As instructional designers, we possess a unique skill to take sometimes mundane information and turn it into an interactive educational experience that learners engage with. To do this, we know that learners need to be active, challenged and purpose-driven in order to get maximum results. However, this is easier said than done in a corporate training environment.
In our trainings, we want to create an environment where people are invested in their own learning. In this article, I hope to provide some easy to implement tips to take content and transform it into an engaging experience.
What is engaging learning?
Instead of throwing this phrase around, I want to make sure we are on the same page of what engaging and interactive learning is. To create an engaging learning environment, you need to craft activities that encourage learners to interact with the content more than just reading or hearing it. Your learners should be able to understand and apply the content, not just blindly regurgitate what you tell them to.
Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework used all throughout education to refer to the various levels and complexity in learning. We start at the bottom with the simplest form of learning: remembering. This entails reciting content verbatim and recalling facts. This is the simplest form of memorization, and easiest to interact with. Almost always, however, we need our learners to engage with content though understanding and applying it, if not also analyze, evaluate and create new content. I will refer to these stages of Bloom’s taxonomy in this article to discuss how each activity applies to the larger educational context.
Enough of why engaging learning environments are important, let’s dive into techniques you can use to build these environments for your own trainings.
Develop Problem-Based Activities
As human beings, we are required to solve problems multiple times everyday, such as: how can I choose a healthy lunch?, What is the best route to get home?, How can I explain an idea to my colleagues? People inherently try to solve problems because they benefit from success at the end.
Problem-based activities work best when learners are collaborating with other learners to solve the problem together. This allows team members to keep each other accountable and rely on each other for research and ideas to develop the most conclusive product. Once the group has determined an appropriate solution, they present their answer to the class for feedback and evaluation.
To include problem-based group activities into your classrooms, present a broad problem that learners might encounter within their field. For example, for flight attendants, the problem could be:
During your flight, a passenger is found unconscious in the bathroom. What steps would you take in this situation?
Once students receive the problem, they must negotiate and research the best steps to solve it in the most timely and efficient manner. Many times in these problems, there is not one absolute solution but multiple ones that allow the learners and instructor to discuss several solutions in addition to the pros and cons each one offers.
Don’t think that problem-based learning can only take place in instructor-led environments. With e-learning, you can create similar situations that engage learners individually instead in a group setting. Like with the example in the previous paragraph, give the learner a broad-stated problem. Next, you can offer 3-4 possible solutions that the students can choose from. To continue the engagement, craft responses for each solution that explains the outcome from this choice. Lastly, depending on the complexity, craft another set of follow-up scenarios to continue the problem-solving.
Role-Playing that Simulates Real Life
Many times, we are training our learners to interact successfully in various role within and outside of a company. Simulating a role play helps learners take the course content from the remember and understand stages in Bloom’s taxonomy to the apply and analyze stages. Let’s look at ways you can incorporate role-plays in your courses.
The best way to create a realistic role play is, of course, to role play in real life, outside of the classroom. For example, if you are training customer service representatives, they should interact with whomever you’re training them to, maybe customers, management, colleagues, etc. When role playing in the real world, you can use video recording to document the interaction and evaluate afterwards. This is one of the best learning situations because it allows learners to practice with clear criteria within their domain of experience.
For example, let’s say your training is for recently hired customer sales associates and the learning goal is to respond successfully to customer complaints. On your index cards, you can write scenarios like “customer unhappy with product”, “customer overcharged for product”, and have learners create a conversation between the employee and customer that will answer the question while matching the needs of both the customer and business.
When information is presented to learners, it sits in their short-term memory for a bit, but if learners are not asked to recall it, they will soon forget and have a much harder time accessing what they need to. Because of this, I recommend that you constantly ask learners questions about what they’ve just learned and create low-stakes activities that encourage recalling information.
Role playing is a great way to not only help learners retain knowledge, but to see how effectively the content was presented. If most learners did not retain the content, you might consider to rethink how you present it. Below are three ways to create low-stakes assessment within questions.
Fill in the Blank
Since we are only looking for learners to recall content, using fill in the blank allows them to identify one to three key words (usually the main topic of the content). This is an example used for a flight attendant training:
Personal __________ __________ should be turn off and properly stowed during taxi, take-off and landing.
Determine Correct InformationWhen learners are presented with various pieces of information, asking them to identify which pieces are correct might be the best choice. Using the same example from a flight attendant training, you could:
Determine which statements you must complete before the aircraft has started its final descent.
- all safety exits are functioning properly
- verify all seats are upright
- tray tables are latched in the seat in front of you
- all passengers have their seatbelt safely fastened
When learning very complex information, you might decide to use a true/false questions which allows you to see if learners understand the basic comprehension of the content. For example, you could ask:
If you notice suspicious activity during a flight, you might consider notifying the lead flight attendant.
Remember, the main purpose of these questions is to recall information, which will help learners remember information in their long-term memory.
While this is just a short list of ways you can create engaging learning content, please do not see this as limiting. Be creative with the ways you engage your audience and build trainings that enhance your learners experience and performance.