One of the most fundamental aspects of eLearning design is creating engaging content. Even with a captive audience, content that does not keep a learner cognitively and affectively engaged is not likely to leave an impact. Without this impact, any efforts to have learners apply what they have learned to new situations are likely to be minimal.
It is tempting to create flashy animations and related multimedia. However, flashy without substance creates shallow content that is not engaging or likely to cause a demonstrable change in behavior.
There are proven strategies for engagement and multiple roadblocks to engagement.
Avoid these roadblocks and use the strategies to improve eLearning audience engagement.
Embrace Responsive Design
All of your eLearning courses should be done using responsive design. Why? Today’s students are using devices of all sizes and shapes — their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and personal computers — and they’re often switching between them multiple times per day depending on their location. Responsive design maximizes the user experience regardless of device the learner is using.
In addition to using responsive design, the savvy eLearning designer will create content that is easily completed on a mobile device. Typing is not native to these devices, and interactions such as multiple select or drag-and-drop are more intuitive and less cognitively demanding. Seamless learning experiences help keep your audience in the flow of their learning. Read: Why Reading on Mobile is Different (And What You Can Do About It)
Is your course meeting their needs? Read: Why Responsive eLearning is Essential to Meet Modern Learner Needs
Give an Estimated Time to Completion for all Learning Modules
Whether someone is taking your eLearning course voluntarily or for a requirement, they want to maximize their time. Many designers will give a total time estimate for the course. However, consider going further than this and give estimated individual module time and subsequent learning pathway showing completion. Doing so will keep the learner motivated and allow them to track their progress.
Create Opportunities for Ill-Structured Problem-Solving
Learners are more likely to be engaged in content when there is more than one way to solve a problem, the solution is not clear, and the learner is given ownership over their experience. Ill-structured problem solving accomplishes all three of these design strategies. To successfully design eLearning with this type of problem solving requires branching logic and prompts for learners to articulate their knowledge. Using a tool such as quick video captures or threaded comments can give the structure needed for a learner to defend their thought process and justify their process for learning.
Less is More
The optimal learning experience for users is one that focuses their attention only on what’s important – no unnecessary tasks or content. This engages the natural flow for learners and prevents cognitive overload. However, repeatedly you will see applications and eLearning courses that force the learner to focus the attention in less critical places.
To achieve engagement, the design of the course should flow in a way that allows the user to focus exclusively on the content rather than trying to figure out how something works or where they should click. These distractions interrupt and hurt the learning process.
Everything in the course should be designed with intention. Much like technology should not be used for the sake of using technology, design elements should not be placed on the page for superficial value. Ask yourself what benefit that element, image, animation, or layout is providing for the course.
If you cannot answer this question, it probably does not need to be in the course.
An excellent user experience is one in which the design is intuitive, accessible, and aligned with the goals of the course. In fact, when the design is just right, the user will not even notice extra features or embellishments because they serve a purpose in the course. If an image is noticed for blurriness or a layout for its’ confusion, the design is overcomplicated.
Remember the Target Audience
The right level of design depends highly on the target audience. Technical professionals would prefer a different design than marketing and sales. Regardless of the audience, the user experience is always a good idea. There are a couple of strategies to employ when designing for a particular audience.
- One, use the ‘student’ view to know what the course is going to look like for users. This will allow you to know if you are following the ‘less is more’ advice described above. The end user should always be the common goal in design. Put aside the team preferences or your design preferences and consider the needs of the user.
- Two, conduct pilot testing of the course with a similar audience. When you look at one course for an extended period, you are likely to get tunnel vision. Having a relevant audience pilot the course will ultimately improve the experience of the target audience.
Avoid Blurry Pictures
Pictures serve a great benefit for eLearning courses. They help to break up text and visuals can help to explain a rather challenging concept. However, a picture is not helpful if it is blurry or pixelated. To avoid this, make sure to save the pictures in the right size. Using programs such as Photoshop allow for zooming of the picture to see what it will look like under different magnifications. The optimal strategy is to use only vector-based graphics. These file types allow for resizing of images to any needed size.
Resist Not Editing the Course
No course is perfect, and revisions can make the course stronger. There is a train of thought in design that a course should not be edited after it is published and live. However, the design process is iterative. Course revisions should be made strategically with the ultimate goal of improving the user experience of the course.
Don’t Get Caught in Robotic-Corporate eLearning
Contextualize your eLearning content in real life. People want to connect to the content, not feel like they are passive consumers of information. Embed stories into your course.
Humans are, by nature, storytellers. The most compelling courses weave a cohesive narrative throughout the course. Storytelling introduces emotions and draws people in. A course with storytelling will do the same. When a work setting is made authentic through the course, it connects to our core and allows the learner to draw prior experiences into the current learning experience.
After you have written part of the course, step away from it for a couple of days. Then return to it and complete it as a user would. Are you engaged in the content? If the content is not interesting and authentic to you, it likely will not be for the user either.
Don’t Assume People Know How to Complete the Course
When you are immersed in a field every day, it is easy to forget that not everyone is an expert in that area. For some of your audience, even technologically savvy individuals, your eLearning course will be their first online learning experience. Consider creating a how-to be successful in online learning or similar guide to help novice learners.
Never Skip Reviewing the Course
As you design more and more modules, you will likely copy content, assessments, and skins in order to reduce the time necessary to complete the new course. This makes it even more important to review every aspect of the course. Sometimes, feedback that you would not normally see as the designer has not been changed for the new course. Just as you would not want to send out a cover letter with the wrong employer name or position as it gives the impression you are not committed to the job, you don’t want your audience to receive a message from a different course. This can give the perception that you are creating multiple standardized courses and do not tailor the assessment. Even though it is most likely that you simply forgot to change the feedback and completely changed the question, this is not the perception your learners will take.
By following these strategies and avoiding the roadblocks presented, you will be on your way to creating content that engages the audience. An engaged audience will be cognitively engaged and likely to transfer what they have learned and apply it to new situations. As you progress in your eLearning course development, you will simply build these strategies into your workflow and minimize the impediments that cause roadblocks.