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eLearning Interactivity: When It Works and When It Goes Wrong

Laundry detergent ads often feature buzz words like ultra, plus and 2X without any indication of what these words actually mean or how they make the detergent any better. In eLearning, we have our own buzz words-- interactive. We talk about this word often but how many courses actually offer true interactive experiences.

Truly interactive eLearning courses have the power to transform learning and content into meaningful experiences for learners. Interactive courses help learners retain content longer, allowing them to actively process and apply content, and take their learning back to their daily lives. 

In this post, we'll explore how interactive courses can help learners engage, how courses that get it wrong can actually harm learning, and ways to progress to interactivity in eLearning.

When It Works

When interactive eLearning courses get it right, learners experience several positive outcomes. First, they retain the knowledge from the course at a significantly higher rate, anywhere from 50 to 90 percent, than passive courses, which only result in a 5 to 30 percent retention rate. 

Secondly, learners have the opportunity to process content and apply concepts in interactive environments. They're putting their learning to use in realistic scenarios requiring them to think, interact with peers or an expert, and evaluate the outcomes based on decisions they make in the moment. 

Learning often occurs faster with interactive courses as well because learners work on higher order thinking skills like appraising, interpreting and summarizing information rather than merely labeling, memorizing or describing information. 

When It Goes Wrong  

Unfortunately, many eLearning courses only attach the label "interactive" to a course, falsely assuming that simply being online makes a course interactive. Learners may navigate through a site, click the buttons and flip through content but these courses equate to lecture-style courses or what we often call "info-dumps." Moving a mouse is not interactive.

Several features of eLearning appear interactive, but actually do more harm than good, including:

  • Overusing unnecessary animation or sound: Bells and whistles only distract the learner and divert attention away from important content. And if the content is boring, no amount of bells or whistles will make it any better.

  • The "Next" button: Yes, the learner is technically interacting with the mouse and the screen, but the learner isn't interacting with the content and likely will develop clicking fatigue, waiting and searching for the next "next" button rather than paying attention to content.

  • Activity overload: You can't make up for a lack of interactivity through sheer volume. Too many activities on page — videos, graphs, animation, quizzes — will overload learners and could cause them to miss important content hidden amid the activities. 

These attempts to design interactive eLearning courses may actually do more harm than good to learners since they distract from the content rather than enhance it.

As you can see, interactivity, when done right, can add to the experience. But when done wrong, it distracts or otherwise adds no value to the learning experience.  

Making it Work

Good interactivity must have a purpose. The key lies in learning how to achieve the right balance in your eLearning courses so that they are truly interactive and engaging without irritating or annoying your audience. 

There are several ways to design interactive eLearning courses that increase comprehension and retention, boost learning and hold a learner's interest: 

  • Simulations of actual circumstances where learners can play and explore with variables to change outcomes or study consequences of specific actions. 

  • Go into action mode with an offline activity or problem they need to solve. Have learners identify problems and figure out ways to solve them.

  • Engage a learner's emotions through a compelling story that guides the course, asks tough questions and requires to justify certain actions based on course concepts.

  • Tie interactions directly to learning outcomes and key learning points to reinforce the main content. 

  • Good questions, an opportunity for reflection can be much more effective than pushing a Next button. 

  • Check-up exercises where you quickly present questions to the learners to make sure they are paying attention. 

Don't let "interactive" become a word you add just to create buzz. Create true interactive eLearning courses for learners instead. 


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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