Making eLearning Engaging

I sometimes get asked how I make an online course engaging to my audience and what do I do to keep learners motivated to complete the training. I generally try to work the following aspects into all my online learning that I design.

First off you need accurate, clear and concise learning objectives. Let’s break that down a little. First off I want my learning objectives to be accurate. Take the following objective as an example,

“Given the necessary equipment, you will be able to correctly change a flat tire on a car.”

Your learners should be able to change a flat tire on a car. As soon as it becomes clear that your course isn’t going to deliver on that promise, the learners will tune out.

Next I want my learning objectives to be clear and concise. This is more an issue of writing than anything else. Take the following sentence for example,

“By the end of this online course you will learn everything that you need to know to perform your duties as a stock clerk.”

This learning objective needs to be broken down into more specific duties of that job and the objectives should have some level of expectations. As it stands now they are a little vague.

All of this comes down to delivering what you promise. Accurate, clear and concise learning objectives set your learners up for success as they know exactly what to expect from your course. Don’t include any optional information that makes the course longer than necessary. If your job is to teach people how to correctly change a flat tire on their car, don’t include a history of the automobile – it doesn’t contribute to the learning objective, no matter how interesting it might be for some. If they sign on expecting one thing and get another, they will likely exit the course prematurely.

Another aspect of creating engaging and motivating online learning is the principle of keeping your users involved in learning, which also relates to the previous aspect of having accurate, clear and concise learning objectives.

I like to follow the PAF model of learning. PAF is an acronym for Presentation, Application and Feedback. Once I have broken down the learning into the smallest pieces I start off by presenting the information to the learners. I then ask the learners to participate in some application of that knowledge or skill. This is usually some form of knowledge check where the user completes an activity. On the tail end of that application I provide some feedback. At this stage feedback should be meaningful. For example, I don’t just want them to know they are right or wrong, I want them to consider why they are right or wrong so I usually provide them that opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Of course I also try to make my online learning have a look and feel that is compelling as well. I think we can all think of examples of online learning that looked like little effort was put into the creation of the presentation. That usually turns me off and can distract from the various tasks at hand. Delivering something that is well thought out and visually appealing can keep you interested in what the course will offer next.