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How to Build Effective Online Courses, Part 4

Part 4: Eight Strategies for Building Engaging Interactions

Learn how to catch and keep your learners’ attention with meaningful activities in your online courses.

Online courses and eLearning can and should do so much more than simply ask learners to “Click Next”and progress through slide after slide of content. Rapid development authoring tools allow instructional designers to streamline their development process by helping them to quickly and easily build interactions into their content. With such powerful tools at designers’ fingertips, there’s no excuse to build the dated and sleep-inducing courses that fill up all too many training programs.

If you want to have maximum impact, follow these eight strategies to build effective interactions in your online courses:

1) Be relevant to real-life learners' needs and desires

As a learner, you’ve surely asked yourself at some point, “When am I ever going to have to know this?” The learners who complete your courses will undoubtedly ask themselves the same question, so your content needs to meet their needs and be relevant to their interests. Even challenging topics such as workplace compliance issues can be made interesting using interactions and scenarios that simulate experiences learners will have on the job. Conduct a needs analysis to discover what your learners want and need, then allow that information to guide your course creation.

2) Create an aesthetically pleasing course

Consider the curb appeal of your dream house, the glossy pages of a fashion magazine, or the high resolution of your new phone. Although the content of an online course must be solid, the presentation of the content is almost as important as the content itself. Online courses remove the human element of sharing the experience with teachers and classmates in traditional classrooms but don’t lose sight of the fact that your learners are still humans. They will respond to visually appealing design, color schemes, and images much more than white slides with list after list of bullet points. Authoring tools that include templates and content libraries can quickly help you create aesthetically pleasing online courses.

3) Allow learners to explore the content through open navigation

If your content is long and can be easily divided into chapters or segments, consider opening the navigation and allowing learners to explore it in the order of their choice. There’s no reason to force all learners to access the content in the same order, and by giving learners the freedom to chart their own path they will feel more empowered throughout the experience. Consider building an interactive menu that lets learners select each topic in the order they desire.

4) Use a multimedia approach to keep learners' attention

Authoring tools give designers the ability to include photos, videos, and audio in addition to text. By breaking up long passages of content into multimedia formats, learners will be more engaged and less likely to scan or skip over information. Multimedia elements also help reduce the length of long courses, as they can communicate information in less time than it may take learners to read the same content on their own.

5) Create microlearning experiences that get right to the point

In 2018, how-to videos were the third most popular type of video on YouTube. Many of these videos can be described as microlearning experiences and cover a topic in a brief amount of time (ranging from a few seconds to no more than just a few minutes). These videos do not spend time discussing information that is “nice to have;” they get right to the point of delivering precisely what the learner is seeking. Online courses can take the same approach, and do not have to be traditional, comprehensive deep-dives into every topic they cover. Some authoring tools, such as knowbly, even allow single interactions or widgets to be published alone outside of full courses to create microlearning experiences. Read more here: Microlearning for Macro Results.

6) Be mobile responsive

Today’s learners expect to use their mobile devices to access and complete training, which means your online courses must be properly designed to be viewed on phones and tablets as well as traditional computer screens. Courses that are not designed for mobile devices provide poor user experiences for learners, such as if the layout of the content is difficult to read or if site navigation is restricted or difficult on a mobile device. Meet your learners where they are and give them the best possible experience by ensuring your authoring tool is designed to be mobile responsive.

7) Include real-life characters and scenarios

Throughout your course, place your learner in real-life scenarios. Maybe they’re asked to resolve a customer service complaint, or upsell a product, or properly sort items on the screen. No matter what the situation is, being asked to make decisions and solve real-life scenarios demonstrates the relevancy of the content and assesses learners’ mastery as well. Learners won’t be engaged by the simple act of acquiring knowledge, but they will feel challenged and accomplished when they are required to put their knowledge to use in situations similar to what they encounter on the job.

8) Assess learners' knowledge and mastery of the content

Yes, even assessments can be engaging! Assessment not only provides learners’ employers and managers with data on their performance, but assessment can also be a tool for learners’ own use. The feedback offered to learners during assessment can guide them to analyze their own performance and reflect on their challenges and successes. Online courses offer assessment methods beyond traditional multiple-choice formats and can include video assessments, branching scenarios, forums and online discussions, and more. When the assessment is as engaging as the course content itself, learners will have a truly meaningful experience.

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