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3 Tips to Make eLearning More Engaging

Many of our clients who are just getting into eLearning give us an enchanting reason for finally abandoning the libraries of presentation decks that they have been building for the past decade or so. They want to find a magical place where they can control and standardize the content, but still have learners engaged enough to care about the topic, remember the content, and improve their on-the-job performance. ELearning can do that. This is that magical place.

Or at least, it can be. To make it happen effectively and to see the vision of what my clients are hoping, it is essential to ask the question: What type of engagement are they looking for?  Designing engaging web-based training is not as simple as choosing when and where learners click, swipe, watch or listen. It is about how the learner engages with the content, with the trainer, and with other learners.

  1. Engaging with the content
    This element is pretty obvious. For learning to occur, learners need to encounter new content, or at least encounter content in a new way. Clients never forget to include content; they usually have a long list of topics that need to be included in the training. Also, the content usually does not change between modalities, so whether you are designing live or web-based training, you should consider the same things.
    Questions to ask yourself

    • What look and feel best expresses the values of the company and their attitude toward the topic?
    • What style of writing and dialogue best fits the content? Should the content be presented as something formal, conversational, or just a brief checklist?
    • What is the most difficult or the most critical content for learners to master? What is non-essential contextual information? How do we present them differently so learners can prioritize appropriately?
    • Does it make more sense for the learners to start with the problem or the solution?
    • How closely can the training environment simulate the workplace for practicing and applying the most important skills? Would this work best as part of a scenario?
  2. Engaging with the trainers
    This seems to be the most difficult type of engagement to carry over into the eLearning environment. It may be tempting to just leave out this element, but learners notice. Online training that neglects this type of interaction is often perceived by learners as impersonal, unnatural, or boring. Even in an online environment learners expect someone to fill the role of an instructor, "to stimulate or at least maintain the student's interest in what is to be taught, to motivate the student to learn, to enhance and maintain the learner's interest, including self-direction and self-motivation" (Moore, 1989).
    Questions to ask yourself

    • How can we encourage a sense of accountability? How does the learner communicate with or report to the training department? How will the learner be evaluated on their training and/or job performance?
    • How do we bring the face of the company into the eLearning environment?
    • Here are a few examples:
      • Introduce the training with a message from the CEO.
      • Use a mentor character or narrator.
      • Create practice opportunities for learners and provide feedback.
      • Incorporate tips from subject matter experts.
      • Use instructional videos.
      • Add a one-on-one session with a supervisor after the online portion of training.
  3. Engaging with other learners
    Constructivism and social learning are all the rage right now, with varying levels of success. Turning to a peer feels like a very natural way of learning, but it is not always the most reliable source. On the other hand, there is not always an official corporate answer to the question at hand. Some training is meant to develop teamwork and creative problem-solving, which requires communication with other learners and coworkers. Creating a solution that is strategic instead of just trendy can take some planning.
    Questions to ask yourself

    • Is this an appropriate topic to include social learning?
    • How can learners best help one another in this situation? Are they competing or collaborating?
    • How can I facilitate communication between learners? Can I use forums, discussion boards or other eLearning tools to facilitate collaboration and social learning in this setting? Does the topic require a blended solution of on-the-job practice in addition to the online training?
    • Does it make the most sense to set up develop peer-level relationships, or to set up mentoring relationships? How will we select participants and define roles? What level of control or oversight does the company want to have over this type of learning, if any?
    • How could I effectively incorporate social media? What strategic purpose would it serve?

The bottom line

Trends and technology will continue to evolve. Good eLearning is not a magic trick; it is strategic. While others jump on the bandwagon and hope for the best, you can create a real and lasting impact on your learners by making simple strategic decisions about how and why learners engage with you, with the content, and with each other.

Inspiration for this post 

During some recent research I ran across an old article that tackled this question head-on. The author takes a pretty foundational theory-based approach, leaving the application wide open for new ideas. Take a look, and see how it inspires you! 

Moore, M. G. (1989), ‘Three types of interaction’, American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2): 1-6.