3 Tips For Creating Interactive Self-Paced Online Courses

3 Tips For Adding Interactivity To Self-Paced Online Courses
Summary: The learning experience for self-paced online courses has historically been fairly static. Trainees absorb information passively by watching videos, reading written passages, and clicking through Powerpoint slides. In this article, we discuss new technologies and methods for creating interactive self-paced online courses.

Creating Interactive Self-Paced Online Courses

Instructional designers have long known that efficient learning requires both absorbing and recalling new information. Including a recall process for self-paced online courses can be challenging, since the courses are intentionally designed to be taken by a wide diversity of trainees without relying on instructor feedback. Navigation cues, such as short module length or requiring the trainee to click on various buttons to progress, are helpful in maintaining attention, but are often unrelated to the trainee demonstrating true understanding and recall of the material.

The good news is that with new technologies on the market, instructors are now creating self-paced online courses where the trainees are able to conduct hands-on exercises and produce learning deliverables entirely on their own. This article describes three new ways that instructors are creating interactive self-paced online courses using Skilljar’s training platform.

  1. Adding hands-on product training exercises
    For instructors who train sales teams, customers, and channel partners, the desired outcome is for trainees to demonstrate mastery of the product. Whether the product is enterprise software or surgical machinery, getting trainees to conduct hands-on exercises is critical to achieving learning objectives. Innovative trainers are now incorporating hands-on exercises directly into the self-paced online course, instead of relying on the learner’s recall after the course. New cloud-based authoring tools enable designers to embed web-based products and simulations seamlessly into the self-paced online course curriculum itself. This is particularly useful for cloud-based software products. One example is a business software company that is using a self-paced online course for customer onboarding. The self-paced online course walks trainees through hands-on exercises with a test project - each lesson consists of a how-to video and a step-by-step exercise assignment. The software platform is placed side-by-side with the exercise instructions, so that trainees can build the test project as part of the course using their actual user accounts. Another business software company takes this one step further by asking trainees to submit their finished product via a web link. Internal employees review the output and either pass or fail the lesson. While this does require a manual step, it is still much more scalable than instructor led training.
  2. Integrating external calculators and tools
    Subjects involving calculation or computation can effectively leverage pre-built tools from around the web. For example, if you are teaching the conversion from Celsius to Farenheit, there are many free resources you can embed in your self-paced online course, so that students can experiment and verify their understanding. A practical example is a large credit union that is offering a self-paced online video course for the First Time Homebuyer. The lessons cover the costs involved, credit scores, loan types, and the approval process. The self-paced online course integrates credit score estimators and the credit union’s mortgage affordability tool. These components help the learner apply what they are learning directly to their own personal situation.
  3. Providing feedback through interactive quizzing
    Quizzing is the most traditional form of adding interactivity to a self-paced online course. Learners can test their understanding, and instructors can identify areas that may need further clarification. While instructional styles vary, in our experience, instructional designers either include short quizzes after each main section of the self-paced online course, or one long quiz at the end of the course (potentially leading to certification). A twist on this instructional design is to offer both a pre-test and a post-test. For example, a training company that offers parenting self-paced online courses uses the pre-test to assess a baseline level of knowledge, and the post-test to demonstrate mastery and growth as a result of the course. The post-test can only be taken once and requires a minimum passing score for completion. As a result, the learner is more incentivized to study the material in order to successfully receive credit for the course.


Thanks to new technologies, self-paced online courses can now be integrated with hands-on product exercises, external tools, and interactive quizzing. Learners can actively practice their newfound training, even as part of a self-paced online course. Using these tools effectively results in more engaging and effective self-paced online courses, giving trainers a new option to combine the scalability of self-paced learning with the interactivity of instructor led exercises.