10 Thoughts On Engagement In eLearning

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There was quite a debate within the Upside instructional design team about what constitutes Engagement in an eLearning module. When asked what engagement is, the responses vary widely. Everyone seems to know what it is, but we just can’t put our finger on it.

Some of the responses, in no particular order, make for interesting reading.

  1. Engagement is dependent on the target audience and their goals. Engagement happens when goals are laid out and provided at a regular frequency, but those goals need to make sense to the audience in context of their learning and performance.
  2. Engagement depends to an extent on whether the audience is familiar with the content; familiarity might require a different approach for engagement then for an audience that was starting from scratch.
  3. Engagement is clearly a feeling, perhaps an emotional state. (cue more debate about the difference between a state of mind and an emotional state, definitely closely linked to one another)
  4. Engagement can be a result of many elements, the relevance of material to the task/problem/point of need, how accurate that content is in context.
  5. Much mention is made of the storytelling and how a good story engages without needing the sort of interaction and visual representations that are possible in the digital space. The art of narrative takes many forms in books, etc.
  6. Engagement is tied to the interest of the perceiver, and relevance of the material begin presented.
  7. Engagement requires that you allow audience to control pace, it should stimulate them to want more, continue the consumption of the module, and enjoy doing it all the while.
  8. Engagement can be the result of many emotional/mind states, anticipation, curiosity or even fear, all can prompt engagement. An appropriate level of challenge is required of the learning material, too easy and there will be disinterest, too hard and the audience stops ‘getting it’ and drops off. Important to note that using elements such as fear in the design of learning may be counter-productive.
  9. Engagement may require the suspension of disbelief, without which fictional worlds cease to be engaging.
  10. Engagement requires that the learner/audience enter a state of ‘flow’ as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. To enter a state of flow the experience should carefully balance between challenge and skill, move out of that zone, and flow ceases to be. This is especially true of digital learning simulations.

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