eLearning and interactivity complement each other naturally. eLearning is all about teaching with the help of electronic tools. Meanwhile, interactivity encourages learners to apply their knowledge in a safe and educational environment that gives them immediate feedback and speeds up learning. Together, this increases the effectiveness of training. But it can be hard for instructional designers to keep up with the demand for interactivity. What’s missing is a practical approach to designing interactive eLearning.
In this article we’ll take a look at why interactivity works so well with eLearning. We’ll also look at some practical ways to include interactivity using interactive elements embedded in the training content. This means presenting our eLearning in the usual way (through text and multimedia), but finding opportunities to embed interactive elements into the material to keep learners engaged.
There are many reasons to include interactivity to enhance your content; looking good and being fun may be the most popular goals but there are also benefits that improve learning. Here are a few outcomes of interactivity used well:
- Communicate complex ideas quickly: Condense complex ideas and concepts into a quick activity that illustrates the information by having the learners do them.
- Provide instant feedback: Show the learner the outcomes of their decisions or guess right away. Knowing that you’re wrong makes you much more likely to remember when you are corrected.
- Make your learners curious and motivated: Use your learner’s curiosity to encourage them to find the answers themselves.
- Use heuristics and garden path visualization for memory: How you receive knowledge can determine how to retrieve it again later. Create interactions that associate the new knowledge with other concepts or details that are easier to remember together.
- Simulate real situations: Create interactions that ask the learner to apply their knowledge in a realistic situation.
- Encourage repetition: Repetition is a useful tool for learning and memory. Use interactivity to encourage users to try multiple times to find out more or achieve a higher score. Each time they try it helps build their memory of it.
Things to watch out for when adding interactivity:
- Incorrect representations: One of the worst things you can do as an educator is spread incorrect information. Make sure the interactivity you create is accurate to the knowledge you are teaching. This can be tricky if you are not the subject matter expert and must extrapolate your activity from other content. In this case, review it with your subject matter expert to ensure you’ve interpreted the information correctly.
- Unrelated or distracting content: You are already asking your learner to sit through all your learning content—make sure every minute of it will be useful to them! Interactivity just for the sake of fun might actually slow down the learning process.
- Adding confusion: Interactive elements often mean introducing new interface controls. Keep these simple and consistent. You don’t want learners getting stuck because they can’t figure out how to navigate your content.
- Time and cost: Lastly, it’s important to plan and keep track of budgets and schedules
The more interactive and engaging you can design your experiences, the better. However, now comes the hard work of creating these interactions. I’ve met lots of instructional designers who, when they felt interactivity was needed, fell into one of two extremes. They would either become over ambitious and try to create a whole “game”, or they would fall back on just displaying the bare content.
- Purchasing: Go out and buy pre-made content.
- Programming and development: You and your team create your own from scratch.
- Creating with tools: software such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, or LMS authoring tools (such as Fabric LMS) allow you to create interactivity within coding.
As you might guess, time and cost become major factors when designing eLearning with interactivity in mind. Each interaction could end up like a mini app or game; and the more you want, the more you have to build.
Interactive Elements: A practical approach
For most of us, we have limited time and resources to create effective eLearning. That’s why the best approach I have seen to creating interactive online content is also the most practical. Interactivity is not an all-or-nothing situation, think of each interaction (whether purchased, programmed, or authored) as an element that you can integrate into the rest of your content.
- Mix media: Use a combination of media to present your training. Text and images are easy and effective ways to deliver training. Videos require more resources but are best suited for certain content. Pick just the key points that would benefit the most with interactivity and turn those into interactive elements.
- Plan consistent interactions throughout the content: Try to space interactivity apart and build on each interaction by adding another layer of complexity each time.
- Reuse templates, patterns, and art: The best way to keep resources in check is to reuse content. Whether it’s background, characters, icons, or checkmarks, reusing assets saves you time while keeping a consistent look and feel to your product.
- Keep it simple: In the early stages of your design, identify which parts of your content should be interactive and implement a design that gives you the benefits you need. There are many benefits to interactivity but you can’t squeeze them all into one element!
Interactivity boosts your eLearning content but it is hard to get right and resource intensive. A practical approach to designing interactive eLearning means to be deliberate about the interactivity you apply to your content to get the biggest impact.