3 ways to organise interactive content in eLearning

3 ways to organise interactive and content in eLearning

This is a follow-up blog post with more detailed content from our webinar on How to make your eLearning more interactive.

There are three common ways to organise interactive content in an eLearning module.

    1. The information dump – Showing all the content and then quizzing the learner at the end
    2. Mixing activities and content – Mixing your interactions and content together through the whole experience
    3. Activity focus – Focusing the eLearning module on the interactions, with the learner able to access content if they need it

There are other variations and combinations of these approaches but it's useful when planning an eLearning module to be able to sort the project you’re working on into one of these patterns.

As I'm writing this post there is something that is worrying me: I'm back writing about content when I know the solution to fixing what is broken with most eLearning is to focus on building interactive activities. The activity-focused approach, however, shifts the instructional design elements to focusing on experiences.

You also need to be careful to make sure the interactions are not added just for the novelty factor – for instance: ‘Let’s add a drag and drop here because that’d be fun.’ The interactions need to be meaningful and reflect the decisions someone would be making in the workplace.


1) The information dump

information dump

This is the most common way to design content and interactions designed in eLearning. There is a whole lot of content delivered and then a quiz at the end to test employee knowledge. This is not effective, it’s not an active learning experience and often learners don’t retain and transfer the new knowledge into practice.

Why is so much eLearning designed like this?

It’s human to model what we have seen in the past. Most learning experiences still rely on the model, e.g. those at schools and universities (this is changing slowly). You do a course and then you are tested on it.

To move away from this approach, one necessary shift is that the eLearning tools at hand – e.g. multi-choice questions – need to be seen as useful for practice and not just testing. A good first step to moving beyond an information dump is to start your learning experience with a quiz and then see where else you might be able to add interaction.


2) Mixing activities and content

mixed content and activities

In this design pattern, content and activities are mixed. It's actually what we use in our webinars and it’s a great pattern to follow to move away from the information-dump-with-quiz experience. The most common way it can be used is by presenting a small chunk of content and then the learner does a test or applies what they have learned to a scenario or problem. If the learning experience is story driven, the non-interactive story elements can be interlaced with interactions.

A theme of How to make your eLearning more interactive was what eLearning might learn from games. Narrative-driven games often use this pattern of mixing interactivity and content together but in games the interactive sections dominate and the non-interactive sections tell the story.

When you’re designing with this pattern a useful rule of thumb is that for every three blocks of content there should be an interaction. In the perfect world the interactions would be written first, but this pattern also works well when the content is written and you need to add interactions afterwards.


3) Activity focus

activity driven

In an activity-driven approach, the learner works through a series of activities. There are a couple of ways this can be integrated:

    1. The content can be provided in the feedback of activities.
    2. The learner can access content as they need that information to answer a question.

This approach can be a simple type of adaptive learning, where if the learner gets the answer wrong they are given more information. This pattern is great if the learner has some pre-existing knowledge.

Cathy Moore's ‘action mapping’ offers a powerful way to develop activities and interactions in this type of approach – it focuses on what people need to do and the types of decisions they need to make in the workplace.

This also leads to different approaches to interface design in eLearning, because often a learner needs to be able to move around and access the information they need. This pattern of designing interactions doesn’t work well in a slide-based approach to interface design, because you need to free up the navigation. At Sprout Labs we often design a linear media-rich ebook that covers all the material, which the learner can jump into from the activities when they need the information.

Activity-driven learning experiences lead to creative ways of presenting content. Some possibilities could be when a learner needs to access content they ask a virtual guide a question, or they ask a panel of virtual guides. The panel approach is great if the content has different interpretations.

These types of metaphors give the learning experience a bit of a ‘quest’ feel because the learner has to seek out the content they need.

There is a nice hybrid of the second and third approaches, where chunks of content are given to a learner, and then there is a challenge activity from which they can access information to complete the activity.

Since running the How to make your eLearning more interactive webinar I've spoken in a number of workshops about this approach and have been struck by how mapping out the three approaches visually means the group has been able to quickly move on to a more sophisticated activity-driven approach.

If your eLearning development team is interested in workshops on rethinking how you design and develop your learning experiences, please feel welcome to get in touch. We can run these workshops face to face or online.