Too many instructional designers are creating content that meets design standards, but bores learners. Steve Penfold believes this type of average elearning is significantly impacting information retention. He shares three ways you can add a bit of spice to your courses and in turn, help learners retain more information.
Stop sending your learners to sleep
Are the instructional design techniques and materials you’re using keep learners engaged?
Let’s look at three instructional design tips that can make your elearning more engaging, and therefore easier to consume and absorb.
1. Use Branching to Give Your Audience Control
Any quality elearning authoring tool will provide you with the ability to create branching paths through your learning material, i.e., giving the learner options to take different routes through content screens. This is in contrast to a rigid linear path that starts at screen one and moves sequentially through to the last content screen.
Here are two examples of how simple branching can be applied in elearning:
The Branching Scenario
- Imagine that a business scenario is presented to a learner; then
- The learner is offered three possible options that he or she thinks the scenario’s protagonist should take next; then
- When one of the options is selected, the learner is taken to a sequence of screens that shows how the chosen option plays out—perhaps good, perhaps bad; then
- The learner is taken back to the scenario so that another option can be selected and explored.
- Imagine that a new procedure that is being implemented across your organisation is presented to a learner; then
- The learner has the option of seeing the impact of that procedure from various up- and down-stream stakeholders in the organisation; then
- When one of the stakeholders is selected, a series of screens is presented to the learner showing the impact of that procedure on that stakeholder—why it’s important to the stakeholder, how it applies to the stakeholder, and how it ripples across the organisation; then
- Once that perspective screen sequence is finished, the learner is routed back to the initial procedure screen so that another perspective can be explored.
The engagement in these two examples comes from the learner having some control and being able to explore the content in a way that is meaningful for him or her. Imagine how boring these examples would be if the learner was simply told to do this or don’t do that on a linear series of screens.
- Joe Burns shares how to design and create non-linear (branching) content
- Cathy Moore explains branching scenarios
2. Use Relevant, High-quality Images to Better Communicate Your Ideas
Visit Elearning Superstars and take a look at the world-class elearning on showcase. Despite the diverse nature of the examples you’ll see, you’ll notice that one thing they share is quality graphics that help support learning objectives.
There’s no magic formula about what will, or won’t, make certain images work in your context, but consider these guidelines. Images that you use should:
- Support the learning or learner directly, e.g., a demonstration or labelled graphic, or indirectly, e.g., nurtures or guides the learner using emotion or a visual cue. Images in your learning are like words; if they don’t support the learning, don’t use them.
- Be placed meaningfully close to any text that relates to them.
- Be aligned with other elements on the screen, e.g., top of the image aligned with the top of the text.
- Use a consistent treatment across the course, e.g., have consistent styles, backgrounds, textures, color-casts or borders, and be of consistent high quality.
- Not contravene copyright. Make sure you understand any copyright restrictions on images you use. Just because an image download site says their images are copyright or royalty free, that might only be for certain purposes—and your commercial project may not be one of them!
Here are a few sites that you might want to look at for images or inspiration:
3. Use Clickable Images to Make Navigation Easier
Think back to the branching example I mentioned earlier in this post, where a learner could explore other stakeholders’ views on a new procedure.
One way to achieve this would be to have a series of photographs of faces, each representing a different stakeholder, maybe a manager, a couple of peers, and a customer or two. Each face could have a button or hyperlink underneath it inviting the learner to select it to see that person’s perspective. This technique is powerful because it shows the learner that the procedure has a ripple effect beyond them just having to do it, and it shows different aspects and tells a story about the procedure—and who doesn’t love a story?
But an even better approach would be to allow the learner to select the photo directly, rather than use a button or hyperlink. There are two reasons:
- Fewer objects on the screen means less clutter, which is always a good thing; and
- The learner has a more direct route, both physically and metaphorically, between the face (the thing he or she selected) and the perspective (more information about that thing).
By adopting a “learners can click on that object to see more about it” graphical navigational metaphor, you’ll simplify your user interface and create a more intuitive, immersive environment for your learners.
Related: Out My Window is a great example of elearning that uses clickable images
Too many elearning websites and platforms take raw content and just present it to learners. Is it any wonder that learners don’t remember or act on the messages they contain? By using the approaches in this article, you’ll immerse your learners in a more engaging experience, and your learning objectives will more likely be met.
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