7 Ways to Energize Learning Content
Imagine that you have just finished an interview with an SME regarding a course his company wants to create. As you leave his office, here's what you know:
- The course is about their inventory management process
- The content consists of a series of 35 charts, graphs and spreadsheets and ten hand-written pages of notes that would require an in-depth understanding of statistics to decipher
- It's vitally important that all employees know and understand the process and its procedures
- It's even more important that the course be entertaining because the feedback on past courses has been that they are too long and very boring
Admittedly, this example is a little far-fetched, but it does illustrate a situation that many instructional designers find themselves in and leaves them asking, "How do I turn this into engaging eLearning?". Fortunately, there are tools that will help turn the mundane into the marvelous.
In this article, I'll discuss 7 ways that you can energize learning content, please your client and give your learning audience an engaging learning experience.
1. Use relevant scenarios to set the scene
Workplace learning is always more relevant when it reflects the actual working environment. So, why not start out with a scenario that is based on something that happened in the past or something that happens on a regular basis. Ask your SME for some anecdotes. Most of them love sharing "war stories" and will give you enough so that you can construct a story that will ring true with your audience. Pose a problem at the beginning and, as the course material unravels, revisit the scenario. Have your characters use what has been taught to work toward a solution to the problem. It's ok if the character fails to resolve the issue at first, just as long as they use the knowledge in the course content to succeed in the end. You can use branching scenarios or mistake-driven scenarios to involve the learner in the decision-making process and test their knowledge.
2. Use relevant graphics when possible
There's a lot to consider as you incorporate graphics into online training. Done with care and with the learner in mind, properly used graphics enhance the content and help to drive home the learning points. If you are using graphics to simply dress up the page, you're wasting your time, your client's money and stretching your learner's attention.
There are 7 different types of graphics and each has their use as discussed in the article, "Successfully Incorporating Visuals into Online Training - Part 1: Graphics". In that article, there are four tips for using graphics:
- Don't ignore your audience - even though you may think that a dinosaur or fluffy bunny graphic would be great, keep your audience in mind. What visual would make the content more relevant to them and to their workplace?
- Don't use eye candy graphics - keep it relevant to the material. Don't use graphics for the sake of having to have a graphic on each page.
- Enhance the learning experience - use graphics with text wherever possible and appropriate.
- Incorporate text into the graphic when possible - use textboxes, callouts and pop-ups to make graphics come alive through interaction (Think about those charts and graphs I mentioned at the start of this article.).
3. Add links to online resources
The internet is the largest repository of knowledge in the history of, well, knowledge! Ok, some of what you find is not true, some postings are offensive and some sites just make you shake your head, but if you want information on any topic, it's there. You just have to be selective. But, adding links to what you find gives your learners added information and allows them to explore the topic further if they choose to do so. It's added information that you did not have to create and it's free, so use it when you can.
4. Use video to get your point across
If you are looking for a way to engage your learners, nothing beats video. The advantages of using video in eLearning content is that it:
- Makes things easier to understand. It's one thing to describe how to operate a forklift in text or in text and pictures, but using video to show how it's done takes the learner to the job site and puts him or her in the driver's seat.
- Can be used to break work processes and procedures down step-by-step and allow the learner to see the steps in action as many times as needed. Learners can stop in the middle of a step to take time to absorb what they are learning and, with eLearning, they can take the learning with them and review at the point-of-need.
- Can be easily broken down for use as microlearning segments. These nuggets of information provide just-in-time training and reinforcement of specific learning points as needed.
For more information on different types of video and how they are used, read "Successfully Incorporating Visuals into Online Training - Part Two: Video".
5. Use high quality narration
Audio is a mainstay of eLearning and, in some areas, it is required under accessibility legislation. So, if you are going to use audio and narration, make sure it's good. I have designed courses around video that was shot by the client who then required the video be transcribed and the audio from the video be used for the course. It was an audio nightmare of "ums", "ers" and "So...". The delivery was monotonous and the pace was excruciatingly slow.
Tips for quality narration and audio:
- Script your narration - don't let your talent improvise. Your narration should speak directly to the learner, be clear and concise and avoid repetition.
- Use professional talent - use actors to narrate your course. They know how to deliver lines, they understand pacing and they will say what you are paying them to say.
- Have the narration professionally recorded - even with portable digital recording devices, nothing beats a professionally engineered recording.
Interactive activities will do a lot to energize drab content. Use your imagination to create workplace-related games that will reinforce learning points. In the example below, our instructional designers created a drag and drop exercise as part of a line cook training program; learners had to drag the appropriate ingredients for a brown stock into the saucepan.
Use review questions that have the learner sorting items or matching actions to policies or procedures - have them learn by doing rather than just reading. Today's learners are used to, and expect, interaction in the online environment, so why should online learning be any different. Give learners a course consisting only of text and pictures with the only interactions being the "Next" and "Back" buttons and you'll lose them.
7. Use active voice in your writing
This might be the most obvious tip on making learning content interesting, but it's so often overlooked. When people write learning content, the "learning" part often takes over, resulting in content that is overly academic, strait-laced, dry and does not speak to the learner in terms that they would use.
Active voice writing means speaking directly to the learner. Use plain language and use technical terms and commentary only when necessary. This will help to link the content to the learner's world, making it easier to understand and relevant to the learner. Just because you're teaching doesn't mean you have to sound like a teacher. Speak to learners as if you were speaking to them in person. For example, rather than saying, "A person should consider traffic flows in both directions before making the decision to leave the curb and transit the roadway.", say, "Look both ways before crossing the street.".
Looking to the future - augmented and virtual reality
I have to admit that I know very little about augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) technology. But, with the little that I do know, I find the potential for use of these technologies in workplace learning fascinating. I am looking forward to the evolution of AR and VR to the point where it becomes affordable and practical to incorporate one or both of these technologies into L&D strategies. Christopher Pappas provides insight into how these technologies may be used in workplace training and his article is well worth reading.
In this article, I've described 7 ways to energize learning content. I know there are a lot more and I'm sure you all have your own ways of doing just that.
Learning content does not have to be boring. Even the driest material can become engaging content if you use some creativity and the techniques I've described. Every instructional designer has their own bag of tricks and I'm sure you do too. So, use them! Bring your content to life by using the technology at your disposal and keep your learning audiences coming back for more.
Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.