Ten tips to build interactivity

Interactivity is a key component in the learning process. While it’s relatively easy for a teacher in a classroom to interact with the learners and, by ‘reading’ the situation, involve them in the learning process in the most effective ways, it’s much harder for those producing online learning materials. For one thing, they can only make educated guesses at their learners’ needs, state of mind, attitude to and preferences for learning and so on.

So, when developing online learning materials, it’s important to define the content that needs to be learned; determine what the learner must do as a result of completing these learning materials, and so decide on the most appropriate ‘treatment’ for the content. Users must interact with online learning materials to navigate through the materials; amass information and make decisions.

Considering what the learner needs to know or do – rather than what the teacher wants to teach – involves you in ‘interactivity’. So here are ten things to bear in mind about interactivity when you’re developing online learning materials:

  1. Allow the learners to control their learning – so they’re more likely to engage with the whole learning activity. You should always let them see where they’re going on their learning journey and what options they have at each stage of that journey.
  2. You should cater for different preferred learning styles. Not everyone wants to engage with the same type of interaction. Offer learners choices of interaction to go some way to ‘personalising’ the materials and so generate maximum engagement and motivation.
  3. Give the learners a reason to explore the materials and gather the information they need. Don’t ‘push’ information at them. Rather, let the learners ‘pull’ that information from the learning materials.
  4. Challenge the learners’ understanding – not just to find out how much they already know and, so, how much they need to learn but also to make them receptive to new ideas and ways of doing things.
  5. Give the learners choice over how they’ll learn – building in opportunities for those who need more information to get it as well as for those who need less information to learn by experiment and experience.
  6. Emphasise – in the learning materials - that these choices produce consequences. This can be done via establishing a scenario with various results depending on the learners’ decisions.
  7. Generate ‘tension’ throughout the materials. If you make learners care about the decisions they take, they’ll become more engaged with the learning materials and motivated to not only ‘succeed’ within the parameters of the learning materials but also to apply, in the real world, the lessons they’ve learned.
  8. Look for other ways – that is, things not specifically related to the materials’ learning objectives – to reward the learner for persevering with the learning materials. This could include permission to play a game (contained within the learning materials) for a while once certain key points are reached.
  9. Give helpful feedback following any assessments the learners take. That’s easier said than done!
  10. Make the materials look attractive to the user. Visually attractive materials aren’t necessarily the most effective – but if they’re not visually attractive, they won’t attract learners’ attention and, so, they’ll be ineffective anyway.

Instituted tastefully, interaction can help to make learning materials more intuitive for the user – making their message more memorable.

There are many online learning authoring tools on the market – offering a wide range of features and functionality. In this market, open source solutions are not as well evolved as they are in the LMS market, but some developments are taking place in this area.

Among the current key rapid authoring tools are:

  • Adobe Captivate – Not for the dilettante, being priced at some £1,750. Adobe has had to address HTML5 issues and, no doubt, will embrace the issues posed by the up-and-coming Tin Can.
  • Articulate – The Storyline product is proving popular but is still closely allied to converting PowerPoint into Flash.
  • Camtasia – The Camtasia suite is a series of screen capture products, and Camtasia Relay could be of interest for lecture/presentation capture and then integration into, say, Lectora.
  • Composica – An Israeli product that is widely used by professional e-learning authoring houses. It copes well with Middle Eastern and East Asian text – and ‘thin client’ infrastructures.
  • Jackdaw – A British product that uses template screens to speed up production and can create engaging environments giving a 3D context to the learning.
  • Lectora – A popular choice of authoring tool – especially with the professional development community – suited to materials dealing with detailed as well as mere ‘procedural’ learning.  Lectora will publish both Flash and HTML5 for Apps and rendering through iPads and smartphones. It complies with SCORM 1.2, 2004, AICC, Tin Can (Lectora 11 onwards) and XML.
  • Mohive – Now part of the French leadership and management business, CrossKnowledge, but originally developed in Scandinavia, it doesn’t – as yet – appear to have an HTML5 publishing output and there seems to be no mention of Tin Can. Mohive could be said to sit in the market above Articulate and Captivate and below Lectora and Raptivity.
  • Quick Lessons – A Brazilian product that creates simple content, supports several authoring teams and publishes via Uzzui to Facebook. This hosted solution appears to be weak on HTML5 and doesn’t have a clear Tin Can upgrade path – yet.
  • Rapid Intake and Easy Generator – A cloud-hosted tool, supporting both Flash and HTML5 outputs but, at present, with limited creativity and interaction functionality.
  • Raptivity From the US/Indian Harbinger Knowledge Products, this well-developed tool is widely used, especially by professional developers. It supports HTML5 output to mobile devices but appears to say nothing, at present, about Tin Can. Raptivity’s ‘claim to fame’ focuses on the speed of content creation. It also integrates with other tools, including Lectora.
  • Snap – A starter tool, from the Lectora stable – priced at $99.
  • Xerte This open source – and, thus, low cost – authoring tool from the University of Nottingham is gaining popularity among further and higher education establishments. It offers both cloud based and server based development environments but doesn’t offer the hosting solution itself.

Articulate and Raptivity tend to be the most popular of these tools at present but any user will have her/his favourite tool(s). [If you'd like to list them here please add them in comments below!]

By Bob Little

For over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially e-learning – and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA and Australia. You can contact Bob via bob.little@boblittlepr.com His e-book, ‘Perspectives on Learning Technologies’ (e-book; ASIN: B00A9K1VVS) is available from The Endless Bookcase and from Amazon. It contains over 200 pages of observations on issues in learning technologies, principally for learning & development professionals.