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10 Tips for Engaging People With E-learning

Bob Little 

October 21, 2016

Sooner or later, everyone – be they a parent, teacher, L&D specialist, or just someone who wants to impart some knowledge or skill to someone else – has to answer one of the Great Questions of Life. That question is, “How do I make my message understood?”

This question is even harder to answer if you want to impart something to someone that you don’t know, can’t see, and will probably never meet. This is the dilemma faced by every designer and developer of online learning materials.

The accepted theory is that, if you want to teach anyone anything, you first have to get their attention and then you have to engage them – to interest or motivate them to learn the wisdom that you have to impart.

Moreover, you only get one chance to make a first impression. If you fail to engage your audience within, say, the first 20 seconds of it encountering your learning materials, you risk alienating it forever. In the case of e-learning, this may also encourage these learners to shun any form of e-learning in the future.

According to a recent report on learning technologies from the research and analyst firm Brandon Hall, “User experience (UX) is critical in learning, as this software is often the first interaction an employee has with the organization – and, in our increasingly virtual workforce, it can sometimes be the only connection an employee has with the organization. A bad UX equals poor engagement that can be difficult to turn around.”

The secret to engaging anyone in any sort of learning – including e-learning is to make it:

  • Relevant – to attract the learner.
  • Interesting – to motivate the learner to learn.
  • Interactive – to enable or enhance “learning by doing.”

This interactivity must:

  • Be meaningful – using “real life,” believable scenarios – and relate as closely as possible to the learner’s real job or situation.
  • Provide elaborate feedback.
  • Have a strong story and be compelling.

Interactivity doesn’t equate with being interesting.” As Lindsey Mack, of the learning materials producer CloudQast says, “The book ‘The Da Vinci Code’ may be interesting but it’s not interactive!”

Lindsey believes that making e-learning engaging involves meeting the learner’s implicit question of “what’s in it for me?” He adds that the e-learning materials should be both purposeful and conversational, be easily navigable, accessible by any mobile device, and kept bite-sized” and searchable – in the manner of the successful short videos available on YouTube.

The caveat to all this, though, is that some 75 to 80 percent of all corporate learning including e-learning relates to regulatory and compliance issues. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if these programs are relevant, interesting and interactive, because people have to complete them to keep their jobs and careers.

Yet it’s still worth trying to make even these learning materials popular, so that people will elect to learn even when they don’t have to to keep their jobs.

Here are 10 things (in no particular order) that you can do to make e-learning relevant, interesting and interactive:

  • Gamification (1). There are two aspects to this. The first is using games to engage the learner.
  • Gamification (2). The other aspect of gamification is to use badges and/or league tables to encourage learners to learn – and to become recognized as a “top learner.” However, this approach can demotivate some people, especially those who aren’t salesoriented” or ambitious for recognition.
  • Use of video. This reduces the page-turning” element of e-learning. According to CloudQast’s Damian Gaskin, “We can now make video non-linear, for example using a menu and hotspots that allow users to move around a video.”
  • Allow the learners to determine their own learning programs. This reduces prescribing learning, in terms of the time and content allocated for study, and allows learners to learn what they want when they want to learn it. This puts the learner in control of the learning. While being highly motivating for the learner, the L&D professional/employer loses an element of control over the learning that’s taking place.
  • Empower L&D specialists to be curators of learning, not prescribers or even deliverers of learning. This calls for a new skill set for L&D specialists, and it gives the learners more control over their learning.
  • Allow learners to apply what they’ve learned in the workplace. This is crucial because it gives them a reason to learn. However, this means that you need to address the other issues that tend to lie dormant – such as managers fearing their subordinates are now cleverer and/or more skilled than them and “sabotaging” the learning’s application. 
  • Don’t make doing e-learning a punishment or imposition.
  • Encourage subject matter experts to produce learning content that follows instructional design principles, such as ADDIE, taking account of Keller’s ARCS and so on. In other words, subject matter experts need to be more than just subject matter experts. They need to be trainers too.
  • Don’t forget “learning principles” by being distracted by shiny” technology. E-Learning isn’t going to be great just because it uses technology.
  • Offer learners incentives to complete the learning. This could include certificates, badges, (transferable) qualifications, status, and/or money.

There can, of course, be cultural issues involved in generating engaging e-learning, especially where global companies are concerned. For example, Paul Stubbs, Head of L&D, Europe Support Services, at AECOM, says that, “Some online learning that’s accepted in the U.S. may not be seen as ‘proper’ training when delivered in other countries, such as the U.K.”

He adds that the ranges of age and technological experience within the workforce are now so wide that this can provide a challenge to those trying to make e-learning materials “engaging” for every user. Moreover, he observes, the more engaging e-learning programs are likely to be more complex and, so, will cost more to produce than simple,” “page-turning” ones.

In that comment, he might have hit on the biggest challenge to creating engaging e-learning materials.

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