Over two decades of creating, viewing, reviewing and learning from various types of online learning I am amazed to still find so much dead content. By dead content I mean content that just doesn’t have any energy, any life. That content which excites you when you hear the title and subject, but as you delve into it you find your interest waning. Suddenly you’re staring into space or shooting onto facebook to see what kitten videos people are posting.
To me it seems crazy that anyone is still producing content that kills the learning experience. Back in the 1990s there might have been an excuse – technology wasn’t what it is and the tools just weren’t there to build all the interactions and perhaps enough research hadn’t been shared around on how to engage learners in your writing style and course structure. But we are well into the 21st century so there are no excuses other than ignorance or laziness – in fact we can really just say laziness as there is so much information available to perspective instructional designers that ignorance can only exist as a result of laziness.
But hey – who isn’t lazy from time to time? For that reason I am going to present a few basic ideas on how you can make your content engaging. Here goes…
Make your Content Visually exciting
Look at the medium you are delivering via – the web. So, you are not writing a book, so why would you only focus on the text? I see so much content that is well written but the authors have ignored design. They may have images in the course but they are instantly recognisable generic stock art. Please people – stop it with the stock art, stop it with the pointless motivational pictures that can accompany any piece of text. Just stop it! The graphics in a course are as important as the text. They are a means to convey the concept in a different way to appeal to learners who may have difficulty understanding the text, and to enforce the concept for those that do. A consistent flow of images through a course helps engage the student, telling a parallel visual story to the narrative in writing. Don’t think of e-learning content as purely writing – get a good designer (ideally a good illustration background) and perform storyboards along with the instructional designer/content writer. Show the text of the course to the designer and let them suggest fonts, colours and where to use bold for more visual appeal. This can change the whole presentation of a course and have a huge impact on making it more engaging.
Use Relevant Stories and Scenarios in your Content
To keep the student engaged you want to get their emotions evolved. Think back to a book that really excited you. That’s what I mean – a good story draws you in, your emotions get involved, you are excited. What is going to happen next? How will the main character fare in the end? That’s it – you’re hooked!
You need to have stories and scenarios that your audience can relate to. That last point is vital – “that your audience can relate to”. In most cases you will have a general idea of the learners who will study a course, and your job is to map the scenarios to ones they may have experienced, make the characters in your story be characters your learners will know. Use the story to show the real life benefits of the lesson. Don’t force a lesson into a story that doesn’t fit it either. I have seen the same story reused across lots of different content where it didn’t work. I’ve no idea why this same scenario was reused so much, but assume it was in some well read book on learning ideas or perhaps part of a university course on e-learning. Come up with your own ideas, and nurture them until they are as engaging as a crime novel.
Provide Good feedback
Your task is to teach, not to judge. When you ask questions in online learning content the aim is to get the learner to learn. So why is it that in course after course I review that I am presented with “That is incorrect”? You do need to tell me the answer is incorrect but that is the bare minimum. The next step is to tell me what the right answer is. What you really need to do is go the whole way and meet the learner with not just the right answer, but a full and thorough explanation not only of why the correct answer is correct, but also why the incorrect answer is incorrect.
This seems like such a simple delivery, yet very few e-learning content producers actually do it. It is engaging the learner, not abandoning m when they have stumbled. Ensure that when you build your content you provide useful feedback to both correct and incorrect learner submissions that are evaluated.
Remember you are making e-learning, not writing a book. You have a wide variety of tools to add interactivity. Use them, and use a variety of them. It is easy to fall into the trap of using the same interactions again and again, just because you either have a good template or you know how to write it. Remember – you only have to build it once and it can be studied a thousand times. Don’t be lazy – be original. Keep the user clicking and thinking as well as reading. This is the key differentiation between book learning and online learning – interaction. It helps the user feel engaged if they play a part in the flow of the lesson. Keep that in mind as you work through your next course.
These are four ways to make your content engaging for the learner, but these are just the tip of the iceberg in e-learning strategy for engagement. I will write more on this topic in future posts. In the meantime please leave a comment about what you consider the best method of engaging learners.