The ultimate goal of this guide is to make you an expert in eLearning interactivity. So let’s get straight to business, as we have a lot of fun theory and even more cool practice ahead.
So, What is an Interaction in eLearning?
Before we begin, it is 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 are required to actively participate in the process, 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 interactions 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.
As for eLearning, interactions here aren’t much different, save for the fact that the process is often asynchronous, so the instructor can’t see the reaction of each learner, make a joke when the audience gets bored, or give an additional explanation if any questions arise.
Fortunately, as technology develops, there are approaches and tools that help you interact with learners, even within self-paced e-courses. We’ll discuss those as well, but first let’s make it clear why interactions are so important for online courses.
Why Bother with Interactivity?
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 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 kind of 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.
Mind the Flow
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 be applied to learning.
There are four elements of an interest curve to pay close attention to while creating an interactive 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 run internal PR campaigns or encourage managers or student leaders to recommend certain 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).
The Four Most Accessible Ways to Make Your Course Interactive with iSpring Suite
Now that we’ve gotten through the theory, let’s find out how to turn ordinary courses into something which is more interactive and fun. It’s time to roll up our sleeves!
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 is to send learners who give wrong answers to explore some additional information on the topic, and those who manage to do well on 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 wrong. You can create options for different personalities (e.g., extraverts and introverts) or problem-solving styles.
For example, a training team at NLMK, iron and steel company, created a branched scenario course to explain new employees on how to figure out if something is wrong with gas treatment stations and water purifying units, and demonstrate the possible consequences of taking the wrong approach to 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 make small true-or-false questions pop up from time to time to keep learners awake.
Quiz mechanics have come a long way from providing learners with a mere list of questions. Now, you can engage learners with drag-and-drop activities, such as asking them to sort objects or place something in a certain area, like in this demo course for merchandisers:
3. Dialogue simulations
The great thing about dialogue simulations 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 simulation that can also be a sort of assessment, as every correct answer is awarded with points, or include simulations in a course just like minigames, so that 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 demo created by Guido Hornig from lern.link, you are a detective who investigates the mysterious disappearance of an old lady from the hospital.
The hardest (and the most fun) thing about creating dialogue 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, you’ll learn the key principles of creating impressive simulations from scratch.
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 a 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:
- 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 12 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.
We believe that 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 for actually making the interactive elements.
Now you’re ready to create learning courses that engage learners from the title slide to the goodbye slide, and the iSpring Suite toolkit is here to make it as quick and easy as possible.