What are eLearning Interactions?
Meaningful interactions are at the heart of eLearning. They provide the dialogue between a person and the device. Interactions facilitate learning, because they require the learner to be active rather than a passive reader or listener.
Interactivity takes the audience beyond page-turner presentations. It provides learners with a way to problem solve and practice in a simulated environment, improving learning transfer.
Don’t confuse meaningful interactions with a click to reveal information. Although these may be necessary because of screen real estate, click to reveal does not facilitate learning.
Here are some tips for designing interactions in eLearning.
1. Sketch First
In the book, Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook, the authors state that “sketching is about design, not just drawing.” There’s no need to get overwhelmed by sketching—drawing geometric shapes and stick figures is sufficient. The act of creating these simple representations helps us ideate.
2. Make it User-centered
You may already practice user-centered design. In this approach, audience members or users become the center of the design process. You consider who they are, what they really need to learn and what work challenges they face on a daily basis. If you keep this in mind during design, you can go beyond focusing on the content alone, even when it’s required compliance training.
3. Keep Your Eye on the Goal
There is some debate as to whether design should be task-oriented or goal-oriented. Interactive learning experiences for adults tend to be task-oriented because they are designed to teach workplace skills. On the other hand, we know that goals are important for human motivation. When possible, place task-based interactions in the context of larger goals that are meaningful to the audience.
4. Create a High-level Aid
People like to know where they are and where they are going. If an interaction involves multiple steps, provide learners with a map or path of the interaction. This visual overview will help them construct a conceptual model of the interaction, so they can succeed.
5. Build a Visual Hierarchy
You’ll probably include brief instructions with your interaction, even if it involves exploration and discovery. But what about all the people who skip instructions and just start? If you want users to to take a certain step first, direct their eyes to the priority action through visual emphasis. You can achieve this with the layout, size of the elements, bright color or simply label it “Start Here.”
6. Consider the Aesthetics
Create an engaging and responsive environment by making interactions aesthetically pleasing. De-clutter the layout, use a pleasing color palette and label elements consistently. Do what it takes to make the interactive experience enjoyable to the senses.
7. Accommodate Working Memory
People can typically hold around 3 or 4 bits of information in working memory at one time. As you design interactions, limit the number of elements, instructions or moving parts that the learner will need to simultaneously keep in mind. In addition, limit the number of choices. It’s easier for people to make decisions when there are fewer choices compared to many choices. See What is working memory?
8. Accommodate Mental Models
Mental models are our idea of how the world operates. Researchers say that our mental models are simpler than reality. When designing interactions, attempt to match the mental models that are common to your audience. This is an important way to promote ease-of-use. For example, common models might be how to use an ATM machine or shoot a video on your phone.
9. Use Affordances
Donald Norman reinterpreted the concept of affordances to mean the properties of an object that help us determine how it should be used. For example, when a 2D button has shadows and bevels so that it appears to be a 3D object, this provides a signal that the button should be clicked. When you use affordances, such as visual cues or making elements look like real-world objects, the user is more likely to understand how to use an interaction. See more on Affordances.
10. Provide Meaningful Feedback
People prefer immediate feedback when they take an action, but this doesn’t mean the feedback needs to be in platitudes, such as “Good job!” For simulations and problem-solving scenarios, allow the feedback to occur naturally, as part of the interactive system. For example, in a medical interaction a patient may experience side effects to a drug. In an automotive repair simulation, the car might sputter and fail to start.