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How to Captivate Your Learners


September 6, 2019



How to Captivate Your Learners

What was your best learning experience you’ve ever had? What was it like? We guess your response may be – “I had this really amazing teacher…” or “I was on this field trip…” or “I was performing this experiment at the lab…” or maybe all of the above. There is little, to almost no, chance that you have had zero enjoyable learning experiences to date!

A decade ago it is was not often you heard someone say, “I’ve had this really great learning experience!” or “I love work training!”? Fast forward to our digital age and it is becoming the norm. This suggests that a lot of what makes for a great learning experience is not about the content but is about the way the content is taught.

What do you think the difference is between a learning experience that’s effective versus one that is forgotten? For one, a good learning experience will allow learners to emerge from it with new or improved capabilities to apply to the real world, able to help them do things they need or want to. But how? Enter, eLearning and mobile learning.

Regardless of how instruction is delivered – through instructor-led activities, eLearning or other means – the level of interactivity within a learning environment is what drives learning. Therefore, while designing for an agile, easy to manage learning management system, it will be determinant of the learning effect it will have on learners. Designing an application that overcomes learner apathy and that motivates users to exhibit intended behavior requires an in-depth understanding of user personas, their context, their motivation drivers, and designing user interactions and mechanics that build on this understanding of influential behavior. Mobile learning and microlearning give rise to an interactive learning strategy to immerse learners in a successful and motivating learning environment. When surrounded by interactivity, learners are captivated meaning that they are more likely to complete an increased volume of training in shorter bursts.

Now that you know that engaging your learners is the key to making them learn, let’s delve a little into the human brain. There are two separate parts of your brain that are in control:

The conscious verbal thinking brain – It is your rationale, helps-you-control-your-impulses and plan-for-the-future brain. It allows you to restrain your wants and plan for all sorts of useful things that you know will provide long-term benefit.

The automatic emotional visceral brain – It is your go-with-what-feels-right part of the brain. It’s drawn to things that are pleasurable, comfortable, or familiar.

This go-with-what-feels-right part of the brain is what you need to captivate and engage your learners. So, let’s check out the ways to captivate your learners’ using exactly this part of their brain.

Some ways to captivate your learners through a mobile or microlearning course:

1. Tell them stories

People like stories – They have amazingly sticky memories for well-told stories, particularly ones that arouse emotions. You may wonder how stories are useful learning tools? Firstly, our brains have a framework for stories. We will try to understand things by considering and recalling our previous experiences. Secondly, stories have a logical flow as they usually involve sequenced events. They also create suspense, whereby individuals have a tendency to construct ideas of where the story is going. Finally, stories are usually engaging, meaning that when a story is being told, the implied promise is that there’s an interesting reason for this story and therefore you should pay attention.

Make them the heroes – You can make your learners heroes of their own stories, just like in games. Games allow us to experience competence, control and effect our environment to become more immersive and informative. While designing learning experiences, you withhold a similar responsibility, which is to make your learners feel capable. Thus, using a story enables you to make learners feel that there is reason to pay attention to the information, that there is a goal and time pressure, and also that there is a sense of urgency.

2. Surprise them

To captivate your learners, surprising them is a one sure-shot way to get their attention.

Give them unexpected rewards – People have a much stronger response to unexpected rewards than they do to ones they know are coming. Games do this well. In contrast, feedback in a lot of eLearning is almost mind-numbingly consistent – “Well done! You got it right. The correct option is option B.” Consistency helps reduce cognitive load. However, too much consistency may result in learners ignoring feedback in the long-term. To avoid this, it is important to maintain extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in employees. Rewards and recognition are the two major culprits in maintaining the element of surprise in your training. Surprise rewards and real-prizes, as well as constructive feedback, is a long-term strategy in engaging and captivating employees.

Make way for cognitive dissonance – Another form of surprise is introduced when learners are presented with something that is contrasting with their own view of the world. The term for this is cognitive dissonance. At this point, you get a “teachable moment”, when this nice element of friction requires the learner to actively reconcile a disparate idea.

Arouse their curiosity – Humans are curious by nature, and if you can incite that curiosity, you can successfully get and maintain their attention. So, how do you make your learners curious? You can ask them interesting questions that will require them to interpret or apply the information, not just recall it. Perhaps you can be mysterious by using a mystery as a framing device for instruction, or as a puzzle for learners to solve. Leaving pieces of information out is also an effective strategy for employee training. Putting less information into the upfront presentation of the content, unlike traditional instructional design approaches, means that learners will delve deeper into content, bettering knowledge retention and recall ability. Learners will be encouraged to work to fill in the gaps and adopt strategies for approaching the incomplete information in the best way possible.

3. Help them socialize

Humans are social creatures. One way to get your learners’ attention is to create a sense of social engagement as they pay more attention when there are other people involved. Social learning can take many forms. It can involve group projects or be less formal knowledge exchanges using social media. There are some specific ways to leverage social interaction to engage the learner, including collaboration, competition, and social proof.

Collaboration – When you use collaborative learning, a number of social influences act to get the learner involved. Group activities require negotiation, support, social obligations, and other small-group dynamics that require the learner to engage and pay attention.

Social proof – In an online learning environment, being able to see who else has taken a class or what their level of participation was can influence the behavior of subsequent learners.

4. Help them visualize

There are a number of visual techniques utilised to  attract the learner’s attention, including visual aids, themes, fonts and layouts.

Visual-aids – The common learner is extremely visual. Visuals may help distribute the load and provide context to learners. Using visual information can provide several extra cues to give your learners more hooks for storing and retrieving the information.

Themes – Include effective theming in your learning experience design. Theming is made possible in the utilization of a good authoring tool, such as SC Training (formerly EdApp). SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s LMS offers a vast library filled with a plethora of ready-made templates, each with the option to include unique branding and themes.

Fonts and layouts – It is obvious that design decisions influence people’s behavior. It is also a fact that people find information that is shown in easier-to-read fonts as being easier to grasp than information shown in a hard-to-read font. Adhere to the graphic design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, and you will be able to adopt a clear and concise technique in the creation of your courses.

5. Leverage their habits

To captivate your learners, it is useful to research the brands, hobbies, media (tv, films, games, websites) that your target audience enjoys. It will give you a better idea of the aesthetics and interactions that your learners like. If your audience loves something, it is of great benefit to utilize these to make your learning design more engaging and worthwhile for them. It is a given that your entire audience will not like the same thing, however it is useful to search for a common thread to use in your design.

We hope these ways are useful in your understanding of how to captivate learners and in the  formulation of effective courses for a worthwhile investment into mobile and microlearning courses!

If you would like to learn more about how to build the most effective employee training strategy!

If you’d like to know more about how SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s mobile learning platform can help your internal training practices, get in touch at enquiries@edapp.com. You can also try SC Training (formerly EdApp)’s Mobile LMS and authoring tool for free by signing up here.

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Guest Author Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is a senior technical editor and writer that has worked in the education and technology sectors for two decades. Their background experience includes curriculum development and course book creation.

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