Developing a Learning Culture

Levels of Interactivity (and Why You’re Overcomplicating Things)

Everyone knows that interactivity and engagement can make or break an eLearning program, but if you run a simple Web search on how to best approach interactivity, you’re going to hear a lot of noise. One firm will compare interactivity with the Olympic rings, while another makes a pie graph. Call it the elephant in the room: Every instructional designer is essentially coming up with a new slant on Bloom’s taxonomy.

But pretty pictures and clever metaphors can muddy the waters on something that should be simple to understand: Interactivity is on a spectrum. By understanding when to use different levels of interactivity, you can ditch all the noise and metaphors for a clearer picture of how to truly engage learners.

The Spectrum of Interactivity

Forget all the graphics and charts; interactivity should be thought of as a wide spectrum. On one end is a fairly passive approach. In Bloom’s taxonomy, it’s the widest portion of the pyramid. While a hands-off approach might be cheap, accessible, and fast, it also doesn’t yield the results that a more aggressive measure of interactivity might.

As the other end of the spectrum is hands-on learning opportunities that force the learner to think critically. Caveat? These can be more expensive and time-consuming, so they aren’t right for every learning situation.

Instead of worrying about the perfect recipe for interactivity based on an arbitrary industry metaphor, you really only need to ask one question: Do you need to know something, or do you need to do something?

Do You Need to Know Something?

Knowledge-based eLearning requires interactivity at the lower end of the spectrum. Sure, an engaging approach is still necessary, but it can be more hands-off than other applications. Using videos, for example, represents something at the lower end of the interactivity scale while still being highly engaging. Interactive whiteboards and even branded “movie trailer”-type multimedia is perfect for knowledge-sharing and ideal for learners who want to go back and experience the media again when necessary.

Do You Need to Do Something?

If training is behavior-based, it’s time to move to the higher side of the interactivity spectrum. Hands-on learning, critical thinking, and application all result in better training and better knowledge retention, so swapping a how-to video for simulation-based training will yield better results.

When teaching learners how to do something, interactivity should be at a maximum to allow them a safe space in which to practice new techniques. Augmented reality, simulations, and training games are all perfect examples of giving learners a chance to test their behavior before applying it in the real world. This high level of interactivity can boost confidence while improving user engagement levels.

Don’t overcomplicate the issue: Instead of categorizing learners, using graphs, or coming up with a shiny new metaphor, simplify your purposes. If a learner needs to know something, choose interactive features from the low end of the scale. If a learner needs to do something, dial up the interactivity and offer a hands-on approach.