Engaging the brain

November 13, 2022

Since the 1990s self-paced (asynchronous) online learning has seemed like Camelot for corporate training departments:  It is the mythical, low-cost, low-interference way of training employees to increase productivity or comply with regulations.   Although 90% of companies now use some form of online training, self-paced eLearning lags behind other forms of online learning.   Why?  Quite frankly, it is because most online courses are boring.

The good news is that, over the decades, authoring tools have made it easier to create more engaging eLearning.  Course developers just need to become more creative in how they design the programs.  The key to more interesting courses is simple:  find ways to get learners to use their brains to think more about the content.  If you are developing online courses, try switching from the traditional “click here to continue” or “repeat back to me what I just told you” types of interactions to more “what do you think?” activities.  Consider embedding the following types of activities into your courses:

  1. You Tell Me: If you need to compare two categories and you think the audience might know some of the differences already, switch from providing their tables with the differences to sorting activities where they decide for themselves into which category an item belongs.  If they get it right, they feel good.  If they get it wrong, they are going to remember the right answer longer.
  2. What Would You Do?: After you teach a concept, instead of asking the viewer to repeat the definition or the three main points, ask scenario-based, multiple-choice questions that test whether they can apply the concepts in a situation.  Set up the wrong answer choices to reflect commonly-made mistakes, so that the provided response to the incorrect answer teaches them why this is a bad choice.
  3. Treasure Hunts: If you need employees to become intimately familiar with a long manual or guide, create a treasure hunt activity where they must search through the document to find key pieces of useful information.  You provide the data point (such as a law, policy, or process step) and ask them to state the page, paragraph, or section where the answer is located.  This forces them to study the manual more carefully than if you just tell them what they can find in each section of the book.

The more you can get your learners to find the answers for themselves, the more they engage their brains, apply the concepts, and remember what they have been taught