Prometheus Training, LLC

Myths of Elearning Interactivity

In the world of eLearning, interactivity is any strategy or element used to help the learner process learning. It is accepted truth that interactivity is the magic element that makes eLearning both engaging and effective.

But all too many course creators still resist the idea of adding interactive elements to their eLearning programs. Why? Often, it’s because of the mythology that surrounds the topic of “interactivity,” the misconception that creating interactive courseware is just too complex, too time-consuming, or too expensive.

Here are four “Myths of Elearning Interactivity” that we often hear. Do these sound familiar?

Myth #1: Interactivity makes the eLearning program too long

We hear this one a lot. My response tends to be, “Too long for what?”

Without interactivity, an eLearning program is just an information-dump. I’m not saying that people can’t learn from an info-dump, lecture-type format. But they have to be extremely motivated to stay focused on the content.

Unfortunately, that is an unrealistic expectation for most e-learners. They may have been forced into the eLearning program, and don’t feel particularly motivated to learn. They may be surrounded by a number of distractions in their environment. And they have certainly been trained by their TV-sets to stare at a screen while mentally “tuning out.”

Interactivity is the game-changer that re-engages the learner’s attention, and actually gets them to process the content. Without processing the content, there is no learning and retention. That’s why retention rates go up when interactive strategies are employed.

Still, there are those learners who, due to learning style preferences or time challenges, would prefer to work through the course content without slowing down to “process” the information. And their needs are just as valid.

In our programs, we like to accommodate both types of learners – both by offering opportunities to “opt in” to nice-to-know content as well as opportunities to “opt out” of selected reinforcement exercises.

Myth #2: Interactivity is the Greek word for “multiple-choice”

It’s a common misconception that an “interactive element” must be a test. Sure, tests are one form of interactivity, but only one of many.

Remember, interactivity is a strategy to engage learners and get them to process what they learned. Good instructors do that all the time in a classroom – for example, by asking questions, providing practice examples, or helping learners begin to apply their learning in a real-world work setting. You can incorporate any or all of these into your eLearning design.

And when you do opt to design in a test, don’t allow yourself to be constrained by the test formats available in your authoring software. There are ways to adapt even the most basic authoring system so you can offer case studies, observational checklists, constructed answer “essays questions,” small-group projects, you name it.

Myth #3: All interactivity must be tracked through your organization’s LMS (Learning Management System)

One of the benefits of a Learning Management System (LMS) is that it gives the Training Department the ability to track all sorts of useful data -- like how many learners took a particular training program, how long they spent on the program, and what answers they got right or wrong on the Mastery Test. The resulting reports are truly useful, both in identifying individuals who are having learning problems in order to provide an intervention, as well as in identifying problems that need to be corrected on a course or curriculum level.

But as noted above, interactive elements are not always tests. They may not necessarily be structured to require the learner to choose the “right” answer. In fact, they may actively encourage the learner to explore a number of “wrong” answers, and determine for themselves why those answers are indeed wrong. That’s good pedagogy. But it confuses the heck out of the LMS.

Back when training was in classrooms, there was a philosophy that “the training room was a safety zone.” The idea was that training was where you were allowed to take chances, try new things, and maybe even get it wrong before you ultimately got it right. But when organizations switched on their LMSs, many of them forgot the safety-zone idea.

If you are creating eLearning that will be tracked through an LMS, it’s important to keep in mind this difference between interactivity and testing. Have the LMS track progress through the various sections of the course, and embed trackable section quizzes along with a Mastery Test. But allow other interactivity where there is no tracking. In our programs, we often tell learners, “No one is keeping score in this section of the program,” so they know it is safe to try new things.

Myth #4: It costs too much to create an interactive eLearning program

Sometimes, course developers will say – somewhat sheepishly – that they created a low-interactivity “page-turner” e-course because it was just too expensive to create an interactive course. In other words, they already had the content, the graphics, the software, and the wherewithal to get the course posted to a learning site. It was specifically the interactivity that was too expensive.

I disagree. Strongly.

Once you have invested in your graphics and software, you have already paid for all of the “expense items” that you need to create an interactive design element. That’s not to say that it won’t take some extra time to think through how each interactive element will work, what options you will give your learners, and what sort of response to give for each option that they choose. And we all know that time is money.

But really, it’s a matter of priorities. If your goal is to make learning happen, then spending time to create interactive elements is the best investment you can make. Because when all is said and done, your learners will be more satisfied, they'll learn more, and they'll retain more from an interactive program. And that’s no myth.

About the author

Helene Geiger is CEO of Prometheus Training, LLC.

© 2007 Prometheus Training LLC. All rights reserved. Visit http://www.ptrain.com for information and tips on making custom eLearning. easy.

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