Interactivity – when do we need it?

I've been coaching some trainers who are starting to script elearning and the question has come up about when to include interactivity and when it's not necessary.

First we had to agree on how we'd use the word; I've had people talking about modules saying "we'll include some audio because people like the learning to be interactive." Eh? So I'd say that in this context interactivity doesn't include:

  • clicking menus
  • clicking headings or images to reveal blocks of text in the order you want them (e.g. click each of the three customers to see their comments)
  • click 'next' to continue.

To me these come under 'user control' rather than interactivity. So the 'interactions' that come with Articulate Engage, and many of those that come with Raptivity, aren't interactivity but user control. That's not a criticism of them, but just a distinction I find useful.

Interactivity is activity aimed at processing the information presented in order to

  • help chunk it for memory management
  • allow self-assessment – have I grasped this?
  • keep interest and motivation, for example, by asking questions in the context of a game.

Coming from Computer-Based Training I used to dogmatically think 'interactivity good, simple presentation baaaad', but things like Shift Happens and Cathy Moore's Dump the Drone and Action Mapping show  that a compelling presentation doesn't need – and would be compromised by – gratuitious questions and clicktivities (hey I invented a word!).

So a tentative statement about when it should be used would be:
Is the aim of the learning (a) to raise awareness or (b) to change behaviour?
If it's clearly (a) then interactivity isn't necessary. As with the examples above, good script and good presentation are what's needed.

If it's clearly (b) then some interactivity will help transfer the message to long term memory or changed behaviour (if it's relevant, targetted etc ).

Where it's not clear you could ask the question – will awareness (a) itself lead to behaviour change (b)?  So for example I would expect that in a motivated learner who is hungry for new ideas (like me when I came across Dump the Drone) the awareness was enough of a spark to move toward changes in my behaviour with the subject experts I worked with. If you're sure enough of your audience and of the message, and the message is concise enough not to need further chunking then maybe interactivity isn't necessary. If you're not, then good interactivity (not just user control) will help.

Am I right?

4 thoughts on “Interactivity – when do we need it?”

  1. I like your distinction between “user controls” and “interactivity.” Click to Learn exercises are so often billed as interactive exercises, but they’re little more than a way of chunking up the content (which is fine, too).

  2. Great post Norman. As instructional designers, we take short cuts to add ‘clicktivities’ and hope the course is interactive. We have a similar predicament when we use the word ‘engaging’ and try and add media elements to make the content engaging. John Grisham and Harry Potter are engaging and these don’t have any media elements.

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