After coming up with a good instructional design plan including learning goals, objectives, and strategies, you may need a little more help with creating interactive eLearning. (If you are not yet comfortable with developing design plans, you may want to start by reviewing the learning module Principles of Instructional Design.)
The sections below describe several ways to make your eLearning more engaging for your learners by having them interact with, rather than merely absorb, your content.
One of the best ways to get learners to interact in an eLearning course is to ask them questions. Get them thinking about the content! Though many eLearning developers include quizzes at the end of a course to assess learning, questions can also be a good learning strategy to use during, or even before, learning. For example, asking questions about the content at the beginning of a course or lesson does several things that can enhance learning. It can:
- Prime the learner for the content to come. It is standard practice to present learning objectives to learners, but you don’t always need to present a boring bullet list. Ask them questions!
- Help the learner tie the new knowledge to their prior knowledge and experiences. New information is more memorable when it is connected to material that already exists in the learner’s long-term memory.
- Grab the learner’s attention. We live in a distracting environment. By providing learners with probing questions about the content, it will make them sit up and take notice. “Hmm. I don’t know the answers to these. I better focus and pay attention,” might be their response.
The fifth slide of this eLearning lesson on QA testing provides an example of “testing” or asking questions of the learner prior to presenting content. The script asks the learner to think about similar projects and to take a guess at what the correct order of steps are before learning about the process.
Asking questions after presenting a topic is also helpful. These “Checks for Understanding,” even if not recorded by a Learning Management System, can help the learner self-assess his own understanding of the content, letting him know if he should review some of it. The first Storyboarding lesson included on this website provides an example of asking questions before and after content.
eLearning authoring tools like Articulate Storyline and Engage and Adobe Captivate provide powerful questioning, or quizzing, capabilities.
One simple way to break the habit of presenting content bulleted list slides the learner clicks through is to create an interface where the learner investigates the content. Rather than proceeding through the content in a linear way, the learner is in charge of what to visit next. Though not as cognitively interactive as asking questions or working through scenarios, investigating content can add an element of interactivity. And when combined with graphical representations, they can make content more memorable.
Here are ideas for different types of content that can be turned into investigations:
- Places: An office, hospital, school, museum, lab, etc.
Think of these as virtual field trips. Here is a demo of an office tour for new employees.
- Equipment: Rather than a tour of a place, equipment investigations provide a tour of a tool. Similar to a simulation, an equipment investigation allows a learner to explore a machine or interface and learn about it in a safe environment. Here is an example of a tour of the different ports on a laptop.
- People: Co-workers, students, customers, etc.
Present different points of view or stories by having the learner “listen” to different people. For example, the fourth slide in the lesson “Is Training the Solution?” allows the learner to hear different answers to some questions.
- Scales: The best way to understand this type of investigation is to see it in action. Here is a great example of an interactive timeline built with a slider.
Content investigations can be created with most eLearning authoring tools. Including PowerPoint! All you really need to do is to obtain a graphic to explore, write out the content that learners will be presented with when exploring the interface, and add hotspots on your graphic to link to that content.
Scenario-based learning lessons take asking questions and exploring content to a higher level. Learners are presented with authentic situations in the form of stories with characters and a plot structure. The most interactive scenario-based learning presents learners with decisions to make and feedback on those decisions.
Scenarios can be short and simple or long and branched. Even telling a simple story can make content more memorable for learners, but truly authentic scenario-based learning asks learners to apply concepts and skills and shape their understanding of the material by seeing the consequences of their choices.
A simple scenario-based learning lesson has one story to follow. Though questions may be included along the way to check for understanding, these lessons fall short of complex “Choose Your Own Adventure” types of stories. The Principles of Instructional Design module included at this website is an example of simple scenario-based eLearning.
More complex, or branched, lessons alter the whole story based on the paths that the learner takes. One excellent example of this type of lesson is Connect with Haji Kamal. On Cathy Moore’s blog, you can learn about the development of this lesson and access it to see the end result. Also, here is a useful Storyboard template designed specifically for designing branching scenarios.
For more on this topic, check out this article on steps to convert your eLearning content to a format that is story-based.
Scenario-based learning is story-focused and includes characters and a plot. It might be most amenable for “soft-skills” training. When you need to teach technical skills, a simulation might be the way to go. For example, simulations can be used to illustrate how to use a piece of machinery or software program.
As with scenario-based learning, simulations can be simple (much like the equipment content exploration presented above), or complex in which a learner’s behavior changes the path of the simulation. A good way to think about simple versus complex simulations is the difference between providing a “tour” of what the machine or program can do and providing a replica of it.
Here are two versions of a lesson on using Dropbox to illustrate the difference:
Both lessons contain screen recordings and captions, but only the latter provides the extra interactivity in which the learner clicks on “hot spots” to practice completing tasks.
For your first foray into simulations, you might want to master recording your screen prior to adding more complex interactivity. Also, not all authoring tools provide the ability to create more complex simulations. For example, TechSmith’s Camtasia and QuickTime allow you to record your screen but are not the best tools for adding hotspots.
For creating full, interactive simulations, most eLearning developers use Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline. Both tools provide screen capture capabilities and the ability to add captions and hotspots to turn those screen recordings into robust simulations.
Below are a few more resources on how to get started with creating screen recordings and simulations:
- Camtasia – Prepare, Script, Audio
The first lesson in a set of getting started tutorials on Camtasia provides helpful tips for anyone getting started with screen capture – even in other tools.
- Articulate Storyline – Screencasts and Software Simulations
Nice overview of the simulation features included in Articulate Storyline.
- lynda.com – Screencasting Fundamentals
This eLearning course provides overviews of several of the most popular tools used to create software simulations, or screencasts.
Want to see these and other eLearning interactive strategies in practice? Here are some places to look. Keep in mind that you can usually use another tool than the one used to create a similar eLearning course. That is, if you have access to a different tool than the one used to create a specific example, you can probably achieve that result using a different development tool. There is quite a bit of overlap in functionality.
Use these examples to get your wheels turning, and if you need help implementing a specific strategy with your tool of choice, let us know. Or, leverage the power of the eLearning at MIT Yammer community.
Articulate E-Learning Examples
See what some eLearning pros have created with Articulate products Storyline and Studio.
SmartBuilder Elearning Examples
Examples of simulations, scenario-based activities, and other interactive eLearning lessons built using the SmartBuilder tool.
Cathy Moore - eLearning Samples
Moore has curated a nice list of interactive eLearning lessons including simple, advanced, and scenario-based lessons.