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Interactivity – engaging learners successfully in soft-skills training


Stefan Lloyd of Essentia looks at how to make the most of interactivity and deliver a full and effective soft skills e-learning programme.

I particularly like Katy Campbell’s observation on interactivity:

In good instruction, interactivity refers to active learning, in which the learner acts on the information to transform it into new, personal meaning.

I would like to share some hints and tips on how to achieve active learning in a soft skills programme.

Tip 1: Make learners think for themselves

A basic design pattern is:

1. Introduce and discuss a concept
2. Practise exercises around that concept

An example of a subject-matter concept might be - to introduce a personality-type model. Having described the model, learners need to demonstrate their understanding of the model and how to apply it. As an exercise, we might describe the characteristics of a number of individuals and ask learners to place them within the style model. To take this a stage further, we would then ask the learners to write a few sentences about how they could adapt their own style to work more effectively with each individual. They would then view answers written by the instructor – we would present these as good answers rather than the right ones.

Tip 2: Record learners’ answers

Many learners want their answers to exercises recorded so that if they revisit a page – for example for revision purpose – their previous answer is still there. You can store their answers in a database, which is automatically read when the page is presented.

Tip 3: Allow learners to share ideas

A classic way to allow people to share ideas and ask questions online is via a Discussion Board. We do that, but in some cases we also allow learners to view one another’s answers to exercises. This is valuable – for example in a corporate setting where other learners may have insights into specific situations, which the instructor cannot.

However, this facility is not appropriate in all cases – if the question were “How could I improve my relationship with my manager” many people might sensibly prefer not to share their answer freely.

Tip 4: Break up the flow

Avoid being repetitive. For example, if you have a lot to cover on one concept, only present the core as a linear set of text. Then switch to a set of optional materials, which learners can explore in their own order for the remainder. Flash movies are useful for the latter, because they can act as a self-contained “learning object” within a web page. The great majority of users – corporate and home – have the Flash plug-in installed, although not necessarily at the latest level.

Tip 5: Provide a Learning Notebook

Provide an online learning notebook in which users can make whatever notes they want – for example on how they could apply the contents of a module page in a work situation. The advantage of this over paper notes is that the notebook provides a link back to the module page they were studying when they made the note.

Tip 6: Use multi-media appropriately

If learning objectives relate directly to the use of voice, use sound clips to bring those sections of the material alive. They can also provide some variety in the delivery of material. It is possible to produce voice clips of acceptable quality at a reasonable budget.

You have to consider that while many users will be accessing e-learning over a corporate LAN, a proportion will be dialling in from home or hotel rooms. With care, it is possible to produce short sections of voice, which will download at reasonable speed over a dial-up connection while retaining acceptable quality.

Tip 7: Interact with your learners

Soft skills e-learning works best as part of a blended programme. As well as classroom sessions, consider simple web-conferences as an additional way of staying connected to your learners and their progress through the programme – interact with them and help them interact and share with each other.

You can provide a button on each page, which learners can use to ask any questions which they prefer not to put in a public Discussion Board. Check it daily and respond.

Summary Interactivity is not just forcing the user to keep clicking to get to the next page. It is fundamentally about shifting the user from passively reading material to actively engaging with the learning concepts you are putting forward. Designing truly interactive e-learning requires imagination, knowledge and a lot of hard work – but it is key to producing material, which is really able to meet your learning objectives.

Stefan Lloyd
[email protected]


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