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December 29th, 2020 Course Creation

How can instructional designers create more engaging content for their learners?

Keeping learning interesting is a constant battle for instructional designers. For years, e-learning has had the reputation of being dry and boring. It hasn’t been until recently that we’ve seen more emphasis put into the e-learning experience.

But how do you engage learners as they take an online course?

There are a variety of strategies, the best one depending on factors like the audience background, the course content, and the overall course objectives. The key is to put the learner first. By centering the learning experience around their needs, educators can more readily place themselves in the learner’s mindset. From there, they see content from the learner’s perspective and more accurately judge whether it is engaging or not.

More importantly, when you design your courses with learning engagement in mind as it will ultimately help in learning comprehension. If your course is boring and only utilizes one-way communication (think PowerPoint presentations), then you are doing both the content and the learner a disservice.

To add some engagement to your online courses, try some of the following techniques.

1. Capture Attention

No learner will engage with boring content. This doesn’t mean you have to pack your course full of flashy animations or gimmicky interactions, but it does mean you have to start off with content that makes your learners sit up and take notice.

Using statistics, data, and charts is a great way to grab the learner’s attention from the onset and to increase interest, especially if presented in an infographic. This kind of content is visually appealing, easy for learners to quickly consume, and easier to remember. A good graphic can leave learners instantly feeling like they gained something of value from your course.

2. Make Them Think.

Many learners are used to studying by rote. They focus on specific pieces of information and commit them to memory without ever engaging with it more deeply. While memorization will always play a key part in learning (more on that in a second), helping learners develop ownership over the course material is even more important.

Present open-ended questions so the learner has to think about the content in an autonomous way. It doesn’t have to be an official submission, but you could add this as a requirement in your course.

3. Stick With What’s Important.

Remove any ‘fluff’ from your course and deliver just the must-know information. No one likes busy work, and that includes reading repetitive or boring content. If a module isn’t necessary (meaning it doesn’t further the learning goals of the course), take it out.

Present this critical information in unique ways such as clickable text or pop-outs. Consider designing branching scenarios that help learners practice the information they just learned.

4. Check Their Knowledge.

Don’t just rely upon a final exam during the course. Implement periodic knowledge checks after each key section, and offer short review quizzes for content throughout the week. Studies have shown that spaced repetition, or engaging with content repeatedly at increasing intervals, can help learners retain more knowledge for longer.

Use gamification methods for encouragement as well. Gamification elements, such as points, leaderboards, and badges, can motivate learners to keep up with quizzes as they compete for high scores.

5. Use Responsive Learning.

Mobile learning has become the gold standard of online education. Any well-designed web course should work on any device so that learners can interact with the content on-the-go.

Mobile learning can also take advantage of push notifications, so that learners can be reminded at different times of the day to engage with content. Sometimes a gentle nudge is all a learner needs to sign in and complete a short quiz, which is often all they need to stay engaged.

6. Use Case Studies.

Stories and case studies go a long way in helping people to conceptualize the information. They also help learners relate to the material and envision how it can apply to their own lives. If a learner is discouraged or on the fence about whether a course might be working for them, a good case study can help make it real.

Examples might include:

  • A fitness course showing how a previous member overcame an injury.
  • A leadership training course contrasting how two managers handled a difficult situation.
  • A mindfulness course sharing how mediation helped a learner reduce stress.
  • A language course following a learner’s journey to achieving fluency.
  • A cybersecurity training course analyzing a major security breach.

7. Leverage Blended Learning.

For maximum learner interaction, use a blended approach to solidify the critical concepts. Blended learning combines in-person lessons with online content, letting educators maximize the value of their face time while keeping learning resources accessible in an online location.

Blended learning could mean having learners complete and submit assignments online and then talking about the work during class, or it could mean using the online course to review and quiz in-class material.

Mastering learning engagement techniques is essential to keep learners from dropping out.

When learners aren’t engaged in a course, they drop out. And when learners drop out, it does bad things for everyone: they feel discouraged and defeated, and you’re down a potentially dedicated follower.

Investing in engagement is time well spent. Don’t leave engagement on the back burner. Make it a priority.


Justin Ferriman photo

About Justin Ferriman

Justin started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide. He is currently founder & CEO of GapScout. Justin's Homepage | GapScout | Twitter


One response

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Why does your blog always slam PowerPoint? PowerPoint is a great tool and can be utilized to create interactive courses – it’s all a function of the instructor. The way you bash PowerPoint, I’m almost sorry I just paid for LearnDash. Perhaps you should embrace a tool used by so many and add a way to easily import PowerPoint content into LearnDash.

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