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Clicking Less, Thinking More: Instructional Design Tips for eLearning

Sometimes we worry that if we’re not very overt, our learners might not understand. From my own experience as a learner, I’d agree that it only breeds frustration when your learners are unclear about what they should do or learn from a particular activity.

However, this doesn’t mean that eLearning needs to be didactic.

I’ve come across many modules that present information– often in creative ways – without asking that the learner think critically about the material or use any sort of inductive reasoning. Making eLearning more engaging and effective doesn’t necessarily correspond to adding more cool effects. Don’t get me wrong, I love cool effects. They can be fun, and they can be engaging. They can generate an affective or emotional response. But they don’t always ask us to apply content in ways that make learning meaningful.

Good design doesn’t mean asking learners to click more; it means asking them to think more. It doesn’t require crafting a sophisticated branching scenario (although they can be very effective!) in order to start bringing elements into our design that challenge learners to use higher levels of cognition.

One of the simplest ways to do this can be presenting information in the form of a question rather than a didactic page. This allows learners to see if they can figure out the correct answer, activating (and recognizing) any prior knowledge they may have in the subject area. Feedback for “What do you think?” questions demonstrates why a particular answer is best and presents the new content to learners who answered incorrectly.

Let’s look at a very basic example. Say you have an everyday topic such as laundry. One way to present the steps would be to have the learner click and reveal each one.

Laundry 1

Click the image to view the example.

This approach asks the learner to click a lot, but the clicks aren’t designed to enhance the way the learner is thinking about the material. What if, rather than clicking to read the steps, the learner is asked to sequence them?

Laundry 2

Click the image to view the example.

Here the learner is asked to think about the steps and do something with them (put them in sequence). This isn’t a fancy or flashy interaction, but it does challenge the learner to think a bit more critically about the procedure we go through to complete a common task. (To see some eLearning interactions that explicitly address instructional design tips and best practices, see Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes Challenge #34.)

In an industry that likes metrics, it’s easy to think of interactivity in terms of the number of clicks or animations on a screen. But from an instructional perspective, interactivity doesn’t always mean clicking more. It means clicking more thoughtfully.

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