Coaching & Leadership

Yawn-Proof E-Learning: 6 Tips to Keep the Boring Stuff Interesting

Arne Van Damme

COO at intuo

E-learning lets people learn at their own pace, but that's not a guarantee for engaging courses. Because let’s face it, no matter which industry you’re in, there is some pretty boring stuff out there that has to make it into a lot of brains. Here are some tips on how to succeed in doing so.

  1. Have a User-Friendly platform

    If it takes too much time and effort to learn how to work with the software that is supposed to help you learn, well… that’s a problem. There’s no use in creating elaborate and well thought-out courses if they’re too hard to reach or illogical to navigate through. Either they won’t be reached at all or the user will start and go through the courses with a fair dose of frustration. You will want to avoid that. Starting off with a good amount of motivation and determination is crucial for the learning process, so make sure the software you use is top notch.

  2. Grab the Attention

    “Please open your handbooks at page 1” is not how you get people to ride an informative rollercoaster. Not then, not now. Give the users some incentive as to why they’d better pay attention. Start off with a couple of cool facts or tell a captivating story. During the history of mankind, stories have always been a crucial part when it comes to passing down knowledge. So we’re pretty much “programmed” to listen to them.

    Another way of triggering interest is starting off with a demanding test or posing some challenging questions. When you’re writing a course, imagine you’re the user and what kind of questions you would have. Promise (and deliver) an answer for those if the user stays on board for the whole ride. Don’t give up the punchline of your joke right away, so to speak.

  3. Communicate as a Normal Human Being

    Speaking of jokes, it never hurts to put one or two in your courses. We’re not talking about the most clever puns in the world here, but just something that reminds the users that they’re dealing with a helpful colleague rather than an authoritative instructor.

    Think about your favourite teachers back in school, and how they brought across their point. They would always talk to you as their equal, making sure that the vocabulary and terminology they used was clear and understandable. Read it aloud to yourself once you’re done and see if it comes off naturally. Sometimes there’s no way around a couple of technical terms or a little bit of jargon, but present them well and they’ll stick around longer.

  4. Motivate Instead of Dictate

    One area where that good kind of communication comes in very handy is when dealing with the objectives of the course. Stating your expectations in a formal bullet list can lead to a bit of unwanted pressure to deliver on those. Not to say you can’t have objectives, but if the users feel they have to know these things by the end of the course, it can trigger an “I have to make sure I’ll pass this exam or else” kind of feeling. Which is a huge turn-off. So you might want to consider a more motivational approach.

    Once again put yourself in the user’s shoes and figure out what they want. Try to rephrase your objectives so that they turn into subjects which the users genuinely care about. They will be much more motivated to get answers to their questions, rather than “meeting your demands”.

    For example, turn this:

    1. Identify the main problems of the customer
    2. Offer valuable solutions to those problems
    3. Do so in many different situations

    into this:

    1. You’ll be able to ask the right questions to analyse your customer’s situation
    2. Without hesitation, you’ll have the appropriate responses ready
    3. Even if the customer is upset, you’ll have the tools to remain stress-free and calm him down

  5. Use the Right Kind of Fancy Pictures

    A picture is worth a thousand words, but only the right picture is. Pick images that reinforce your words (and vice versa). It’s so easy to think that some random picture will flare up your content instantly but why bother if it doesn’t have an actual purpose? Too much visual input can distract or confuse the user if it has nothing to do with the rest of the content.

    Also refrain from using those same old stock images again and again because that generic feeling of those pictures may translate into a generic impression of your courses, damaging their credibility. Be authentic. It almost goes without saying that a beautifully designed course makes your content much more attractive, pleasing both the eye and brain of the beholder. Below you’ll find an example of a visually appealing course design vs. …well let’s call it “a generic one”.

    Not exactly the prettiest
  6. Don't Just Show and Tell, Interact

    Don’t solely rely on the narrative and attractive visuals. Include the user in the learning process as much as you can. There are a lot of people who have trouble with listening and watching for long periods of time, so be sure to mix it up with some interaction. Ask some questions after certain topics or create scenarios in which the user has to make some decisions to continue with the course. Let different answers have different outcomes and use them for feedback. This kind of gamification not only keeps e-learning challenging and somewhat entertaining but simulates real life situations too. You’re trying to create a knowledgeable problem solver, rather than just a walking encyclopedia.

  7. Do Something Different

    For example: have "7" tips when the title clearly says “6”. Go over the top with some visuals, make a funny analogy, put your users a bit on a wrong foot only to reveal the truth with a complete 180° plot twist! Be authentic, as we said before. People like surprises and things that stand out. Not every course has to be a piece of art of course, but do something different once and a while. It keeps the users on their feet and a couple of things out of the ordinary burn into the memory quite well. A lasting impression is what you want.