The life of an instructional designer is full of challenges. For example, you may have the difficult task of designing a course for learners who aren’t aware of what they need to learn. In this case, your job is not just to motivate learners to take the course, but to keep them motivated throughout the course so they complete it.

In this situation, I try to first learn more about my learners so I know how to best approach them: Do they have any preferences in how they learn? What are their learning styles? How much knowledge of the topic do they already have?

With this information, you can develop your course specifically for your learning audience. In words and methods that are meaningful to them, you can explain why this course is relevant and why they should take it.

This is just one strategy to help keep learners tuned in to your e-learning course. But it’s far from the only one! I’d like to share ten more ideas to help motivate learners to take, and complete, your next course.

  1. “Chunk” your course.
    Your learners’ time and attention are limited, so rather than having a large, continuous course, divide your content into smaller, more manageable pieces—“chunks.” Same is true for quizzes and tests, to have more frequent small assessments throughout the course rather than a big long test at the end. Making progress is satisfying for learners and helps keep them motivated for the next section.
  2. Clearly communicate expectations and learning objectives.
    If your learners know what’s expected of them, it will be easier for them to meet these expectations. Letting them know what they will learn during your course helps them focus on the relevant information they need to know in order to pass the course.
  3. Give immediate and clear feedback.
    Not knowing what comes next or why something was wrong can quash your learners’ engagement in the material. So, make sure you provide ample, relevant feedback to keep learners open to learning.
  4. Vary your instructional strategies.
    Put yourself in your learners’ shoes: Can you imagine how it would feel to know that this e-learning course is going to be exactly like every other e-learning course they’ve ever taken? Ugh. So instead, try something new each time you develop a course. Use a good mix of methods and elements like interactions, demos, examples, and quizzes.
  5. Give “real world” examples.
    Applying what you’re teaching to real-world scenarios makes it relevant to your learners. And a good subject matter expert can help you find the right examples. You can also include some quotes from experts, managers, or co-workers to relate the content back to your learners’ work.
  6. Add gamification elements.
    Some people simply love collecting badges or points ... so take advantage of their interest! Put together a leaderboard and make sure everyone gets a fair chance to win.
  7. Give learners a chance to succeed.
    Your job is to help learners stay open to learning, and never, ever make them feel ashamed or stupid for not knowing the subject matter already. Be sure you use the right language, examples, and questions that connect with learners and build their confidence as they learn.
  8. Use a personalized approach.
    Give your learners the feeling that your course was developed and targeted specifically for them. The simple act of using learners’ names can make the course feel more like a 1:1 interaction.
  9. Be enthusiastic!
    In your voiceovers and screencasts, learners will be able to feel how enthusiastic you are about the topic. Your voice is a cue that encourages them to listen to you and participate in the e-learning course. That said, make sure your support for the subject is sincere and appropriate for the course context.
  10. Testing, testing, testing!
    In my opinion, this is one of the most important things you can do to keep learners engaged in your course: Make sure it works! Ask some people in your target audience to test it to be sure the navigation and interactions work, and that the content makes sense. When they’re finished, listen carefully to their feedback and use it to make your course even more tailored for your audience.

Do you need to use all ten of these strategies at once? Of course not. Knowing more about your learners will help you pick the strategy that speaks to your audience. But hopefully this kit of strategies will put more tools at your fingertips to turn your next challenging e-learning course into an engaging, motivating one.

Now it’s your turn: Have you recently tried something new in an e-learning course that kept learners engaged and motivated? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Brian Swisher