One of the most powerful benefits of using eLearning is that we are able to use interactivity and activities to create a highly engaging learning experience. To be completely honest, we are truly spoilt for choice being able to create almost any type of activity we can think of.
We can create activities that will help learners understand concepts, assess their learning and provide them with a safe environment to explore and fail.
But, to quote Uncle Ben;
“With great power, comes great responsibility”
While eLearning designers never set out to use their power for evil and create activities that are detrimental to the learning experience, there are constant temptations to create something that is fun rather than something that is purposeful. If you succumb to these temptations, you are at risk of creating bad eLearning, something we have previously touched on in our “Types of eLearning: The good, the bad and the ugly” webinar and blog.
Below are some tips on how to ensure the activity you are designing is going to add to the learning experience, and not be a frustration for the learner.
#1 Set a clear expected outcome
Having a clear goal for the activity you are designing is key to creating a purposeful interaction. While this seems like a given, complacency often leads to activities and interactions that are not aligned with the ultimate expected outcome.
At the highest level, we use activities to achieve one of the following outcomes:
- Help the learner learn something new
- Ask the learner to demonstrate their existing knowledge
- Check that the learner has gained new knowledge
- Show the learner the consequences of their decision
The trap that many designers fall into, is setting the goal of testing recall with all their activities. They create interactions that basically check if someone is able to recall a fact they were given only minutes earlier. Now if you are designing a solution that has a goal of testing and improving someone’s memory, then this would be acceptable, but in all other cases this is a lost opportunity.
We want to create activities that allow the learner to apply the information they’ve learnt critically and demonstrate their skills. We want to make the think and do, not just remember.
#2 Align with the real world
At the end of the day, the goal for any training is to provide someone with new skills and knowledge that they will be able to apply in the real world. Therefore looking to the real world is a great way to ensure that what you are designing is going to be relevant and relatable. It’s also a great way to get an idea of the best interaction to use for the activity.
For example, let’s imagine we are creating an immersive eLearning solution for paramedics to help them become aware about the hazards that they will face in thier role. We could create hazard identification activities, where our learner would be presented with a scene or situation and they would have to select all of the hazards they can see. This would be fine, but it’s not taking into consideration the full circumstances of the real world, as in the real world there would be time constraints and also distractions.
Now if we took the same scene and introduced a countdown timer, as well as audio simulating more information about the situation coming across the radio, all of a sudden we’ve been able to provide an environment that is more aligned with the real world.
Now our learner is forced to make decisions and identify hazards under a time constraint like they would in the real world. Imagine if they were listening to the radio, they hear about the patient’s violent history and suddenly the patient becomes a hazard that needs to be identified.
So when thinking about designing your interaction, really think about how it relates to the real world and you will be able to provide the learner with a more authentic and relatable learning experience.
#3 Employ K.I.S.S.
No, I don’t mean contact the agent of the legendary rock band and see if they are interested in an eLearning gig, what I mean is:
We want to ensure the activities and interaction we design are going to be engaging and relevant for the learner, while at the same time not distracting them from learning the material we want them to absorb with complex and unnecessary interactions.
We want our activities to be simple, intuitive and effective.
For example, let’s say we have an activity in which we want the learner to indicate if they think they should use a real ID, or a fake ID when applying for a job.
The interaction that is appropriate here is a standard multiple choice selection and could look like this:
In this example, the learner reads the question, makes their decision and is able to move on in two clicks. A nice simple interaction type and it allows the learner to complete the activity and move on easily and quickly.
Now let’s quickly talk about one of the most overused interaction types in eLearning; the drag-and-drop. For some reason both clients and a lot of providers are head over heels for these interactions, regardless of if they are appropriate to the desired learning outcomes.
Asking someone a true or false question? Drag-and-drop!
What someone who chose the right response from a list? Drag-and-drop!
What to frustrate learners with a pointless interaction? DRAG-AND-DROP!
Hearing “Can we make this more engaging by putting in a drag-and-drop activity?” still always sends a shiver down my spine.
The issue is that in most cases, all that a drag-and-drop interaction adds to an activity is testing the learners motor skills at the end of a cognitive task. It’s wasted effort the learner has to invest into the act of completing the interaction, rather than towards achieving a learning outcome.
Let’s contrast the steps a learner takes to answer an activity with three correct responses using a multi-choice interaction, against the steps they take to answer an activity using a drag-and-drop interaction.