3 Things to Consider BeforeYou Add Interactivity

A few weeks ago I wrote an article with five ideas for turning boring bulleted lists into engaging interactions. Fundamentally, those ideas were about transforming static content into something a bit more engaging for learners.

Interaction and engagement are generally good things, but sometimes making content “interactive” doesn’t necessarily make it more engaging—or even mean that it’s a great way to learn. In fact, adding interactivity can end up being just more clicking, especially for learners who are simply trying to find the information they need to do their jobs. So if you’re not quite sure when to turn content into a full-blown branched scenario-based interaction and when to keep it streamlined, here’s some food for thought.

Consider the Training Goal

Generally speaking, there are two types of training goals that instructional designers see.

  • Sharing information: This usually involves raising awareness of key facts, like policies or procedures. The goal of training is for learners to be able to prove that they can correctly recall these key facts. 
  • Building or acquiring skills: This may also involve sharing information, but with much more emphasis on how learners should apply that information in the performance of their jobs. The goal of training is to acquire or improve skills through practice in situations that may mimic the real-life work environment.

When the goal is strictly to share information, try to keep it simple. Make finding that information as straightforward as possible. In many cases you don’t even need a course; but if you have to show something that’s available online, consider creating an online glossary, an interactive job aid, or some other helpful performance support tool.

Focus on Relevance

I was in a meeting with a client many years ago who wanted to build a sales training program for new salespeople. The client had a vision for an interactive “history of the company” course that would kick off the program by asking learners to select an avatar and then curate key pieces of company history as a way to familiarize themselves with the organization’s rich history. I’ll admit: it was a very cool concept. But it was also an hour’s worth of content that wasn’t very helpful or relevant to new salespeople. And, at the end of it all, it wouldn’t help them perform the job they were hired to do: sell products.

When it comes to training content, relevance is key. When the information you’re sharing is easy to digest and helps folks perform their jobs, you really won’t need to add a lot of bells and whistles (or clicks) to jazz it up and get their attention.

Think About Context

It’s easy to forget that learners may access our training content in all sorts of different environments. For instance, people who are accessing courses in an industrial workshop or factory setting, or folks who work outdoors, may not be able to see or hear key information buried in a lengthy interaction.

When you’re striving for ways to make your courses useful, don’t overlook accessibility from an environmental perspective. Jane Bozarth wrote a wonderful article on this topic, “But It’s to Code”: Thoughts on Accessibility, that really drives this home.

Another important aspect of context is use. Learners who are accessing training on the go may not have half an hour to invest in a how-to course. Let’s take a cable installer, for example. Training a cable installer on how to set up a fancy new DVR is tailor-made for an interactive simulation. But when that same cable installer is out on a job with the customer peering over his or her shoulder, asking said installer to sit through a thirty-minute interactive simulation to troubleshoot a faulty setup isn’t very helpful, is it?

More Learning

Purpose. Relevance to learners. The way your interactions will be used. These are just a few things to consider before you start adding interactivity to your courses. For more on this topic, be sure to check out these articles from the E-Learning Heroes archives:

3 Building Blocks of Interactive E-Learning by Tom Kuhlmann

3 Reasons Why We Have Interactive E-Learning by Tom Kuhlmann

Job Aid Design Tips and Tricks by Nicole Legault

When do you add interactivity to your courses? When do you keep it simple? Jump into the conversation with a comment below, or add your voice to the mix in our Building Better Courses forum.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

10 Comments
Michelle Monroe
Linda Sampson
Mark Dawdy

Appreciate the thought-provoking article Trina. It made me think of how important it is to deliver the training in a way that meets the needs of the learners. Sort of like playing the game Pictionary - it's all in the way the picture is drawn. For example, if you're trying to get your team to say "train," you don't start drawing the caboose, cars, and then engine. You draw either the tracks first or front of the engine with the stack and smoke and 90% of people will say "train." Training is similar and we shouldn't over complicate it, even though novelty is important to stimulating brains, it doesn't mean activity in and of itself is needed. I really like what the authors say in Training Ain't Telling, Learning centered, performance based." For example, "you have a group of techni... Expand

Neil Stevenson
Zsolt Olah

Great, read, Tina! Part of the confusion out there is about the actual definition of interactivity. People tend to mix two types of interactivity: user interface (physical between your mouse and the application) and learning (mental process, decision making, feedback loop). The latter, you do it every day when you work. Without any courses. Like reading this post. You decided to read Trina's words. It does not involve too much, maybe scrolling. But the meaning behind the words resonates, you decide to try something new next time. You get feedback on how it went. That's important mental interactivity. On the other hand, for example, here's my pet peeve the "click to reveal" concept. That is physical interaction between you and the object to click on to reveal the text behind. Unless... Expand