Developing a digital mindset for L&D: Increasing interaction

DM eBook new learning pathways

This theme is closely related to the automation theme. As I was doing the research and thinking for this section I remembered there was a huge area of digital thinking that manifests itself in experiences such as computer games.

These experiences are full of complex interactions that are controlled by rules. They are not linear experiences that are the same each time you engage with them – sometimes the rules can be really simple, and at other times they are driven by artificial intelligence.

One of the elements of digital literacy is being able to write code. This is not because in the future everyone will be a software developer, but it is a key literacy for the future because when you know the basics of coding you can begin to see the world as a series of rules.

At the most basic level a piece of code can be thought of as:

DM eBook if then this

Increasing the level of interactivity in learning experiences is something L&D could be a lot better at. The first three themes are more about delivery and infrastructure of learning. This theme is about the actual learning experience.


Working beyond slides

Most common digital learning authoring systems are based around slides of content with voiceovers. These systems have been designed to make it easier to transfer content from PowerPoint into elearning. But if you opened a digital learning authoring system and the first thing you saw was a multiple-choice question, perhaps the development of digital learning would be reframed to being focused on interactions.


Focusing what people do will make your learning experiences more interactive

We still see many digital experiences that focus on what people need to know instead of what they need to do. Focusing on what the learner needs to do and the choices they need to make naturally triggers an interactive approach, more so than focusing on just the knowledge they may need. A key to making digital learning more interactive is to start thinking about the ‘rules’ (algorithms), not the content.


More-complex instructional design approaches

A common response from subject matter experts when an instructional designer starts to explore what a learner needs to do is that the decisions can’t be broken down into binary black-and-white questions. This is a perfect example of where more-complex instructional design approaches are needed. The interactions inside of an authoring tool are just building blocks. In most digital learning the designers often focus only on one block, e.g. a scenario with a question at the end. What might actually be needed is a series of questions with story elements in between. It might be more like a choose-your-own-adventure story.


Quizzes are not just for assessment

We often copy what we have seen other people do. Most of us have not experienced what great digital learning looks like and might be used to educational experiences where it was ‘teach then test’. A common way to test was to use a quiz. But quizzes and learning interactions don’t have to be about testing. Instead they can be used to provide a way for employees to practise skills and knowledge.


Build a simulation

The next stage is to try to think about the experience as being driven by a series of rules that simulate the choices and actions that the employee can make. Instead of thinking about what quiz questions they could answer, a simple reframe might be: how could the learning experience work if it were controlled by sliders and knobs?

DM eBook knobs and sliders 

What are the factors at play?

It is common for digital learning experiences to be scored, though often this score isn’t shown to the learner. Instead of a single score being tracked, a number of ‘factors’ could be tracked and each decision the learner makes affects these factors. Health scores in games are a good example of this type of approach.


Where to find inspiration for interactive design

A lot of our interactions on the web are about consuming content, which doesn’t make for a good role model for highly-interactive experience-based learning. The main interactions are navigating between and around pages of content. To get a sense of what complex interactions could be, spend some time playing computer games, and looking at interactive documentaries and new-media art. All of these areas combine complex interactions with rich sensory media.


Questions and ideas to spark new thinking about the design of interactions

  1. What do employees need to do? Who will they be interacting with? Where will they be? Then build a system that simulates those decisions.
  2. A powerful way to reframe and build more interactive experiences is instead of building a course, think about building a world.
  3. How could you make your learning experiences smarter?
  4. If you were a games designer, how would you see this problem? This is a powerful question because it often doesn’t result in designing a game.