Many people are stuck in the world of linear, click-and-read content. Sometimes it’s because that’s all the organization wants. And sometimes it’s because we’re not quite sure how to make something more interactive. It’s probably the subject I’m asked about the most. One of the most frequent questions I get. The cool thing is that regardless of the tools you use, you can still build interactive content.
One of the best ways to learn to build better courses is to find some good examples, break them apart, and then try to build something similar. This way you get some hands-on practice, which is a lot more valuable than reading about interactive elearning.
So in today’s post, we’ll look at a popular example and talk through a few ideas on interactivity.
Get Them to Pull Information
In large part interactivity requires a shift away from pushing the content out (which is common) and instead creating an environment where the learner pulls content in. A good way to get them to pull information is creating a situation where they need to make an informed decision.
I usually recommend throwing people in the pool. Instead of dumping them with a pile of information, dunk them in a pool of opportunity. Let them deal with real-life situations and learn through their decision-making.
Put them in the types of situations where they need to make the decisions you want to them to make. That creates the opportunity for them to demonstrate their understanding and if they’re deficient in understanding they’re motivated to pull the information they need to make an informed decision.
Learn By Dissecting the Work of Others
When I learned to create videos, I’d record TV commercials and then break them down scene by scene. Commercials are great because they’re very effective in communicating essential ideas and they’re short. It’s a lot easier dissecting a 30 second commercial than a 2 hour movie.
After viewing the commercial I’d create storyboards for each scene. Then I’d analyze the scenes, how they were edited, and consider the motivation from one shot to the next. This process of dissecting the commercial slowed it down for me and helped me see what was happening better. The same can be done with elearning courses.
Today we’ll look at a popular example that Cathy Moore shared a while back. We’ll do a simple break down of the module. This is a good example because it’s interactive, engaging, and it’s short enough to go through it a few times.
Basic breakdown of the course:
- Introduction. The course starts with an introduction that sets the stage and expectations. You can consider it the establishing shot. We want to establish what the learner’s seeing so that they know where they’re at and what’s expected.
- Context. After the introduction, they begin to build some context. They’re putting the learner in a real situation and then offering some guidance on getting through it. You’ll notice instead of a bunch of screens of information about the culture and country, they provide two characters who will provide differing perspectives. What I like about that approach is there’s a bit of ambiguity in the way they share their perspectives. This is much more like real life where things aren’t always tidy or obvious. It brings a healthy tension to the scenario.
- Challenge. Once the scenario’s set up the learner’s offered a challenge which is the course objective—make a good impression and build a relationship with the Haji. The scenario presents a series of mini challenges that build on each other. The squad leaders offer advice that can help with the decision-making.
- Choices. After collecting the advice a decision needs to be made. The course provides a few choices. One thing you’ll notice is that the choices are all plausible and viable. The problem with many interactive elearning scenarios is that they are very obvious and don’t deal with the nuances we face in real life. If all of the choices are viable it puts more pressure on us to pay attention and collect the right information. We want them to learn and not guess their way through the situation.
- Consequences. Each choice produces a consequence, with some more positive than others. Sometimes progress I made in the relationship and sometimes it’s a step backwards. I like the quick feedback because in lieu of a real conversation, you need to read the body language of the Haji. It’s enough of a tip without being too much feedback. Another thing I like about this particular scenario is that the choices aren’t all do or die. You can make a poor choice and still recover if you’re paying attention to the information you collect. Often we provide immediate feedback and that’s it. In this scenario you may find the right outcome but realize it wasn’t the best. It kind of motivates you to go back and find out what was a better outcome.
Your Next Steps
As you can see, breaking down the scenario is a great way to come up with a formula that could work for your own scenario.
- Introduction. Set expectations. Let them know what to expect and how long it should take. It also helps if the course is visually engaging.
- Context. Put the learner in a real world environment where they make the types of decisions that impact their performance. Not sure what that is? What’s the goal and expected outcome after the course? How can they demonstrate that they’re able to meet the objectives?
- Challenge. Give them some good challenges that get them to think. You can even add a few distractors. Some people like to jump ahead and answer questions first and wait for feedback. But others will want a bit more information to make an informed decision. Give them the freedom to do so.
- Choices. What choices do they have to work through the scenario? Make them viable and real. If they’re obvious choices, then the interactivity is wasted. Sometimes I throw them for a loop by making all choices wrong or all of them correct. Not having an “all of the above” or “none of the above” option adds some healthy tension.
Consequences. Each decision produces consequences. Sometimes the consequence is simple feedback and sometimes it can become another decision-making challenge. Do this to vary the pacing. You don’t always need to provide immediate feedback. Delay it. You’ll notice that in the scenario there’s some feedback from the Haji to give you a sense of what direction you’re moving, but it’s not “right” or “wrong” feedback. You just have to keep plodding forward and you’ll find out if you succeed at the end.
Without too much focus on the great visual design of the course, take note of how you can navigate through the module. There’s always a place to restart and also quickly advance through the modules. This gives the learner freedom and control. It also encourages going through the course a few times. My guess is that most people go through the module at least twice if not more. Would that be the case if every screen was locked like they are in many courses?
Cathy discusses the scenario in more detail on her blog. But before you look at it, do this. As you go through the course try to map out the flow. How many individual screens are there? Go through it a few times. You’ll start to see a pattern and realize that the structure of the program is not that complicated and easy enough for you to do, regardless of your authoring tool.
The secret is taking the time to analyze the course and then creating a model that you can repeat with your own content.
Here’s another cool scenario-based module that’s been making the rounds. It’s a good one to dissect. Do the same thing; make some notes on what you like and how it flows. Try to create your own outline of the course. Then use that structure as a guideline for your own scenario.
If you want to look at other multimedia examples for inspiration, David does a great job collecting them at his elearning examples site. Most of them are smaller interactions so they’re perfect to break apart.
Perhaps you can take one of your linear courses and convert it to an interactive scenario using the same structure and outline as the soldier scenario. It’ll be good practice and I’m sure you’ll wow them at work.
If you do rework a course and make it more interactive, feel free to share the link. We’d love to see what you do.
Upcoming E-Learning Workshops & Events (2015)
- September 23 & 24 (Vancouver). Community-based elearning workshops focused on practical tips & tricks. You can register for one day or two days. To learn more & register, click here.
- September 29 (Las Vegas). Want to learn to get the right look and feel for your courses? Join David Anderson and me for a fun and active hands-on workshop. This topic is by far one of the most popular of the ones we've covered in any of our workshops in the past.
- September 30 (Las Vegas). Going to Devlearn? Swing by the Articulate booth and say hello.
- October 28 & 29 (Philadelphia). Community-based elearning workshops focused on practical tips & tricks. You can register for one day or two days. To learn more and register, click here.
- November: Just added! I'll be in London, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Belgium, and Utrecht. Details coming soon.
Free E-learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs
Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills
Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.