How to Design Performance-Based eLearning Interactions

One of the most important lessons I learned when I first started designing and developing eLearning courses was the importance of building performance-based eLearning interactions. However, this wasn’t a lesson I learned quickly. When I first started as an eLearning designer, I remember being constantly reminded of the importance of making my eLearning content interactive. I was told that interactive eLearning equaled engaging eLearning. And to be 100% honest, when I look back on my early work as an eLearning designer, I can say that I had no idea what I was doing.

At the time, I figured the purpose of interactivity was to help maintain and engage the learner’s attention—as long as the learner was required to click on something, it would keep them “engaged” in the course. And so, that’s exactly how I designed my eLearning courses. Several of my very first eLearning courses included content that was organized into simple, click-to-reveal interactions. Whether it was a series of tabbed buttons or pulsing icons, all of the interactions were essentially the same: the learner would click a button and it would reveal some content for the learner to digest.

While I believe that click-to-reveal interactions have their place, they simply don’t allow the learner to apply their critical thinking skills. In other words, the only knowledge or skill the learner needs to apply to complete a click-to-reveal interaction is the use of their mouse and nothing more.

For me, as a new eLearning designer, it wasn’t until I was required to sit through an eLearning course that was filled with click-to-reveal interactions that I started thinking about whether my eLearning interactions were meaningful or passive. I quickly realized that I was designing eLearning interactions that were simply displaying additional information for the learner to consume, rather than helping to drive performance by having the learner apply the skills being taught.

In this post, I’ll share two practical tips you can use for designing meaningful, performance-based eLearning interactions.

Focus Your eLearning Content on Performance.

How to Design Performance-based eLearning interactions by Tim Slade

My first tip for designing performance-based eLearning interactions has nothing to do with interactivity, but rather the nature of your course content. You see, one of the biggest hurdles to designing meaningful interactivity starts with whether or not you’re trying to solve a gap in knowledge or a gap in performance. Trust me, there’s a big difference!

Too often, we’re tasked with creating eLearning courses that attempt to solve for what learners need to know, rather than what they need to do. While I do believe there are times when you might need to design an eLearning course that only transfers knowledge; if the issue you’re trying to solve is one of performance, you can expect that eLearning course to fail. This is because knowledge and performance aren’t mutually exclusive. We often assume that if our learners know more, they’ll do more. This is not the case.

The first step to designing performance-based eLearning interactions is to make sure your course is focused on performance and behaviors. What is it that your learners need to do to achieve the desired performance outcome? Once you have an understanding of the specific behaviors you’re looking to affect with your eLearning course, you can then target your eLearning interactions towards those behaviors.

To do this, I always recommend conducting a needs analysis to determine the root cause of a performance issue, and a task analysis to determine the specific steps learners need to take to complete a task.

Design eLearning Interactions to Put Behaviors Into Practice.

How to Design Performance-based eLearning interactions by Tim Slade

My second tip for designing performance-based eLearning interactions is to allow the learner to put the desired behaviors into practice. This is the key element that differentiates a knowledge-based eLearning course from a performance-based eLearning course.

For example, let’s say I needed to create an eLearning course on how to respond to an angry customer. I could create a course that outlines the steps for deescalating an angry customer, but that doesn’t mean my learners will be able to demonstrate those behaviors the next time they are faced with that situation. That’s because the learners need to practice responding to an angry customer before they actually face an angry customer in real life.

One example would be to create an interactive scenario where the learner needs to deescalate an angry customer by selecting the appropriate response, using the skills they had been taught previously. Depending on how the learner responds to the angry customer, the scenario could branch to a series of different outcomes. Through this, the learner could apply the skills being taught in an experiential way, without fear of failure. And if they do fail, they can see (and learn from) the consequences of their actions, without fear of retribution.

The Bottom Line

Designing performance-based eLearning interactions starts with knowing what behaviors you’re trying address in the first place. Once you know the behaviors you’re looking to affect, it becomes much easier to design interactions that target the application of those behaviors within your eLearning course.

Focusing your eLearning interactions on what you want learners to do, rather than what they need to know, will not only help to better engage your learners in your course, but also help you make a measurable impact on your organization.

What other tips can you share for designing performance-based eLearning interactions? Share them by commenting below!

Additional Resources

Tim Slade
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, and award-winning freelance eLearning designer. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. Tim is a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, is a recognized Articulate Super Hero, author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook and creator of The eLearning Designer's Academy.

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