Friday, July 07, 2006

It's All About Engagement

We had 34 participants from across North America attend our webinar yesterday titled "How to Keep Your Online Learners Engaged." Although they represented a wide cross-section of sectors (e.g. financial services, business services, health, education, government, etc.), they had remarkably similar perspectives on what is necessary to engage learners.

We focused on two case study examples: an online sales training challenge, and an online workplace harassment training challenge. Participants were asked to brainstorm ways of transforming traditional "tell-and-test" approaches to these two challenges into training interventions that would build and sustain learner interest, and that would lead to actual changes in behaviour.

The ideas generated for improving on the tell-and-test approach included: simulations, scenarios, stories, games, role playing, and sharing experiences. The common theme among all these ideas was the need to bring learning to life, to lift it up from the one-dimensional, static presentation and recitation of information. In other words, how can we make the training approximate, as closely as possible, the real work environment and immerse learners in this by having them react to situations and see immediate feedback on their decisions?

By "making it real," learners can see the relevance of the training to their situation, and are much more likely to be fully engaged in the experience. And by practicing realistic decision-making in a safe environment where they are free to make mistakes, they are more likely to internalize the key points and apply the lessons learned on the job.

Learner engagement is a huge challenge in all training, but especially so in eLearning as you do not have a captive audience (they can leave with one click). This is less likely to happen if you can immerse them in realistic situations where they make decisions and get immediate feedback.

Doing this requires a different approach to learning design. Instead of the traditional model of present information / test on it, you have learners making decisions and drawing on relevant content as needed to help make decisions (or in providing corrective feedback). The difference in the latter approach is that the content is being understood and applied in context. This is a huge difference, as learners will not only be more engaged, they will internalize the learning as it is no longer something abstract and without context.


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