getting them to make decisions is a good way to get them there.
- Provide a means for them to collect information (this is where exploration comes in handy).
- Give them feedback based on the decisions they make.
As you can see, in all four instances you have an opportunity to provide the information that would normally be part of your linear click-and-read content. They get information when you set the stage. They can get more information as you force them to a decision. They get even more information as they explore and try to fill in the gaps prior to making a decision. And then of course you can provide information in the feedback process.
Normally we push content out, but if we think about how to get the learner to pull the content in it forces us to craft relevant scenarios and decisions. And we have to move our course design away from linear and towards more open exploration and interactivity.
And at that point you’ll have a much more engaging and interactive elearning experience.
Countering the Locked Navigation Argument
To those who have to deal with the locked navigation argument, you can still lock the course. The ultimate goal isn’t locking navigation and making sure people look at slides. The goal is that they’re able to do or understand something.
So you counter the argument by showing that a course that has decision points allows the learner to demonstrate their understanding of the content more so than forcing them to view a slide. Plus, you can still lock the course at the decision points. The learner is free to move around within the decision, but can’t advance until he’s demonstrated his understanding.
These three tips will help you move your content away from linear, click-and-read content and towards something more interactive and engaging. The next time you get some course content, ask how you can create a pull situation rather than pushing it out. And you’ll find that gives you a lot of ideas on making the course interactive.
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- January 28-29 (London, UK). I’ll be at Learning Technologies, swing by the Articulate booth #42 to say “Hi.”
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