Learning Experiences

Interactivity in eLearning, creating excellent experiences

“Can we make it interactive?”


This is one of the key and most common questions a client might ask about eLearning modules. It’s what I would ask myself, as an eLearning designer, when considering how to make the most engaging experience for the learner.

The answer is invariably “yes, we can make it interactive”. But we need to explore whether or not that is wholly necessary, how we might go about it and what level of complexity the interactivity will involve.

Let’s explore the different levels of interactivity in eLearning and when they are best used for maximum effect.

Why should we make digital experiences interactive?

Well, we’ve all had experiences with training where you simply sit and listen to someone talk about a given subject. The urge to check your phone or even drift off can be overwhelming, you feel a lack of engagement with the content and your mind starts to wander to other things. As my old maths teacher would often say “he’s wondering what’s for tea tonight” when he saw a member of the class staring out the window.

This is the last thing you want when you’ve just invested a stack of money to create this training. Now you’re suddenly worrying how you’re going to prove the return on this investment if your learners are not taking the content onboard.

If the experiences are interactive, the learner must actively engage with the content in order to progress. In simple terms this means they will need to pay attention to progress through the course. Essentially this interactivity engages their brain actively and aids retention of the information you are trying to teach them.


What are the different types of interactivity we can use?

In addition to completely passive learning experiences, we can identify three levels of interactivity within eLearning course design, from basic “click next” through to immersive simulations.

Let’s explore these levels now and take a look at some examples, along with the considerations for each level of interactivity.

Simple interactions

These courses will include things like menu buttons, “click next” interactions, perhaps some basic multimedia such as simple videos and audio as well as simple activities like “drag and drops” or “click to reveals”.

Interactions of this nature require minimal critical thought from the learner, as they are not used to assess ability or knowledge retention, but simply to keep the learner’s attention. They tend to involve the learner clicking on simple objects on screen. Graphics are simple and there are minimal “moving parts” involved.

These modules are quick to storyboard, design and develop, generally meaning a lower cost overall. They are easy to maintain if any content changes in future like a product range, software interface or policy. They are great for when you need to get content out there quickly and efficiently, and, with considered design, will still look and feel great for the learner.

More involved interactions

Courses at this level may take the learner through a story or scenario and can include a non-linear structure. A branching scenario that takes the learner down a different path depending on their choices might be used (think Charlie Brooker’s Netflix show, Bandersnatch, or if you’re a bit more old school, a “choose your own adventure” book. The Goosebumps ones were my favourites as a child!)

You could see personalisation in this level of course. For example, the course might ask up front what your name and job role is and will address you by name throughout, and tailor the content shown based on your job role.

The experience can feature a more multimedia approach with animations, videos, audio and more. Learners will more likely have to think in order to progress through these courses, progress may be blocked until they correctly answer a question, which promotes more thorough engagement (but should be used carefully as this can lead to learners losing interest if they get stuck!)

When scoping out projects like this, be mindful of the reasoning behind creating this. They will be excellent experiences, but do your clients have time to wait for you to complete development? Is this level of interactivity strictly necessary to enable your learner to meet the learning objectives? If you plan to hand the content over to an eLearning author in your client’s business, it will be more difficult for them to edit the course in future due to the complexity.


Immersive experiences

These are really exciting to build but are complex to design and maintain. They can involve options like virtual or augmented reality for training in a realistic environment, full software simulations, games, interactive videos and more. The learning content is often delivered via feedback following each choice the learner makes. They feel a lot less like a traditional eLearning module and more like an immersive digital experience.

For example, a simulation of a critical fault in a brewery. In which the learner wears a VR headset and is virtually transported to the brewery using video and photographs where they hear an alarm, and must diagnose and resolve the problem in that virtual environment. The learner will be able to clearly see the consequences of their actions in a realistic but risk free environment.

These modules require a high degree of planning and skill to execute. If we think about the brewery example, you would need to photograph that space using a 360° camera to map the area, then adapt that in specialist software to create the virtual space. It requires significant time investment and technical expertise. These courses are very difficult to amend down the line if something changes.


Assessing which solution to use

As the customer, the best thing to do is let your provider decide this for you and to rely on their expertise. It’s still worth being aware of these three levels of interactivity, the benefits and drawbacks of each and you can steer your provider in the right direction!

If you’re building the digital solution yourself then you will need to consider the client’s requirements, the extent of their budget and timescale for the level of learning content that you’ll be creating.

As the complexity of interactivity rises, so too does the timeframe and cost of the project. It is important to be clear from the outset, it’s easy to get over-excited in scoping meetings and promise the Earth. Keep the end goal of the solution in mind and let that guide your decisions.


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