While eLearning has become one of the most widely adopted training modalities, the quality of its interactive components often falls short of optimal. It's up to instructional designers to ensure eLearning interactions are truly enhancing learning retention and supporting performance, not merely breaking up the text and audio.
It’s easy for instructional designers to give in to the temptation to pepper interactions every three or four screens, or by default at the end of every lesson. But rather than feeling pressured to meet some arbitrary interaction quota, be thoughtful and strategic about the types of meaningful, performance-focused activities or interactions that will support each of your learning objectives or business goals.
When weighing whether an interaction is meaningful, think about the likelihood that the learner would perform that particular task in a real work environment. It’s not often that most people would need to explain information they read, nor do they usually need to click a box to learn more. These types of interactions are meant to "engage" the learner, but they’re not really that different from simply turning the page.
Between computers and mobile devices, consumers of electronic media click hundreds of links, buttons, and icons every day. With the advent of mobile learning, rollovers have been replaced by more clicking and tapping. The result is that learners often don't bother reading text before or after clicking—they just click to move on to the next menu or to accomplish a task. Interactions requiring the user to "click to learn more" might have been effective prior to the proliferation of touchscreens, but they are less meaningful in today's world of constant media interaction.
On the other hand, as part of their regular work, a person may need to rank items in order of importance, or compare two different sets of features, or identify the correct button to press in order to record customer comments. These are opportunities for eLearning interactions that could be meaningful and stimulate application of knowledge.
Put another way: does the learner need to be able to click to reveal all parts of a system component… or do they just need to identify which part to remove first when attempting a repair? Instead of "click to learn more" icons on an image of a machine or system screen, have the learner drag the purpose of each component onto the image. Allow them to test their knowledge by actually engaging with the content, not just reading it.
Likewise, instructional designers could put more thought into the verbs used in learning objectives. Frequently used verbs like describe, list, and identify may clear the bar of being objectively measurable, but higher-level objectives such as differentiate, calculate, demonstrate, categorize, and compare, are more likely to solidify knowledge transfer. And while not all higher-level objectives can be easily executed in an automated online modality—extrapolate, theorize, debate, and investigate are not realistic aims in most cases, after all—there are plenty that are feasible.
If a salesperson needs to be able to recognize a customer’s needs based on verbal cues, have the learner read customer statements and click on which cues lead to the correct recommendation, instead of just having the learner read a long conversation. Or, allow the learner to choose the best question to ask next from three or four choices; rather than "teaching” them what to say, they can see how the scenario might play out for each response.
Notice how these last few suggestions can be interactions, but still practical and performance-related. Not only are they more related to job performance, but they are also more engaging than just "click to read more." They may take a little more creativity and planning to design, but the payoff is likely to be worth the investment of time.
Be creative with activities that allow the learner to interact with the content, not just the flat screen. In these sorts of scenario-based interactions, consider using a scoring system to rate whether the learner made the "best" decision, or a less-ideal decision, by weighting values for different choices. Use interactive graphics to ensure the learner knows which field to enter next or which button to use to get help, and then provide feedback that goes to that action.
A great way to level-set for eLearning or microlearning is to use interaction at the beginning to measure prior knowledge. Show the learner the system screen and ask them to complete the appropriate fields, then provide feedback on how they did. Present a realistic scenario and ask the learner to make the best decision, then spend the next part of the lesson on explaining why it was or was not the best decision. As adult learners perform best when learning is meaningful and applicable to their daily work, give them the opportunity up front to see how applicable it is.
Brian Ziemba is a senior instructional designer with Caveo Learning. Brian has been an ID for more than a decade, including for major clients in the foodservice and pharmaceutical industries. He holds a bachelor’s in education from the University of Pittsburgh.