How to ensure your learner doesn’t drift off!

Making a course interesting, engaging and interactive is the subject of instructional design. Here, we’ll do a quick round-up of dos and don’ts that can save your course from being clicked straight through to the end! 

Avoid long bulleted lists
As we said in this post, one of the most common complaint about e-courses is long, boring bullet lists. The idea of a bulleted list is to bring together several little sub-points under a heading. This can degenerate into info overload, disguised as digestible chunks — each with a bullet. 

Remember the original purpose of the PowerPoint bullet! Trim down the text of bullets, and group them under introductory sentences where appropriate.

Group concepts together
Too much info is one thing, and disorganised info is another thing altogether — and these two are often thought of as the same thing. Again, this is a full-fledged matter for instructional designers. One simple idea is, it’s possible to make a large chunk of information — even if it must be thrust upon your learner — more palatable by organising it logically.

Respect your learner’s attention span
In The Human Attention Span Non-Debate, we said that attention span doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter whether, scientifically, humans “can focus for 35 minutes at a stretch” or whether humans actually “switch off after 25 minutes.” Even if there were such a number, the variables in course development are too many. (Suppose “the human attention span” is 40 minutes, and you have a course you expect to be boring…?)

What does matter is to keep things as short as possible — given the level of interest you expect your learner to have, given your course interface and the functionality it affords, and anything else you can think of!

Segregate high-density information
There will be cases when you must present long tracts of information — details of how something works, or product specifications, and so on. It’s a good idea to not interrupt the main flow of your course with such segments. How about a single screen with multiple tabs/buttons, instead of several screens one after the other? Your learner should be able to return to the detailed tabs at a later point in the screen.

Technically speaking, this achieves nothing, but your learner will be spared the bogged-down feeling that says “How many more of these to go?” 

Get done with it
This tip and the next come via the Articulate Rapid E-Learning blog. As Tom says, “The reality for many of learners is that they are taking the elearning course because they have to, and not necessarily because they want to. … Those people only want to see the essential information...” He suggests, “If it’s (compulsory) … why not just keep it a simple, click-and-read course?”

While this approach does give instructional design the pink slip, it is, as we’ve seen, sometimes the right way. Don’t pretend your course is what it isn’t. 

Sometimes, a picture is worth...
Along the same lines, Tom has a course snippet with way too much unnecessary branching and clicking: Two elaborate buttons for the learner to choose from, where the purpose of the branch can be served by a short, simple statement.

I’ve seen a few real-world examples like this one. Interactivity for its own sake can insult your learner’s intelligence, and waste time — for the learner and in development.