We all know adding meaningful interactivity into eLearning courses allows learners to participate in the learning process, thus creating an enhanced learning environment. But building interactivities can be challenging if you don’t have the right resources, time, or money. In general, there are two ways to build interactions: 1) use a skill-based team, or 2) use a rapid interactivity builder with your authoring tool. Each method has tradeoffs and what you choose depends largely on the type of training you are developing and how important interactivity is in your course.
How to Build Interactions
The traditional, skill-based approach
Traditionally, companies have used the skill-based, team approach to build complex, custom eLearning scenarios. A skill-based team consists of an instructional designer, a graphic artist, and a programmer/ developer who all work together to create eLearning courses and interactions. Let’s look at an example of how the team approach is applied when building a course with interactive animations.
An organization needs a new course to teach employees the importance of security. The instructional designer designs the course; the team then comes together and identifies content areas where they would like to build some interactivity. The instructional designer wants a series of simulated situations with images and text and an assessment with audio/visual questions to evaluate learners. The team visualizes and designs how the interactions will work. The final step has the developer build in the interactions. At the end of the process the instructional designer uses an authoring tool, such as Captivate or Articulate, to combine the custom-created interactions—with content, graphics, and media—and turns it into a complete course.
The rapid, interactivity tool approach
On the other hand, in some companies the eLearning development group is small and solely consists of instructional designers. In this case, the instructional designers have to rely on rapid development software tools to build their eLearning courses. One such tool is an “interactivity builder,” which enables designers to build interactivity into their courses. An interactivity builder has a library of pre-built interactions, which users can view and use in existing eLearning courses. To use this tool, a user selects an interaction design template, inputs content and media, publishes the finished interaction in the desired format, and inserts it into eLearning content using an authoring tool or just plain PowerPoint.
Many companies with smaller training groups are using these tools more and more to add interactivity into their eLearning, especially when considering the costs of custom-built eLearning solutions. Interactivity builder tools can save time and programming effort that would otherwise be required to custom develop each interaction. These tools are created with reuse in mind, making them cost effective.
Here is an example of how an instructional designer would use an interactivity builder: An organization needs a new course to teach employees the importance of security. The instructional designer works with the security team to define the learning objectives. The designer creates the content and decides to include three interactions in the course. Browsing the interactivity builder library, the designer chooses a simulated situation template with images and text and an assessment with audio/visual questions. The customized template includes the designer’s own content and media assets. The final step is to import the interactions into the authoring tool. The designer then builds the rest of the course.
Interactivity Building Tradeoffs
As you can see, the two methods of creating interactions are very different. Each may be the appropriate choice, depending on circumstances. Below is a list of tradeoffs and advantages for using either a skill-based team or an interactivity builder to create interactions.
Tradeoffs using a skill-based team:
- Resources. If you have a team in place, great! Unfortunately, not all companies keep a diverse training team onsite. If you go with this option, you will spend time reviewing and hiring trained professionals and maintaining the larger team.
- Time. Designing and developing custom interactions is a very time consuming process and can take months.
- Cost. Building and testing interactions requires a lot of development time, which adds more expense.
- Less or no interactivity. When teams are short staffed or working against tight deadlines, they often find themselves focusing on just getting the course done and out the door, thereby eliminating interactivity that may enhance learning. This is a huge risk because interactivity is too important to omit.
Advantages using a skill-based team:
- Custom designs. Working together, the team can create a fresh, new design.
- Custom design variety. The developer can create a variety of custom interactions to build interest.
- Flexibility and control. For interactions that are very specific to the course or type of training, a skill-based approach provides more flexibility and control in terms of the functionality. (For example, the U.S. Army needs a customized decision-making scenario to look like a graphic novel, which will be used to strengthen cross-cultural and peacekeeping skills.)
Tradeoffs using a rapid interactivity builder:
- Less control and flexibility. The interactions are pre-built as compared to programming custom interactions. Although a great deal of customization capability is built in, when compared to using a programming language for custom developing to specifications, it may appear limited.
Advantages using a rapid interactivity builder:
- Time. Less time is spent developing interactions, therefore the developer can focus time on building custom technical pieces for the course website.
- Cost. Lower development costs mean a large staff is not needed and, generally, courses are developed more quickly.
- Reuse. The interaction design templates can be easily reused and customized to suit your content
- Productivity. Team productivity increases. Subject matter experts and instructional designers can create an interaction and insert it themselves.
What’s the Answer?
Quality interactions are essential to engage learners. However, how you create them depends on your resources, budget, time, or need for a custom scenario. A skill-based team may be appropriate, if you have the resources and your company requires custom-build interactions. However, as often times is the case, if you have limited resources but need interactivity in your courses, then an interactivity builder is a good choice; it enables you to do more with less.
This is a guest post by Janhavi Padture on behalf of Harbinger Group. Janhavi has more than 17 years experience in the information technology field with a focus on web development, project management and marketing. At Harbinger, Janhavi has been involved in strategy, marketing, CRM and new product initiatives including Raptivity®, YawnBuster®, and TeemingPod®. Janhavi has spoken at various industry conferences (and local groups on topics pertaining to online learning. Janhavi holds a master’s degree in computer science and an MBA.