When it comes to online learning resources, there’s no substitute to authentic, meaningful content. eLearners will invariably gravitate to sites (and sources) that offer them informational content that enhances their knowledge, and which they find useful. However, content alone doesn’t often make the entirety of an eLearning offering.
Let’s explore what other elements instructional designers and course developers should consider in order to create a highly engaging eLearning course.
The recipe for an engaging eLearning Course
Just as the proper cooking ingredients, well selected and judiciously used, can create scrumptious dishes; so too the right course elements, when combined thoughtfully, can produce highly engaging eLearning content.
Here’s a simple recipe to get you started:
1. Don’t skimp on imagery!
Visual cues make for better learning! Some behavioral research confirms that our learning can be enhanced by up to 400% when supported by visual aids. Researchers also believe that our brains are wired to process imagery 60,000 times quicker than simple text.
Therefore, when designing your eLearning content, make sure to include a rich mix of other media too, such as pictures, graphics, videos, infographics and animated content.
2. Think like a user
Often, instructional designers and content developers are so focused on producing exceptional eLearning content that they forget WHOM they are producing that content for! The secret to creating “engaging” eLearning courses is to make it easy for the learner to engage with the content.
- Design user-friendly interfaces
- Make navigation to commonly-used tasks easy to find
- Think of eLearners with special needs – and design with accessibility in mind
- Offer short-cuts and ALT-keys to make using your content easy across multiple devices (e.g. taps instead of mouse-clicks)
3. Create real-life scenarios
The easiest way to ensure your learners disengage quickly from your courses is to produce content that is far-removed from their perception of reality. If eLearners can’t relate to the examples, scenarios and Use Cases presented, they will quickly tune out!
When creating scenario-based learning, make sure you consider real-life situations that the learner is likely to encounter. Then, build your content around those situations. Doing so will ensure the learner stays engaged throughout the course.
4. Foster interactivity…rather than passivity
“Learning” does not come from merely listening, hearing, seeing, watching or reading. Real learning occurs when learners engage with the content they are consuming. To make eLearning more engaging, include elements where the learner must interact with the content being consumed.
Simple techniques, such as forcing a click or a screen-tap to advance, will not only break the monotony of content consumption; but will also ensure the learner stays focused and engaged. Other approaches include embedding short quizzes during course segments so learners remain focused on the content they are consuming.
5. Tell a story
From crafty advertising designed to demonstrate why you should buy a product, to heart-warming narratives that compel you to donate to their cause, to strategically disclosed “experiences” at a political rally meant to solicit your votes – our minds are hardwired to readily accept stories as opposed to facts and figures. Use this fact to your advantage to create realistic and engaging eLearning content.
When confronted with a compelling storyline relevant to the content you are presenting to them, eLearners will readily embrace the concepts and theories discussed; as opposed to an endless ream of undisputable facts and figures supporting the same ideas and arguments.
6. Embrace principles of good web design
Ultimately, what is an eLearning course if it’s not a collection of web pages and other web resources? And as such, designers of this type of web content are bound by the same set of website designing rules that make great site:
- Design each page with a specific purpose in mind
- Follow good communication best practices – Be concise; Don’t overcrowd your pages; Use appropriate headings and titles; Make use of bulleted text; Apply formatting (Underlines, Italics, Bold) judiciously
- Favor Sans serif fonts over other typefaces, since they are ideally suited for web content
- Do not overwhelm slides with a plethora of colors. A single color family, strategically chosen for primary, secondary, complementary and contrasting effect, should be used for a single slide
- Pay attention to content layout. Research shows that web content consumers apply an “F” pattern to gaze through online content. The gist of this peculiarity is that (English) content is initially scanned horizontally from left to right, starting at the top of a page; and then vertically – up and down – at the left side of the page, effectively creating an “F” pattern. Leverage that knowledge when designing page layouts for your eLearning content
7. Design for responsiveness
ELearners today are typically characterized by their desire to consume content “on the go; and on demand”. That means you need to take into consideration that your course could be started on a desk-top PC at the office; continued on a Smartphone during the commute back home; and finished at home, on a learners tablet or smart TV.
Responsive design is about seamlessly delivering the same learning experience to your audience across multiple devices, whether fixed-screen or mobile. Learners should not have to engage differently with your content just because they have switched devices.
8. Design for attentiveness
The average online content consumer’s attention span is about 8.25 seconds. Designing and developing eLearning content that spans significantly more than this window of time could result in learner disengagement.
The concept of microlearning is one that encourages delivering online content in “bite sized chunks”, so that learners are not easily distracted. Microlearning ensures that eLearners stay engaged when consuming small, discrete, self-contained pieces of content over multiple sessions; as opposed to delivering massive amounts of online learning during a single learning event.
Putting it all together
The above are generic guidelines for creating highly engaging eLearning course content. However, as with any other set of best practices, you must exercise your own judgment when deciding upon the best combination of each of these elements to use. For instance, courses that are heavily reliant on HD-graphic could be slow to download and consume on small-screen, wireless devices. To counter that, you may want to consider including text-based transcripts of each video segment.
When appropriately applied, however, these ingredients can lead to the creation of highly engaging, simulative and useful eLearning courses. Combine that with authentic and informative content, and you’ll leave your eLearners wanting more!