Engagement in learning: A digital conundrum

Engagement in learning is not a new topic. But with so many turning to remote working, and thus learning, it’s a topic that is now at the forefront of everyone’s mind. How do we create learning that is truly engaging? How do we overcome distracting environments – such as the sofa, or the TV?
 
Well there are some simple steps you can take, but all need one skill: The ability to think outside the box.
 
The first step to creating truly engaging digital learning is to forget everything you know about eLearning. Forget slides with a click next button in the bottom right corner. Erase the slides with paragraphs of text and an image from your mind. Pretend those (super easy to guess) multiple choice questions never existed.
 
Start with a clear mind, and the possibilities are endless.
 

Take inspiration from the world around you

We live in an increasingly digital world. The time we spend attached to our digital devices (phones, laptops, tablets etc.) is increasing. Your learners are no different. So mimic the digital applications they’re used to using in your digital learning. And remember, unlike years gone by, your learners are likely to be using a range of devices to access your courses.
 
Take inspiration from the UX (user experience) design of popular apps, for example. Any blog about the best UX for apps speaks about usability, user goals and clear calls to actions (and the best even consider designing for fat thumbs!)
 
Or you could take inspiration from the user experience of websites. Google is littered with blogs listing the websites with the best UX. Many consider the humanising tech, and simplifying design – these of course, are great tips for your eLearning desgin, too
Echoing the world around your learners is a sure-fire way to increase engagement in learning content.
 

Tell a story

It’s been over four months since the UK went into lockdown due to Covid-19. As soon as Boris Johnson announced that we should stay at home, most of the population did one thing. We ran to Netflix. Or YouTube. Or maybe some people got out an old-fashioned box-set (yes, of actual DVDs). This influx of TV watching caused Netflix and YouTube to degrade the quality of their streaming service, to cope with demand.
 
But the key message I take from this is: We want to listen to (or watch) stories. We finally had the time to do all the DIY jobs we’d been putting off – but we turned to our TVs. Your learners are those exact people who snuggled up to binge-watch a Netflix series over the last few months. So why not tell them a story, that’ll teach them something new?
 
We created a great example of this for MTC (if we do say so ourselves). You can check out the course below:
 

 
This course, based on the Netflix series ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’, is scenario-based learning, where the learner is truly in control.
 
Storytelling in learning isn’t a new tactic. But it’s often overlooked when it comes to digital learning. Don’t do it – tell your learners a story, and you’ll see knowledge retention spike.
 

Speak to your learners

No, I don’t mean planning a Zoom call with every one of the 1,000s of learners who will take your course. But speak to them at the beginning of the course, tell them what to expect from the learning at hand. Set clear learning objectives, that explain why the information they’re gong to learn is important, and how it’ll benefit them.
 
If you’re anything like me, as soon as you read ‘learning objectives’ you imagined a slide with bullet points. I’m right, aren’t I?
 
You also thought ‘yeah right, the learners will just click past it’, didn’t you? It doesn’t have to be this way. Check out the opening slide of this course we created:
 
The objectives are clear, you read them and now you know what you’re going to get out of the course. Without any eye-rolling learners in sight! Letting your learners in on the ‘secret’ learning objectives of your course is bound to increase engagement in learning.
 

Be mindful of learners’ time

You’re busy. Your learners are too. If your course is taking them over half an hour to complete – chances are they’re un-engaged and willing the course to end. There’s a tonne of research out there, and nobody has quite defined the optimal length of an eLearning course. But, the one thing all research agrees is that attention spans are decreasing, and shorter bursts of digital learning is better than a super long eLearning module.
 

And finally, does it need to be a course at all?

Digital learning is so much more than an eLearning course. Digital learning can (and should) include a variety of resources that your learners can easily access through your LMS or intranet. Think blogs, videos or online discussions. All of these are fantastic mediums for online learning.
 
No, the person commissioning the eLearning course might not be your biggest fan when you question if it needs to be a full-blown eLearning module. But it’s always worth questioning. Tom Kuhlmann, Chief Learning Architect at Articulate summed this up back in 2010 on his blog:
 
“If the course isn’t tied to real performance improvements, it might not be worth building.  During the initial project meetings, I try to get the client to tie the course to real performance goals.  If they can’t, then I suggest that a course might not be the best option.”
 
 
I hope this blog has given you some food for thought when it comes to ensuring engagement in learning – especially in the digital world. Now you’ve read how to make your learning engaging – why not think about making it binge-worthy?