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Why Successful E-Learning Programs Require Interactive Components

5 minutes

E-Learning is all the rage these days. You can’t turn around without seeing another blog post about the benefits of e-Learning, or another free downloadable program for creating your own e-Learning materials. However, many of these sources ignore a crucial aspect of pedagogy, which is necessary if your courses are to be successful and improve your organization overall: engagement.

Engagement is a tricky concept, and it isn’t just there for the taking. You can’t hand employees an e-course and hope they will be engaged simply because they care about their jobs or because they innately love the material. Likely, most employees will not innately be happy to engage with it, and will want to rush through it or check it off their list — that’s just human nature.

Okay, that’s the bad news. The good news is that if you take the time to create materials that trigger people’s interest, they will no longer want to rush or push it aside in favor of more interesting tasks. Drawing them into the material will not only keep them present and actually learning, but will improve the amount they take away from it overall.

Engagement Ups Learning

It’s common knowledge that we work better when we are interested in what we’re doing. Think about your own hobbies, for instance: cooking, tuning bikes, sailing, rebuilding circuit boards, etc. Whatever it is you like to do with your time, you’re willing to put in long hours and hard work to get better because you care, because you are interested in the outcome, and because you have the freedom to choose to do so.

Although this engagement study was conducted on college students, the outcomes are likely similar to those in the workplace: When students are interested in the material they’re learning, they are likelier to fully immerse themselves in it, to work hard to understand it, and to retain it later. Sure, most employees won’t choose to engage in a training course, but if you make the material interesting and take into account learning styles, humor, accessibility and applicability, you are far likelier to have a long-lasting impact.

Interaction Increases Knowledge Retention

When we do something passively, we are only using a small fraction of our attention. Consider how easy it is to “zone out” while watching television or reading a boring text, then come to and realize we’ve retained nothing. That’s because when you simply sit there without interacting, your mind wanders. To avoid this in your e-courses, employees must be actually doing something while learning.

This can take many forms. Perhaps you build a nonlinear e-Learning experience, in which students can choose which path to take toward the finish line of knowledge. We will discuss this more in the next section, but the main point here is that allowing people to choose which direction to move in forces them to do something instead of being passive. Or maybe you use quizzes, matching sets, games or other methods to keep people learning and interacting with material. Whatever you do, don’t expect employees to read and retain long blocks of uninterrupted text; it simply isn’t that likely.

People Love Choice

Choice is all. When employees feel as though they have choice, they are less likely to feel bored, trapped, or distanced from the material. Nonlinear experiences, for instance, offer much-needed agency when learning. Instead of dictating how and when they complete modules, they can complete them in their own order and on their own timelines, resulting in more agency. You could also offer choices about:

  • What topics to study
  • When to complete the e-Learning
  • How to be tested
  • How to interact with material (text, audio, video)
  • What games to play

Recognition of Success Improves Engagement

Recognition, or the ability of an e-Learning program to “acknowledge” the person with whom it is “interacting,” can crucially affect the success of the program and the employee’s overall learning. According to the Harvard Business Review, for example, when an employee receives praise for work well done, they are likelier to perform better. 72 percent of survey respondents, for example, “ranked recognition given for high performers as having a significant impact on employee engagement.”

In other words, if learners think that doing well on a program may have the result of earning them accolades — whether funneled through the e-Learning program itself or handed out after its completion by a boss — they will likely try harder. Everyone loves to be rewarded, and few like to work with the knowledge that they will likely receive no reward. Interactive programs that recognize success (a test well taken, a question answered right) will boost morale and learning at once.

Sure, making truly riveting e-Learning courses is probably beyond the ability of most companies. Training materials can be dry and uninteresting by nature, but that is why engagement is so crucial, because it enlivens concepts that might otherwise fail to catch learners’ attention. If you can show employees the reasons for learning, can give them choice and agency, and can recognize their success when appropriate, then it’s likely they will take even the driest material seriously. And once you create a culture of engaged learners, your organization will improve almost of its own accord.

Did you enjoy “interacting” with this article? Have any other ideas for upping engagement in e-courses through interaction? Let us know in the comments below!

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