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A summary of our guide to interaction and its impacts on e-learning outcomes and development, for anyone who procures or builds e-learning.

Interactions are ways of actively engaging an audience with learning material. They might include uncovering, matching, identifying, selecting, or exploring content.

Getting the right type and amount of interaction can be a challenge in learning design. It is easy to be tempted by impressive screen effects, innovations, or the clever tricks offered by rapid development learning templates. While sometimes interactivity is notable for its absence, at other times it is used as a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Understanding the optimal level of interactivity for your learning needs will help you to set expectations for stakeholders and enable you to brief suppliers accurately on your requirements.

What are we trying to teach?

The most effective forms of interaction and instruction are designed to suit the types of knowledge being taught. Whether you are working with a bespoke learning consultancy or using a DIY rapid authoring tool, the first question to ask is, what are you trying to teach, and how?

Is it factual knowledge, that relates to understanding a subject’s foundational facts or details? Or conceptual knowledge of principles, generalisations, theories, models or structures? Do we need to teach our learners procedural knowledge about the methods, skills and techniques of doing something? Or are we seeking to develop metacognitive knowledge – self-knowledge about what affects our learning and thinking?

We can also ask how complex is the learning need? Learners may require straightforward knowledge gain, or they may need to know how to apply it in practice. Maybe the training content is complicated or sensitive, or combines knowledge, application and behavioural elements. At its most complex level, learning may involve preparation for critical operations and processes that involve high risk, stress or danger.

Exploring these fundamental questions about learning needs is the starting point for choosing suitable learning activities.

Interactivity: what do we need it to do?

Interaction happens through the mind, not the mouse. Here are four characteristics of meaningful interaction:

1) It places the learner in control

Learning is available on demand. Each learner constructs their own course by configuring information. Learners can find content when they search for it and return easily to continue or repeat sessions.

2) It gives the learner a usable environment

The learner can access content as desired and manage the pace and sequence of the material.

3) It immerses the learner in tasks

The learner is immersed in real-life situations to practise skills, test solutions, form concepts and mentally rehearse actions. Many techniques used in games can be transferred to immersive learning.

4) It strengthens skills, knowledge and confidence

The learner receives appropriate feedback so that they can both learn from their mistakes and see evidence of their progress.

The fourth point is crucial. Shallow “correct”/”incorrect” responses are the default feedback in many authoring tools, but this is not the sort of feedback that maximises learning. Useful feedback can take a number of forms:

  • Real world consequences in simulated environments
  • Hints and cues that facilitate learning through trying and failing
  • Branching in scenarios where learners follow a path based on their actions
  • Context-sensitive feedback that is highly specific to the learner’s response
  • Incentivised feedback such as points and other immediate, gamified outcomes
  • Peer feedback through social tools
  • Explanatory feedback that builds learner understanding of their actions
  • Self-directed feedback that supports learners in self-evaluation and reflection
  • Worked examples that demonstrate how to solve a problem

The four degrees of interactivity

It is common to find interactivity described as one of four levels of complexity.

Level 1: Passive

The learner absorbs information through text, graphics, illustrations and charts. As with a movie, the viewer sits back and watches. This may be appropriate for quickly passing on information such as new rules or policy.

Level 2: Limited Interaction

Here the learner uses straightforward multiple choice, pop-ups, rollovers or simple animations to respond to instructional cues.

Level 3: Complex Interaction

This level introduces more complex responses to cues. The learner might type into text-entry boxes or move graphical objects. This level also includes sophisticated simulations where the learner enters data or sets off reactions with branching consequences.

Level 4: Real-time Interaction

A real-time mix of complex cues and responses that mirrors the work situation, popular in safety-critical industries. It may be done through simulation or by directing activity in the real workplace.

Remember: All of these levels can be engaging and effective. To help make decisions about interactivity, remember to ask your supplier:

  • What do you think I need?
  • What forms and level of interactivity will be included?
  • How does this meet my needs?
  • How long will it take to build?
  • What will it cost?
  • How will we measure success?

Find out more

The full guide and details of source materials are available in our White Paper, here: https://uploads.walkgrove.co.uk/62/Walkgrove-Interactivity-White-Paper.pdf

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