Today’s students have a choice. I’m not talking just about choices of what courses to take and how to take them (in person, online, mobile, etc.).
Years ago, students taking e-learning modules and courses would often be alone with a computer, but that computer was not connected to the Internet, and students did not even have smartphones in their pockets. They pretty much had no choice other than to pay attention to the e-learning content in front of them.
That is no longer true. Today, even while working through e-learning courses, students are simultaneously checking their social media feeds and texting their friends. This is becoming even more the case as the BYOD (bring your own device) movement is actively encouraging students to use their mobile devices in the course of their learning experiences.
What all of this means for instructors and e-learning designers is that the content you put online needs to be engaging enough to hold students’ attention so that they don’t wander off and decide to scroll through Twitter instead. Achieving this goal can be a challenge, but there are many things you can to do to up the level of student engagement in your courses.
Here are four tips for creating engaging e-learning.
Start with the Learning Outcomes or Performance Objectives and Work Backward
The traditional “content-first” approach does not produce engaging e-learning. In fact, it often results in very boring e-learning because much of the content is not immediately applicable to the learning outcomes or performance objectives. Starting from the desired end result and working backward will help ensure that the content you eventually select or create will be highly relevant to the learners’ needs. Plus, this approach will save you and your students a good deal of time as you will likely end up with significantly less content than you would using a more traditional approach.
Don’t Try to Control the Course Too Tightly
Hyperlinked text changed how people interact with content. Rather than experiencing content linearly, like in a book, all of a sudden, we could click a word and follow a link to another web page, then another, and then another.
Today’s learners want the freedom to explore, even in the context of an e-learning course. You can support this freedom by relinquishing control over the pace and navigation of the course. For example, provide various navigation links, don’t force people to listen to a narration before moving on, and give learners the opportunity to explore content in whatever order they choose.
Keep Resources and Activities Short
In his New York Times best-selling book Brain Rules, John Medina wrote: “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, you must do something to regain attention and restart the clock—something emotional and relevant.” Keep this in mind when designing e-learning: if activities take more than 10 minutes to complete, don’t be surprised to find learners navigating elsewhere.
Don’t Neglect Visual Appeal
No matter how often we are told not to judge a book by its cover, let’s face it, we do anyway. Good visual design can go a long way toward increasing student engagement. Pay attention to colors, fonts, images, and even white space. Divide resources into short blocks of text rather than long paragraphs.
Make sure your e-learning course will work equally well on different browsers and mobile devices. This may seem to you like the least important part of designing a course, but visual presentation is likely the first thing your students will notice.
Creating engaging e-learning isn’t difficult, but it does require a shift in perspective, especially for those who are used to more traditional course development. These four tips will help you create e-learning courses and modules that learners will actually choose to complete.