Highly Interactive Vs. Highly Engaging ELearning: Understanding the Differences

When I think of interactive, I think of text entry boxes for input, surveys, branched scenarios, tabbed interactions, and games. I do want to mention that this term is not to be confused with interactivity levels, which would take our examples above and put them into categories based on complexity and the level of programming and technology required to implement them.

As shown below, Dictionary.com defines the term interactive differently than the Training and Development industry would. “A human interacting with a computer to obtain data or give immediate results”. Hmmmm. Not really how interactions were meant to be used in eLearning, right? We don’t want the learning to be one-sided and we don’t want the learner to have zero say in the output, or how it is displayed. Let’s be honest, with development tools today, we can allow the learner to select an avatar or job role, select the color of their badge, or even let them decorate their ‘virtual’ office.

I would define interactive in eLearning as ‘requiring the user to analyze data and take an action, in order to progress within the module”. In other words, they should be using their cognitive skills in some way in conjunction with basic motor skills to reveal an answer to a question or consume additional information that they previously did not have knowledge of.

Or perhaps, they are are required to use their cognitive skills to make a decision about a situation or circumstance that may or may not affect another person or persons; and then, use their motor skills to (tap/touch/click/hover over) an object to quantify or analyze their selection.

A branched scenario interaction would be representative of two-way learning, because of the immediate feedback the learner receives.

Now, let’s take a look at the term engaging. Dictionary.com defines the term as winning, attractive, or pleasing.

However, in the Training and Development industry we take it a step further. We may define engaging as “enticing, attention-grabbing, and relatable”. We not only want our eLearning to be pleasing to the eye, but hold their attention, elicit some form of emotion, and entertain them in some way.

Our end goal is that engaging content will be relatable to their personality traits and job role, and ultimately increase the retention rate of the information we are trying to embed in their short and long-term memory – which in turn may even increase their productivity and functioning levels as an employee. This is why it is so important to define your audience in the Design phase. i.e. their age, sex, educational level, etc.

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