The aim of this guide is to explain how to create interactive online courses. So let’s get straight to work, as we have a lot of fun theory about interactive training and even more cool practice ahead.
Before we dive into interactive eLearning, it’s essential to be absolutely clear about what is meant by “interaction.” An interaction is a two-way action where objects have an effect upon one another, as opposed to a one-way effect.
In the learning field, the term “interaction” is often used in connection with an active learning concept. The idea is that learners learn best when they’re required to participate in the process actively, rather than simply reading a text or watching a video. In other words, it’s always better to have learners do than watch.
The most obvious examples of interactive training sessions are when there’s a list of questions and tasks after each paragraph in a workbook, or even when an instructor says something like: “Raise your hand if…” The goal is the same: to make learners not only passively absorb information but somehow spur them to action: communicate, reflect, create, or put their new skills into practice.
Further in this article, we’ll explain:
- What interactive eLearning is
- Why bother with interactivity
- How interactivity works
- How to make an online course interactive
Interactive eLearning means that a learner doesn’t interact with an instructor directly; it’s more of a “dialogue” between a learner and tools through which they become engaged and involved in the learning process. In fact, it’s a key element of self-paced e-course design. We’ll discuss this as well, but first, let’s discover why interactions are so important for online courses and digital learning in general.
Imagine you’ve been driving down a highway for two hours. Familiar road, plain landscape, nothing special to catch the eye. However, the situation is fraught with peril: monotonous driving diminishes concentration, which may have serious consequences. In horror movies, there’s usually a deer.
The lack of learners’ attention isn’t that fatal, yet it leads to a waste of resources, recurring errors, and a general failure of a training program. So, don’t fall into the trap of believing your learners will take a learning subject as seriously as you find it, and will be able to stay focused from beginning to end.
The good news is that, in terms of engagement, well-arranged interactions work equally well, no matter what approach of employee training you are working on — online, offline, or blended.
When we say “well-arranged,” that doesn’t mean you have to fill each slide of your course with bells and whistles to make it look interesting.
Interaction has nothing to do with animations, and its goal is not a visual explosion. It’s engagement and retention.
In that sense, interactions serve rather as a pacing technique.
Flow theory was originally invented by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian-American psychologist. His flow model represents the emotional state of a person while undertaking a task or activity. When we’re “in the flow,” our concentration is at maximum, and we’re so involved in an activity that nothing else around seems to matter. Imagine the outstanding results your learners could reach if they studied like this!
What does interactivity have to do with the flow?
To increase the chances your learners will go with the flow, you need to maintain a subtle balance between the complexity of the training and the abilities of the learners. If the task is too difficult for them, they feel frustrated; if it’s too easy, they quickly get bored, and their minds wander. However, when the task keeps them at the edge of their skills, then the learning is truly engaging.
Normally, creating a unique learning experience for each learner is like ”Mission: Impossible.” However, in online courses, well-arranged interactions work exactly for this purpose: keeping learners engaged, their concentration high, and the overall experience positive.
The Interest Curve
The other challenge interactions can help you deal with is shorter human attention spans. In game design, there’s the concept of an interest curve, which is a graphical representation of a player’s interest in the gaming process. Jesse Schell, in his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, explains the importance of planning and controlling the pace of progression.
How to use it for learning
Although Schell used the curve while developing games, the concept of an interest curve can apply not only to gamification but to learning as well.
There are four elements of an interest curve to pay close attention to when creating an interactive online learning experience:
- Initial interest (A): It’s better when your learners are initially interested in the subject of a course, even if the training is obligatory. You also can set and run internal PR campaigns or encourage managers or student leaders to recommend specific content to their teams.
- The hook (B): Having some interest before the course starts is half the work. The harder task is to keep it. At this point, you need to place something really exciting that will give learners an idea of what to expect, and provide a good interest margin to help retain learners’ attention over the less interesting parts. For example, it can be an interactive 360 image or a whole video tour.
- Valleys (D, F): Give the learners some rest, and don’t place big moments next to each other unless you want to wear them out.
- Climax (G): The coolest interaction you can provide to leave learners wanting more.
By using this model as a map for interactions, you can make sure your online course engages learners from start to finish. This approach demands more planning effort, but the result is so much sweeter (just remember the last computer game that made you forget about time.)
Now that we’ve addressed the theory, let’s find out how to make online courses more interactive and fun. We’ll use the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit to show how you can incorporate different kinds of interaction into eLearning modules.
1. Branched scenarios
Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, where there are different storyline twists and endings that depend on your choices? You can use branching to let learners choose their own path within a course and provide an individual learning experience for each learner.
