6 Instructional Design Tips for Learner Engagement

By Jacqueline Bessette

The shift to blended and online training has become a fixture in most organizations and the next generation of “death by PowerPoint” has emerged … “death by voiceover PowerPoint.” This type of training is often seen in the form of animated PowerPoint slides with limited opportunities for interaction.

As a tried and true classroom facilitator, I would cringe at the voiceover PowerPoints that would come my way and long for the days of facilitator-led interaction. I would ask myself if this was truly learning or just a means to crunch the budget and check the box that training was delivered. If it’s the latter, why even expend resources at all?

Providing an engaging and fun experience for online learners does not need to break the budget, and will provide a greater return on investment in the long run through transformative learning. Online learning proves cost effective, reaching broad and geographically dispersed audiences; however, it should not only transform your budget and reach, it should transform behavior and performance.

The next generation of learners will expect a highly visual, multimedia, and interactive experience. The good news is that there are ways to spice up your training, engage your learners, and win over stakeholders.

Apply Tiered Learning

Apply a tiered approach to learning that includes:

  1. High-level audio-visual information
  2. Detailed text-based information
  3. Opportunities for interaction and skill application

Tier 1 provides a visual way for learners to understand some high-level basics about what the chapter or topic is all about (Figure 1). Tier 2 provides the meat—the details, strategies, tips, etc. Tier 3 includes interaction and skill application. Any point in the learning experience in which the learner can touch the content provides an opportunity to keep them engaged, increase retention, and meet learning outcomes.

Figure 1: The tiered approach to learning breaks content out conceptually

Tiered learning breaks out the content conceptually, not only from an adult learning perspective, but also from the technical perspective. Look at the content itself, and the tools used to create that content, as a puzzle. Each tier can be seen as a learning chunk—or reusable object—where the content and user experience trumps all.

The tendency in the learning field is to make the content fit one single authoring tool or LMS. Reverse engineer instead, and choose a variety of tools that will work for the content and user experience you want. I am not here to advocate for any specific tool, but you can use a combination of off-the-shelf tools and coding to create animations, text, and interactivities and then piece them together as part of a larger puzzle—or framework.

This works almost like website development. I’ve never been a fan of the “square peg/round hole” approach that tries to force content into a single tool—the foremost culprit of voiceover PowerPoint.

Use Responsive Design

Responsive online learning on mobile and tablet devices will provide increased access and use by a broader population. Younger learners have grown up with mobile devices and are increasingly comfortable with, and often prefer, the self-selective nature of mobile applications. It is, in many ways, the embodiment of self-directed learning, putting the timing, location, and choice of content completely in the hands of the learner.

This is not to be confused with mLearning where a learning experience is specifically designed for a mobile device. Responsive design essentially means that the learning works everywhere (Figure 2). For more on responsive design, see James Rasmussen’s recent article in Learning Solutions Magazine, “Learner Engagement: Tips for Responsive Design.”


Figure 2: Responsive design works everywhere, not just on mobile devices

Incorporate Immersive Scenarios

Immersive scenarios apply the concept of branching multiple-choice questions within the entire learning experience. This type of learning provides an advanced opportunity for learners to choose their own adventure.

Learners, presented with a series of challenges or scenarios, are asked to apply strategies to navigate the scenario, and, based on their response, are brought down various learning paths with the ultimate goal of selecting the best responses and accomplishing the mission. Soft-skill or process-oriented training provides an excellent opportunity to leverage immersive scenarios.

Instead of telling learners that the process is 1, 2, and 3, present them with a scenario and let them decide that it is 1, 2, and 3! Depending on the budget, this can be accomplished through a basic animation and multiple-choice questions, outcomes, and feedback, or through a more complex simulation often seen in 3-D virtual worlds (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Immersive scenarios are effective for soft-skill or process-oriented training


Mix Up Your Media and Increase Interaction

Select a theme for each lesson and use it consistently in multimedia animations. Choose from concept animation, character animation, stock imagery, and more! Use text effects and screen transitions to communicate concepts in animations. Using BIG text and purposeful movement can keep the learner engaged without sensory overload (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Providing variety in media helps to keep learners engaged

Increase interaction by incorporating a variety of interactivities throughout the learning experience. The more the learner can touch the content, the more he or she will stay engaged. Simple ways to interact with content that spans beyond multiple-choice quizzes include branching scenarios, drag-and-drop exercises, video vignettes, images with rollover text, or callout sliders. Interactivities provide an opportunity to reinforce concepts and for learners to apply skills (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Increasing interaction events and styles provides an opportunity to reinforce concepts and for learners to apply skills

Leverage Micro eLearning

Micro eLearning modules are attractive and highly effective for a population that lives on mobile devices and learns through visual applications such as YouTube, Lynda.com, Vine, and other bite-sized increments. Micro eLearning opportunities complement initial and periodic training with just-in-time solutions to a range of topics and challenges. I have seen micro learning defined broadly—from taking an eight-hour classroom training down to one-hour increments, or one-hour online learning modules down to 15 minutes. However you choose to define your micro eLearning experience, I would say some rules of thumb are to avoid lengthy chapter structures (or avoid chapter structures completely), focus on a singular aspect of a very specific topic or subtopic (e.g., using gestures in public speaking), and use scenario-based learning as a primary methodology.

Gamify!

Gamification—not to be confused with serious gaming—takes everyday concepts and turns them into a game. Leader boards, badges, and progression through levels are just some ways to gamify the experience, increase the intrinsic motivation of learners, and provide cost-effective rewards.

Having worked with numerous government clients that support military service members and families, the concept of coins, badges, and medals was not new to me; perhaps you have had similar experience. What better way to customize the approach to the audience than creating a similar reward system in online learning!

These can be personal rewards or based on group competition. Group leader boards that indicate the individuals who rank just above and below a learner will help the learner feel like goals are attainable. In addition, personal rewards, such as coins earned for every chapter completed, and badges awarded for every module completed give the learner a sense of accomplishment. Add some competition to the mix by providing recognition for the learners who receive the most coins and badges. Read one of the latest features in Learning Solutions Magazine for tips on what works: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1456/report-card-gamification-in-learning-what-works.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

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