Creating Real Engagement in eLearning

In the eLearning space, a phrase that I see used a lot – to the point of overuse – by designers and developers is their ability to ‘create engaging eLearning experiences’. But what does that really mean? Well, according to dictionary.com the word engage is defined as:

“To occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)”

That sounds reasonable and is definitely something we should be doing but why is there still so much poor eLearning around if so many claim to be able to create engaging eLearning? Authoring tools alone can’t create engaging eLearning, at least not without human input, so it’s up to us! I suggest that maybe there’s different ‘types’ of engagement in eLearning experiences that are created by designers and developers.

Visual

Visual engagement comes from the appearance or look-and-feel of the eLearning. It’s about the colours, fonts, images and text. It’s how these elements are connected and how well they support the message and content (or don’t!). But while a visually appealing module can draw you in (occupy your attention), looks are superficial and will wear off quickly on long, dry, content driven eLearning because boring is still boring even if it looks pretty.

Physical

Physical engagement comes from having to actually do something during the module and in many cases this will probably involve clicking, dragging and hovering (again, requires some attention and effort). I’m all for doing in eLearning but sometimes we question whether clicking/dragging/hovering does anything for engagement, I mean if there’s some information and instead of just displaying it, users need to click some buttons to reveal it in small pieces, is that any better? The point here is when you apply interactions make sure they are appropriate.

Mental

This type of engagement is about using the mind. It’s about provoking thinking, providing a challenge or challenges. It’s about applying information to situations that people are faced with, having them make decisions and dealing with the consequences. It’s using stories. It’s making you feel something. It’s also about creating an experience that’s relevant and useful to people that will ultimately improve their performance. For me, these things are what really makes an eLearning experience engaging.

In creating an eLearning module, all these types of engagement play a role (and there are more types) but often the mental engagement is left out because we’re trying to push content onto our people. We think that just making it look good and having them use their mouse/finger is enough to create engagement – it’s a start but doesn’t go far enough!

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