I am one of those people who sleep walked through college and I have ended-up with a survivor’s guilt. Did I actually deserve to graduate? What would I have done if I had actually paid attention to what was being taught? I hope none of my college professors are reading my blogs (My behavior is not a reflection of the quality of the teaching staff!).
The point I am trying to make here is that training departments that run training sessions, be it online, classroom based, virtual instructor led or even mobile learning, are always on the look out for strategies to increase learner engagement. Learner engagement is like the hunt for the Holy Grail (nobody other than Indiana Jones has found it so far). Here are four simple yet effective strategies that will put your learning content on course to achieving the engagement nirvana.
1. There is a reason YouTube videos are not more than 10-mins in length. Divide and conquer your learning content. If you are conducting a classroom based training session, make sure there are logical breaks every 15 mins that allows the audience to pause and reflect. Read my blog about the flipped classroom (if you are adventurous) and see if the idea of bringing in activities to your class as opposed to using them for offline assignments makes a difference. If it’s an online course, make sure the learner is aware of the progress made at any point in time so that you remove any anxiety associated with “Oh God!, not sure if I will be alive by the time the course is done” syndrome. While most of the online courses have a timer counting down, it would be wise to allow the learner “declare victory” at frequent intervals through positive reinforcements in the form of messages and animations.
2. Start asking open-ended questions as opposed to just multiple choice type questions to check understanding. Assuming someone like me is most likely to breeze through the online content (by dragging the progress bar) or day dreams in a classroom, make sure you don’t give any opportunity for the law of probability to come in the learner’s favor. Here is an example: In a leadership training course (delivered online), rather than just asking to pick the right approach to handling an angry team member from among the various options, ask the learner to describe how he would handle a specific scenario in a free-flowing response and then have the learner discuss the response with the manager / supervisor / instructor.
3. If you are delivering your training mostly through classroom based sessions, start recording them. There are several tools available (to begin with, your phone should be able to do it) or more professional tools like Camtasia Relay and upload the content into a professional grade video learning delivery platform like Altus or Kaltura. Now for people who never paid attention in the classroom, recorded videos could give them a second chance. But what if you have an eLearning course? In such cases, it is important to tie-in eLearning with specific activities where it is applicable. Example: If it’s a training on policy compliance, make sure the link to the relevant module of the eLearning course is embedded at the appropriate section in the policy document and the appropriate section from the policy document is embedded in the various pages of the eLearning course. Such cross references addresses the “why should I care?” questions.
4. And finally, promote interaction among your students and let them learn from one another (people generally like to talk to each other, especially when the lecture is in progress). While it is easy to accomplish this in a classroom setting, it’s quite challenging when it comes to eLearning delivery. Typically, eLearning courses do not have any provision for students to interact and explore. This can be addressed by making some modifications to the learning delivery platform. Features like an option to send a message to the rest of the learners or experts, wikis, discussion threads are good enough to start conversations.
I hope you will find these strategies practical and useful. BTW, check out this TED video on Peter Norvig, who taught over 100,000 students via an interactive webcast.