Interactivity – What Should It Look Like?

As custom e-learning developers we are also looking to produce the best possible e-learning course that exactly meets our client’s needs. Many times when we sit down to ask the client what they are looking for, they say, “We need our course to be interactive, not a boring page turner.” So the question becomes, what is “interactivity?”

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, e-learning practitioners were debating what exactly constituted “interactivity.” While the group did not come up with a single definition, there were two definitions that were drastically different from the rest. Thomas McDonald described it as being, “dynamically chang[ing] and adjust[ing] for each individual, so each individual gets to mastery in the shortest time.” While John Porter stated, “a very effective interaction is NOT what happens on screen — it’s something that happens within the mind of the learner …What’s happening on the screen is just a conduit for that process.”

All of this theoretical discussion is great, but what does it really look like in action?

Let’s pretend our “client” is a fine dining establishment, and upon completing an exercise the learner should be able to properly set a place setting for an evening meal. In a typical e-learning course this might have been accomplished by taking a photo of a properly set place setting and allowing the learner to mouse-over or click different areas of the photo to learn about what was placed there and why. This exercise would have been followed up with a “quiz,” in which the learner is shown pictures of place settings and asked, via multiple choice options, what is wrong. While this exercise is much better than just getting a diagram to memorize, and falling asleep while staring at it, it could be so much better. And, if I am using the definitions of McDonald and Porter, this exercise is not “interactive” at all. So what would be?

If I were creating a course for this restaurant client, here is what the exercise would look like:

The learner is presented with an empty space and all the dishes and silverware are pictured off to the side. The learner is asked to drag each piece of the tableware into the proper place, using all of the pieces. Yes, right from the start, the learner is “in the situation” — no “pre-teaching” occurs. Once the learner completes the place setting, he can click the “check my setting” button to see how he did. The elements that are in the incorrect places move back to the side of the screen. The leaner can then click on each incorrect element, learn more about them and try again.

The benefit to doing the exercise in this fashion is that it is as “hands on” as possible in virtual world. The learner is “interacting” with the “actual” elements, and he is setting the table himself in his mind’s eye. If it took you 3 tries to distinguish and properly place the dessert fork and the salad fork (the dessert fork is smaller than the dinner fork, but slightly larger than the salad fork) do you think you’d ever forget? What is happening on the screen is not the learning, it is simply the conduit.

An additional benefit to this exercise is that it can be very learner-specific. Learners who already know the information can breeze right through at warp speed and do not need to be bored with the etiquette lesson. For learners who might be new to dining etiquette, we could include a lifeline — maybe a help button that contains extra “hints” either via text or visuals. (For example, hold up your left hand and make the “OK” sign. What letter does that look like? A “b” right? The bread plate always goes on the left. Make the “OK” sign with your right hand. What letter does that look like? A “d” right? The drink (i.e. glasses) always goes on the right.) These hints would be specific, triggered by the tableware the learner misplaced, or misplaced most often.

With an exercise like this, I’d feel certain that I was meeting my client’s needs – meeting the criteria of interactivity, while ensuring the restaurant staff could properly set a table.

What creative ways, outside of the standard multiple choice, T/F, matching, drag and drop, sequencing/ordering, are you using to create unique interactive experience for the learner?

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4 Responses to “Interactivity – What Should It Look Like?”

  1. Bartłomiej Polakowski September 19, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Very interesting. However often the topic is not so “interactive” i.e. legal issues. I think that even with simple questions you can engage learner for example by simulating discussion.

    • Steve September 23, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

      I’d pose this question in response:

      – How would you expect your learners to apply the knowledge, procedures, and concepts you’re presenting in your topic?

      If this question can’t be answered, it’s quite probable that you can’t make training from it no matter how hard you try.

  2. Robert Kennedy September 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Agreed. Too many times we have “click to move on” courses that pose as interactive. We definitely do have to look a little deeper. When we do, I think we’ll find that we didn’t have to look that far to begin with.

  3. Steve September 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Two words that are thrown around in our industry that make me cringe:

    – Creativity
    – Interactivity

    Subjective and ambiguous, these use of these terms often misidentify the real problem that we’re trying to uncover and solve. Too often these terms provide an opportunity to exercise in “novice playtime” in a discipline that doesn’t match ID in any way shape or form.

    There are bigger questions the ID can pursue. What are we looking for? What’s the most valuable experience for the learner? What results are we looking for? Is the “interactivity” built to drive captivation or something more? Or are we looking to anchor the experience with task or sub-task practice? And if we are anchoring the experience with a concrete or abstract activity, what kind of feedback, demonstration, or communication opportunities does this produce?

    Too often “interactivity” ends up being an exercise in “creativity”. Ugh.

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