With an ever-increasing number of ways to create learning content, we face the question of how to properly use interactivity rather than whether or not we can make content interactive. One of the questions that Instructional Designers, Teachers, Trainers, and Editorial Teams face daily is “How many interactives should I include?” The truth is, there is no golden rule or magic formula to calculate this. As tempting as it is to “engage” the learner with interactivity, its usage can be a double-edged sword. When properly used, interactivity can entice the learner to look forward to participating in the next interactive. When properly used, interactivity can provide the learner with the deep breath before diving into a complex concept. However, when improperly used, interactivity can be counterproductive to the learning experience.
Each interactive is an opportunity to engage, maintain engagement, or (unfortunately) lose a learner. Each interactive will teach the learner something: it will either teach the intended concept, or it will teach the learner to skip right over the interactives. To avoid the latter, with each step of the planning, keep the potential trust of the learner in mind.
“I trusted that there is a reason for engaging.”
Learning Design can establish an unspoken language between the learner and the content. The learner should not be responsible for deciphering why they were just asked to spend time on an interactive. It is their job to learn, and our job to make this as smooth a process as possible.
The presence of an interactive can signal to the learner that this is a concept worthy of extra attention. Be it a direct learning objective or a foundational concept to a learning objective, targeting high value learning concepts as candidates for interactivity sets a precedent and a cadence to the flow of the content.
The presence of interactivity can also signal to the learner that there is a concept worthy of extra time. This may be a multi-phased concept or the intersection of multiple concepts. This is going to require a period of dedicated concentration because of its depth. Interactivity can assist in providing clarity to deeper subject matter that sometimes cannot be achieved with static content, but that engagement comes with an associated price tag of time.
“I trusted that this was going to be a good use of my time.”
Respecting the value of the learner’s time and energy applies to quality, not just quantity. A faster time to complete is not necessarily beneficial if the content is not absorbed. I should be asking “How can I present this learning content in a way that will truly be absorbed by the learner?”.
Sometimes this may result in picking up the pace for an exercise, while other times it may translate to slowing it down. Sometimes the correct pace might just be self-paced. What is most important is that I have made a commitment to spending the learner’s time wisely. A well-structured interactive that takes longer to complete than reading through static content may be a better use of time than static content that takes several rounds of review to absorb.
And whether we like it or not, sometimes the best use of interactivity is not to use it in a particular situation. Keep the learner focused on the learning, not with trying to decipher why they were asked to perform a task that did not seemingly accomplish anything or did not match the stated purpose.
“I trusted that my actions would be relevant to the task.”
As strange as it may sound in a digital context, for me, interactives have always had a visceral quality to them. There are usually many ways to turn static content into interactive content, so the challenge lies in creating an interactive that is true to the spirit of the Learning Objective. In other words, the activity needs to “feel” a certain way.
If, for example, you are following Bloom’s Taxonomy, this means establishing a direct connection between the measurable verb and the construction of the interactive. As long as it is age/skill appropriate, if my Learning Objective is to “arrange”, the exercise should be to complete proper placement of objects rather than to choose from a pre-selected list of arrangements. If my Learning Objective is to “analyze”, the exercise should be an original analysis, not simply choosing whether a provided analysis is True or False.
“I trusted that if I engaged, it would result in understanding.”
I’ve established and maintained the learner’s trust by providing them with interactives that have represented important learning concepts, made good use of their time, and “felt” right. But all of that is irrelevant if the learner does not know whether they have learned. Allow the learner to gauge their own understanding.
While pairing an interactive that presents the learning material with a related interactive assessment is always an option, I prefer to plan interactives that present and assess. By providing a built-in way for the learner to self-assess, less time is spent transitioning from one interactive to another, decreasing the chances that the flow of learning can be disrupted. The learner’s attention stays within the concept at hand. Seamlessly integrating a formative assessment into the same interactive gives the learner control over the pace of the learning and the self-assessment.
While there is no answer to “How many interactives should I include?” I have tried to focus on creating and maintaining the trust of the learner with each interactive that I plan.