Interactivity. It’s certainly a hot topic in the eLearning industry. But is it that important? Or is it just another addition to the L+D jargon pile?
I was very curious about these questions, so I donned my instructional designer hard hat and did some digging. To guide you through my realizations, I’m going to show you two different eLearning activities that seek to improve learners’ time management skills.
While you read about these two activities, keep the following question in mind: Which is the most engaging, and why?
In this interactive activity built in Articulate Storyline, the learner has to decide which tasks to execute right now and which tasks can be executed later that day or week. The learner has only 10 seconds to decide; the watch in the corner counts down, creating a sense of urgency (I certainly felt the stress). The learner is immersed in this real-life environment, with both the time limit and the choices mimicking the learner’s day-to-day reality.
The second interactive activity is a case study created in Articulate Rise. The learner reads about Michael from Marketing’s workday and what he decided to prioritize. The story is displayed using a process flow; the learner has to click through each page to read the whole case study. There is no time limit; the learner can read through the description multiple times. They don’t have to make any decisions, they simply have to read about Michael’s day.
So, which of the two activities would you call interactive?
“To me, making a course interactive means creating a course a learner wants to engage with—not a series of unnecessary clicks.” – Sarah Hodge, Articulate Rise
Simply making the learner click to view does not create an interactive course.
Interactive eLearning places the learner in an active role involving them in the learning process: either by reflecting, making decisions, or making an analysis (amongst many others). This is activity 1 in a nutshell.
Activity 2, on the other hand, is entirely passive. While it is technically interactive due to the clicking, and as captivating as Michael from Marketing may be, the learner walks away with no real-life, real-time application. In my book, this is a far cry from the level of interactivity instructional designers should strive for.
Why is Interactivity Important?
You might be reading this and thinking: That’s all well and good, Lucy, but is interactivity all that important? If the learner still learns about time management, surely that’s all that matters at the end of the day? Doesn’t Activity 2 still convey the necessary information?
These are excellent questions.
Numerous studies have proven time and again that when learners are active participants, they retain more knowledge and are more likely to finish the course due to being more engaged with the course material.
So, yes – interactivity is pretty important.
To deep dive into how interactivity positively affects learning outcomes, check out this blog post by eLearning Industry. To learn more about the different levels of interactivity in eLearning, check out this post by Satyabrata Da.
But, just as there was little point in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, there is certainly no point in incorporating interactivity for interactivity’s sake.
Quite simply: Interactivity is only effective when used as a vehicle to meet the lesson’s learning objective(s).
So, how can you design effective interactions, especially if you lack the time or resources to create highly complex branching scenarios or games like Activity 1?
3 Steps to Boost Interactivity in Your Next Course
Obviously, there are many different ways of going about this, but from my experience, I have three (relatively) easy steps that I would recommend to get you started:
1. Answer the following questions when designing your eLearning activities to avoid including interactive elements just for the sake of it:
- In which situation(s) would the learner need to use this information?
- Why is this information essential for the learner?
- How will this information change what the learner was doing previously?
- How can I make this bite-sized (to avoid cognitive overload) while still retaining the key information?
2. Immerse the learner in real-life scenarios and ask them questions. Where possible, give learners immediate feedback. Avoid passive consumption of knowledge.
There are many tools and resources available to achieve this, but here are just a few ideas for inspiration:
- Create interactive videos in Articulate Storyline. Questions appear in dialogue layers on top of the video, and learners receive immediate feedback on their choices. This isn’t the easiest method, but if you already have an audio clip or video to insert, it can be a quick win.
- Create an interactive workbook so the facilitator can provide feedback on the learners’ answers.
- Use ready-made templates if you’re very short on time. Here are a few examples to get you started:
3. Get creative!
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interactivity (apologies – I don’t know why there are so many Titanic-related lines in this post).
I may have decided to focus on scenario-based eLearning in this blog post, but the sky really is the limit when creating engaging learning experiences. Incorporating gamification elements, creative knowledge checks, and peer reviews are also great ways to harness the power of interactivity.
After all, any interaction that makes the learner an active participant can be effective if used well, so make sure you put your creative hat on when designing and creating your interactions.
So, is Interactivity Important or is it Just Another Addition to the L+D Jargon Pile?
Interactivity is a hot topic in the eLearning industry today for a reason: It matters! Think about it for a second. What should the overall goal be for any instructional designer at the end of the day?
For learners to actually finish the course and retain knowledge!
And designing effective interactive elements is one important tool you have in your pocket to make your learners do just that.