Many of you may be familiar with the phrase: “Interactivity is in the mind, not in the mouse.” I’d endorse that statement, with the following caveat: It’s okay to depend on the mouse to get the mind engaged.
Unfortunately, the majority of corporate self-paced online learning consists of screen turners, which is the equivalent of page turners in a print model. That sort of courseware commits cruel and unusual punishment—boredom—upon its victims/learners. The irony is that online learning actually lends itself to interaction, and with little effort can be far more engaging than some traditional classroom instruction.
Many experts agree that interaction is the best way to produce such necessary adult learning meta-cognition activities as self-assessment and self-correction. For example, Denis Lander, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, writes in Online Learning: Ways to make Tasks Interactive:
“It is now widely recognized that the effectiveness of online learning tasks depends on the way they generate interaction. As Barker (1994) has put it, interactivity is a "necessary and fundamental mechanism for knowledge acquisition" and Mesher (1999) claims interactivity is the "key to successful online learning….The effects of interactions between the learner and tasks at a cognitive level can, in many cases, be richer and more effective in online than face-to-face situations. It is here that the computer comes into its own, allowing interactions in the virtual situation that are not always attainable in real life.”
So, it’s clear that interaction is key to a successful online program. But how do you design engaging activities? Here are some sample exercises to get you started.
Beyond game shows
One of the most common forms of interaction in modern courseware is the game scenario. Popular television games, such as Jeopardy, Family Feud, and Do You Want to be a Millionaire, are the most common and are typically used for simpler cognitive levels of content review. When compared to common quiz questions, however, game show situations are actually animated true/false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank questions. Yet, they offer a change of pace from onscreen reading, can promote interest, and provide some entertaining interludes for learners as they prompt learners to digest new information.
In various asynchronous learning products that I’ve developed, a primary goal has been to advance online interactivity to the engineering level. The idea is to use engineering principles to meld interactivity and feedback in order to enhance knowledge and skill transfer. This technique addresses some significant asynchronous courseware shortcomings, including the inability to answer learners’ specific questions and the lack of immediate application of newly acquired knowledge and skills to practical applications.
Here are some interactive exercises that range from simple to elaborate, from a board game built around simple true/false questions to a financial spreadsheet business analysis to an identical-to-the-real-thing software simulation. Although many of the example exercises were developed for retail sales training, they’re easily adaptable to other content. (Visual Basic for Applications was used to program the interactivity that uses Microsoft Excel and Word as delivery mechanisms.)
(Note: If you're using a laptop for the exercises, and Excel starts, set it to full-screen [View menu: Fullscreen]. If the exercise appears too large for your monitor, set your display to Small Fonts [Control Panel: Display: Settings tab: Fontsize])
Perhaps the most clear cut category of exercises—online or offline—is true/false. However, even with these simple exercises, technology can punch things up a notch over hardcopy by offering true/false in a board game format.
Situation: You're on your way to a sales meeting with your boss. A potential customer is interested in buying a data warehouse system that will help them improve their sales. You want to handle the market basket analysis part of the presentation, so your boss is quizzing you on details. Correctly answering enough questions will get you the chance to make the presentation. But note that while correct answers gain you two points, incorrect answers lose one point.
Directions: For each question, click on T or F.
Participate: Sales Presentation Exercise
While this category is really true/false in disguise, it has an entirely new tone when put in the context of adult learning (androgogy). Agreeing or disagreeing, when not the correct response, doesn’t seem as absolute as being “wrong.” Explaining why an agreement or disagreement wasn’t quite correct doesn’t sting as much. And, it seems to work well with feedback.
Situation: Improving the level of customer service.
Directions: For each question, click on Agree or Disagree.
Participate: Customer Service
Matching: games, graphical, variety
Traditionally, matching games can be dull. But with a little ingenuity, they don’t have to be.
Situation: Various store formats have specific characteristics, and thwy also can share characteristics.
Directions: In the following exercise, you wager some denomination of Euros, which causes a store-format-related statement to display. You then select the store format (listed on the right) that accurately describes the statement. Correct answers win the amount of your wager, incorrect answers lose the denomination wagered. At the end of the ten descriptions, you're given a final score.
Participate: Identify the Formats Exercise
Situation 2: In order to successfully talk to a retailer, you have to know who to talk to. Certain executives are only interested in selected issues. To make sure you are talking to the correct person, you need to know what each manager does and what he or she is responsible for. In the following exercise, you will test your knowledge of what each senior manager in retailing might be interested in discussing with you.
Directions: In the following exercise, you'll move a salesperson into the office’s hallway area; then, click on him to start the exercise. Respond to the question or prompt by moving the salesperson into the appropriate office doorway. Next, click on him to see if you put him in the correct office (if necessary). Naturally, there are consequences for visiting the wrong executive.
Participate: Who Do You Talk To
Situation 3: Thousands of new products are introduced every year, and no retailer can carry more than a small number of them. Retailers consider a number of different factors in deciding which products to carry. In the following exercise, you can test your knowledge of what factors a retailer might consider in selecting items for their assortment. The products on the shelves represent various retail factors important in determining the merchandise selected to form a particular assortment.
Directions: Put the mouse pointer over a product to view its specific factor. Then, if that factor is important to selecting an assortment, pile it on the display table. If it's not important, put it in the trash can.
Situation 4: This is a graphical matching exercise.
Directions: Click on a cell in the left column, then the appropriate match in the right column.
Participate: Web Advertising & Ad Strategies
Situation 5: There’s an old saying in retailing: "You can't sell from an empty shelf." But the expansion in the number of store locations and items that a food and drug retailer can sell makes it difficult for stores to replenish stocks properly. In the following exercise, you can test your knowledge of some of the key concepts of a successful replenishment program.
Directions: In the following exercise, click the Questions button to display a question. Then select the answer or answers from the Answer box. For each answer or set of answers, click the Check Answer. button to see how well you did.