Everyone wants to create e-learning courses that engage their learners. Yet there’s a lot of debate about what exactly engagement means. So I figured I’d boil down the different ways to engage learners and see how we can use them to make our elearning courses better.
To keep things simple, there are basically two ways we engage our learners with elearning course content. Either it’s a process of providing information from the course or it’s about having the learners use that information to make decisions in the course. The first mode is passive engagement while the second is active engagement. Both types of engagement have their places in your elearning courses.
Passive vs. Active Engagement
Here are two quick examples that show the difference between passive and active engagement. The first is a typical example of passive engagement since it just shares information. The second one demonstrates active engagement because it requires that you actively use the information from the course.
Passive Engagement Give Us Access to Information
We read books and newspapers. We watch TV. No one would suggest that these are ineffective as a means of learning. These are good examples of what I call passive engagement. We get information but we aren’t doing anything with it, at least not actively.
Keep in mind, passive doesn’t mean ineffective. It also doesn’t mean that you have to stick with bullet points or just text like my example above. Just because the learner doesn’t have to do anything with the information at that point in the course doesn’t mean that you can’t add variety in how it’s delivered. Here is an example of passive engagement that is more than just bullet points.
Active Engagement Helps Us Process Information
Active elearning courses are decision-based. Learners are given information and then have to make decisions. The navigation is typically designed in a non-linear fashion. However, that’s not always the case.
You can create active engagement using branched decisions like my earthquake example above, or you can even create a linear process like the Ergonomics demo below.
You’ll notice that in the "Self Assessment Tools" section you’re asked to make active decisions, yet it doesn’t require branched navigation.
There’s a Time and Place for Passive and Active Engagement
Passive engagement is about delivering information. What makes it effective is when the information is timely and relevant. Think of your last successful Internet search. You needed some information and found it. In a similar sense, the elearning course is like the information online. It’s a resource available to help you at your time of need.
And as you can see, you’re not limited to boring screens of text and bullet points. With some creativity, you can construct very powerful pieces of information that motivate change. You just have to know how to touch the learner.
Active engagement is great because it allows the learner to immediately apply the information or understanding and get feedback.
The key to designing good active engagement is understanding the essence of the course content and purpose and then place the learner in an environment that replicates it.
For example, if you want to learn about knee replacement surgery, you can go through the National Library of Medicine’s elearning course with good information on knee replacement, or you can actively perform knee replacement surgery in the elearning course here at EdHeads.org.
What’s interesting is that both courses are effective in their own way. The EdHead course is definitely more memorable and engaging. However, the other one probably could serve better as an ongoing resource (with some tweaks to the navigation).
Regardless of the type of engagement you choose, the key is to create a way for the learner to get the information and training they need. As you can see, sometimes that means passive content and sometime it means active. It’s not an either-or decision; it’s all about what’s best for the learner and what will help you accomplish your goals in a timely and cost effective manner.
Upcoming E-Learning Events
- We'll be adding events for 2017 soon. If you'd like to see one of our workshops in your area just let me know.
- Mar 20 (Orlando). Want to learn to build courses with the right look & feel? Join David Anderson at his all day workshop on Graphic Design Essentials for Non-Graphic eLearning Designers.
- Mar 22-23 (Orlando). Come by the booth at Learning Solutions and say hello.
- April 13 (Minneapolis). Variables Made Easy with Articulate Storyline. Limited seats, so sign up now.
- April 13 (Minneapolis). Articulate User Meet Up. Details coming soon.
- April 14 (Minneapolis). PACT Meeting: Facing Today's Instructional Design Challenges.
Free E-Learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
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Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.