Interactivity In Adult Learning: What You Need To Know

Interactivity In Adult Learning: What You Need To Know
Summary: Adults learn differently than children and teenagers. They have certain perceptions about the learning process and special needs as learners, needs that should be taken care of while designing and developing an eLearning course. In this article, we’ll explore the concept and the use of interactivity in adult learning.

What You Need To Know About Interactivity In Adult Learning

One of the principles of Adult Learning Theory states that adults enjoy active learning more than passive listening or reading. They also seek some degree of control over the learning content and process. Finally, learner engagement is paramount for the success of an eLearning course for them.

Adult Learning And Levels Of Interactivity In eLearning
Discover how adults learn and how interactivity helps make eLearning courses highly engaging and productive for them.

In instructor-led training, the instructor/trainer interacts directly with learners and ensures that they are tied up in the course. However, it’s a different ball game for self-paced eLearning courses: it is challenging to make adults active participants in the eLearning course. This is why interactivity and interactions play an important role there.

Let’s see how adults learn, and how interactivity can help make online courses (much) more engaging for them.

How Do Adults Learn?

Motivation and experience are the two major factors that influence adult learning:


Need to Learn: Adults must feel the need for information. They learn effectively only when they have a strong inner motivation to develop a new skill or acquire particular knowledge. Adults will learn only what they think they need to know.

Immediate Value: Adults are practical in their approach to learning. They want to know, “How can this course help me right now?” Adults look for immediate value from their learning. They learn by doing and seek an environment that demands active participation.

Relevance: Adults need to be able to use the skills learned immediately so that they see their relevance. Adult learning focuses on problems and those problems must be realistic. Adults like to start with a problem and then work towards finding a solution to it.

Practice: Adult learners perform better when they practice frequently. There is a difference between what the learners can do and what they need to do. It is important to bridge this gap for adults by developing practical activities to teach specific skills.


Experience of adult learners can be an asset and a liability at the same time. Past educational or work experiences may color or bias the learner’s perceived ideas about the course.

4 Things To Consider When Designing An eLearning Course For Adult Learners

1. Involvement

Adult learners need to be actively involved in the learning process, for them to be hooked on to the course. Interactivity and interactions play a pivotal role in engaging adult learners; interactivity creates an interchange between the learner and the eLearning course. Add meaningful interactions wherever possible into your course and create an enhanced learning environment. Give your adult learners the control of their learning, which will keep them motivated and engaged.

2. Problem-Centered

Adult learners are interested in problem-centered learning and practicing what needs to be done. There is a difference between what they need to know and what they need to do. Create environmental practices that help adult learners perform their role better and retain learning.

3. Experience

Adults are concerned about the experience of tasks and activities equally as the end result of those tasks. Memorization tasks don’t fare well with adults; instead, courses that have real-life scenarios and a good amount of exercises are appreciated. Adults do not prefer linear courses; allow them to explore the course in a way that is meaningful to them.

4. Realistic

Adult learners tend to map learning to the real world immediately. Hence real-life applications and benefits must be tied to the eLearning course. Incorporate practical problems in the course. Help them gauge how the course will fetch them advantages in real life.

Adult Learning And Levels Of Interactivity

There are typically four levels of interactivity, in the context of eLearning. These levels simply describe the degree of interchange between the eLearning course and the learner, through which engagement and active learning takes place. The interactions, on the other hand, refer to the templates or designs that are used to build interactivity in the eLearning course. Thus, interactions can be termed as a subset of interactivity.

Interactivity and interactions, if used correctly, engage and motivate the learner towards critical thinking, effective learning, and long-term memory activation. Let’s look at this infographic that further explains the levels of interactivity.

  1. Passive Learning (Page-Turners)
    Very little or basic interactions
    The learner is a receiver of the information and has no control over the learning
    Simple design, graphics, audio, video, animations, and quizzes
    Suitable when information needs to be merely passed on to the learner, e.g. policy training
  2. Limited Interactions
    Simple interactions and exercises
    The learner has more control over the learning and gets more involved with the course
    Liberal use of multimedia
    Suitable for courses to aid on-the-job-performance or skill development, e.g. product or process training
  3. Moderate Interactions
    More complex interactions
    The learner is actively involved in the learning and practicing what is learned
    Complex graphics, animations, illustrations, audio, videos, branching scenarios, and simulated environments
    Suitable for courses to aid utilization of cognitive skills into work or real-life situations e.g. problem-solving techniques
  4. Enriched Interactions
    Highest level of interactivity, learning occurs real-time
    The learner is free to learn and practice new skills, and has full control over the learning
    Very complex content, high-end animations, high impact graphics, digital avatars to teach complex subjects, customized audio-visuals
    Ideal for training where learners are expected to deal with real life situations and apply their knowledge on the job

You can decide the level of your course depending on various aspects such as course objectives, nature of content, budget, technology infrastructure, and target audience.

The degree of interchange increases from Level 1 (being the least interactive and simplest) to Level 4 (being the most interactive and complex). Higher levels of learning need higher levels of interactivity. As the level of interactivity increases, the development cost and time involved may also increase.

As mentioned earlier, adults are goal- and relevancy-oriented. They are practical and prefer to learn by doing. Trial and error is one of the best approaches to adult learning. Hence using interactivities of level 3 or 4 would be ideal to engage them.

However, you don’t need to always have high levels of interactivity. Lower levels that ask learners challenging questions, make them think, and make them solve problems close to real-world environment will have a good impact and result. A good strategy is to use an optimum combination of interactions, depending on the type of content and learning objectives.

If you want to learn more about using interactivity in adult learning, download the eBook Adult Learning And Levels Of Interactivity In eLearning.