The most obvious way to use branching in online training is to direct learners who give incorrect answers to explore some additional information on the topic, and those who manage to do well to the advanced content. Thus, the degree of a challenge will vary depending on the success of a certain learner. However, it isn’t necessary to mark some choices as incorrect. Depending on your training objectives, you can create relevant options for different personalities (e.g., extroverts and introverts) or problem-solving styles, for example.
For example, a training team at NLMK, an iron and steel company, created an interactive course with branched scenarios to explain to new employees how to discern if something is wrong with gas treatment stations and water purifying units and demonstrate the possible consequences of taking the wrong approach to resolve a problem.
An extra bonus of applying branched scenarios is that learners feel like explorers, not just students who are taking a cram course.
Though quizzes and tests are traditionally put somewhere at the end of a course, we’d recommend using them not only like a final boss fight — they’re also great as recurrent checkpoints. For instance, you can ask your learners to complete a short test or at least answer true-or-false questions from time to time to keep learners alert.
Quiz mechanics have come a long way from providing learners with a mere list of questions. Now, you can engage learners with fun interactive activities, including hotspots and drag-and-drops. For example, in this interactive online course for merchandisers, learners are challenged to sort objects or place something in a certain area:
3. Role-play simulations
The great thing about role-plays is that they’re a safe yet realistic environment to practice communication skills, apply knowledge in a certain context, and get meaningful feedback not only as a score but as a reaction from a virtual person.
With iSpring Suite, you can create a standalone role-play that can also be a sort of assessment, as every correct answer is awarded with points. Or you can add simulations to a course just like mini-games, so learners can stop and apply their knowledge right on the spot.
The most obvious use case of this interaction is practicing negotiations. However, there are countless possible uses, and some of them are very creative. For example, in this interactive online course created by Guido Hornig from lern.link, you are a detective who investigates the mysterious disappearance of an elderly woman from the hospital.
The hardest (and the most fun) thing about creating simulations is making learners believe that this virtual environment isn’t just a playground with cardboard cutouts instead of people. In this hands-on guide, we’ll provide you with the key principles for creating impressive role-plays from scratch and tips on how to make them look professional.
4. PowerPoint triggers & hyperlinks
Try not to roll your eyes yet; these classic features aren’t limited to clicking some link so a new line of text appears on the slide. Sometimes you need to create a pop-up window, make a drop-down list, or hide an easter egg (a funny secret message for the most watchful learners). Actually, triggered animations can be quite impressive, so let us show, not tell:
Here are a couple of tutorials on how to create triggered animations for interactive online training:
- a hidden-object game (just like in the demo above)
- a jeopardy game, a great combination of triggers and hyperlinks
- interactive flashcards
However, if you’re new to working with triggers in PowerPoint, it may seem a bit tricky, and tweaking and testing is time-consuming. That’s why the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit includes 14 ready-made interactive templates that come in handy in a huge variety of training situations. They will definitely make your course look professional and your life much easier.
For example, the tabs interaction helps you present content in a well-structured form without everlasting bullets, and the labeled graphic interaction is great for describing what a complex device consists of.
Here, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about online course creation.
Should you be a professional course developer to create eLearning content?
Absolutely, not. Fortunately, there are some authoring solutions available in the market that allow you to create courses without any design or coding skills. For example, the iSpring Suite authoring toolkit is integrated with PowerPoint and lets you build courses in the familiar PPT interface. It also comes with ready-made slide templates, characters, and backgrounds that you can use to make professional-looking courses within minutes.
However, to create meaningful learning experiences, you will definitely need to understand how people learn, know instructional design models and theories (ADDIE, SAM, Bloom’s Taxonomy, etc.), and have basic writing skills.
What are the essential qualities of an effective online course?
We’ve already mentioned the important eLearning content feature of interactivity. Beyond this, a good course should be engaging and challenging — capitalize on the joy of learning and challenge learners to improve their knowledge and skills.
And besides, in order to work effectively, a interactive courses should involve practical tasks making learners “do,” not just watch and read, and apply what they’ve learned. And this is where interactivity comes into play again.
We believe that eLearning interactivity is more than just fancy effects; that’s why in this article, we’ve tried to equip you with the approaches as well as the tools. And there you have it – some solid reasons to use interactions in your learning content, and hands-on ways to actually make training courses interactive.
Now you’re ready to create learning content that engages learners from the first slide to the last, and the iSpring Suite toolkit is here to support you in this endeavor. Get a free trial to check its capabilities for yourself.