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10 Ideas to Create Engaging eLearning Courses

Today's learner has ample avenues to seek out information. As an eLearning designer, you have competition! You have to create online courses that will keep your learners engaged from start to finish; else you will lose them, and worse, they might move away to your competitor (Facebook, email, Skype, etc.)

Here are ten ideas to create captivating online courses that your learners just can’t leave:


Idea #1: Weave a story. Use the Story-Arc model

If you are one of those eLearning designers looking to step outside the box and try something unique, you should look into one of our hardwired habits: storytelling. Weaving a story can make your courses interesting.

We all love a good story. And we love nothing more than a story that has drama, crisis, and a happy ending (read: resolution). Use Freytag’s Pyramid model to create a gripping story. Make sure that it contains at least these five elements.

Idea #2: Include a dynamic, vibrant, and enthusiastic narrator

What would you prefer to hear? A dull, flat, robotic voice that just reads out information and sounds like a drone or an enthusiastic voice that emotes and crackles with life. Of course, the latter.

There is nothing like a dull voiceover to sap the learner’s enthusiasm or worse, lull him to sleep. A narrator not only provides credibility to your teach but also creates an opportunity for you to build a rapport with your audience.

Idea #3: Make your characters human, believable and memorable

Like the narrator, the characters in your story too are pivotal to help your audience relate to the content and keep them interested in what you have to say. Your characters spark interest in dull, dry, and repetitive content while their interactions with one another can help you simplify and explain technical concepts to your learners.

Your learners will relate to your characters if they share similar personality traits, face similar problems at the workplace, have similar life situations, and respond and react to events similarly. The characters must also look, talk, and act credibly.

Here are some tips on how to create relatable characters for your course:

  • Create realistic characters who have motivations and aspirations similar to those that your learners have.
  • Make your characters act proactively and initiate change. Learners want to feel that they can control a situation; characters who only react to events do not inspire learners.
  • Do not create perfect characters that are evidently too-good-to-be-true. A few flaws in the characters will make them more relatable, especially if the learners can identify some of their imperfections in them.


Idea #4: Write in the active voice

Why do you think learners don’t finish courses even with interesting content? Because they find it boring or confusing.

Your writing can turn a boring piece of content into something that learners gobble up greedily or an interesting subject into junk that the learners dump midway into the course.

An effective way to engage learners is to write in the active voice. Writing in the active voice lets you talk to the learner in an informal tone like a friend, so he naturally listens. The hint of action in the active voice stirs learners and compels them to pay attention because they are curious to know what the subject is doing. The active voice is more impactful because the directness of the tone hits learners like punches.

When you use the passive voice, you sound impersonal, as if you are talking to no one in particular. This is confusing because the learner is not sure if he is supposed to pay attention to what you are saying. The passive voice makes sentences longer; this can again confuse some learners and make them lose interest in your course.

Idea #5: Go social

According to research findings, we learn 70 percent of new information from our peers, but you knew this already, right? Human beings are social creatures, and it is critical that your eLearning courses do not isolate your learners from his community. Create engaging social learning experiences by introducing features like interactive discussion boards or forums where instructors can answer learners’ questions.

You can consider posting snippets of learning on Twitter. This not only gives you the opportunity to break the content into bite-sized, digestible chunks but also liberates the learner from the boundaries of a classroom and gives him the freedom to reflect on the learning at his own time.

Idea #6: Grab eyeballs with powerful headlines

Your headlines should intrigue learners and compel them to delve into the content. Express your emotions through the headlines and choose impactful words to convey your feelings to the learners. Use active verbs for instance.

Powerful headlines contain these three attention-grabbing elements:

  • Curiosity: Make learners curious. You can use popular phrases from movies (Show me the money instead of “The Financial Benefits of Investment”) or play around with cliché phrases to twist their meanings.
  • Benefit: State the what’s-in-it-for-me information in the headline to entice learners. Write “How Can You Become Rich by Investing in Stocks” instead of “The Benefits of Investing in Stock.”
  • Solution: Highlight a problem and state that you have the solution to it. Your learners are always in search of solutions to their problems, so they will be more hooked by a headline that reads “How to Fix a Leaking Pipe” than “Plumbing Troubleshooting Guide.”


Idea #7: Harness the power of visuals

Several studies confirm that visuals improve the instructional soundness of your courses besides keeping learners engaged. However, keep in mind that the most relevant and impactful visuals for your course are usually not found on traditional stock photography sites. You have to be creative. If you don’t find what you are looking for, and there is no time to arrange a photo shoot or pick up the camera yourself, use visual metaphors instead.

Here are ten types of visual content that enhance the appeal and effectiveness of your course and keep learners engaged.

Idea #8: Invite them to explore and discover

The adult corporate learner loves to learn by discovering things for himself. So create opportunities within the eLearning course that allow learners to explore around. For instance, make learners click images or buttons to find clues, or introduce quizzes to reinforce the learning. Humans are inquisitive by nature. Your learner will naturally and enthusiastically “pull” information when you subtly guide him towards it instead of shoving content down his throat.

Idea #9: Don't fear to add humor

Don’t forget that you’re talking to a human with feelings. Use humor to start the course off on a more relaxed tone. According to research (Peters, 2014), people are more receptive to new thoughts and ideas, use their analytical powers more, learn better, and retain more when they are in a positive mood.

Find out funny ways—like humorous anecdotes—to explain dry content and use them often in the course. Humor makes content memorable because the endorphins that are released when we laugh help cement memories.

Idea #10: Keep it real

The adult corporate learner has to be convinced that your course has value for him before you can make him take it or keep him engaged. So ensure that you put the learning into context. Create realistic scenarios that reflect the realities and the challenges of the learner’s workplace.

Here are some ideas:

  • Create role-playing settings and scenarios where the learners can make decisions and see for themselves the outcomes of their choices.
  • Create videos to demonstrate processes and procedures. Use these videos to show what can go wrong in these settings and demonstrate troubleshooting methods.
  • Use case studies to depict real-life scenarios. It is a good idea to use case studies as baits right at the start of the course to draw in the learners.
  • Use real-life examples and anecdotes to drive home your point. Use the psychology of surprise and include unusual, unexpected, or even shocking examples.

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Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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