Designing attention-grabbing elearning

In my last blog I discussed the importance of neuroscience in learning design, including the physical process of learning in which new knowledge is represented by structural changes in the brain. But in order to encourage learning, we must make sure the learner pays attention.

We live in a media-rich world, with TV, radio and social media grabbing our learner’s attention throughout the day. So how do we create digital learning content that grabs attention, when attention itself is such a scarce commodity?


Optimise peaks in attention

Neuroscientific research tells us that a learner’s attention peaks at two points during an elearning course: at the beginning and at the end. How can we, as learning designers, use this information to design effective learning?

To optimise our learner’s heightened attention we need to carefully consider the start of our course. To do this we could:

  • Create an engaging video to set the scene
  • Start with a surprise stat to pique their interest
  • Make it personal. Ask your learner a question and get them actively involved from the start

In addition, to ensure retention and optimise heightened interest, we must also consider the end of our courses. Oftentimes elearning courses finish with a simple, multiple choice question. But if we’re honest, we know that more often than not, that’s the easy route out. To design truly creative learning experiences (that actually work) we need to push ourselves further. Why not consider closing your next course with a challenging branched scenario? Or a quiz which results in a personalised certificate?


Use multimedia

Humans naturally gravitate towards visuals and are capable of processing images six thousand times faster than other forms of content. Based on this, we can assume we will optimise a learner’s heightened interest at the start of a course by including multimedia throughout. This could be in the form of:

  • Graphics
    The multimedia principle teaches us that using text and graphics together is more beneficial for learners, than using text or graphics on their own (Clark & Mayer, 2011). You can use graphics in elearning to represent a topic, depict relation or organisation, or help learners interpret a theory.
  • Audio
    Audio is a great way to add a human touch to your content. When used correctly, audio can enhance your digital learning content. It’s also an important assistive technology for visually impaired learners.
  • Animation
    When we consider animation, we often imagine fully-fledged animated video. However, there are a number of ways to include animation within our courses – for direction and transition, for example.

Use as many modalities as possible

We’ve all heard of the idea of learning styles, which implies learners needs to receive instruction in their preferred format, be it visual, auditory or kinaesthetic. This is a neuromyth. While people may prefer different media styles, the majority of your learners will find visuals the most easy to process. Rather than personalising training to each learner, use as many modalities as possible within your digital learning content.


If you utilise these three tips to grab attention within your digital learning courses, you’ll be in good stead to creating an elearning course that really works.