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Using Choice in eLearning

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There’s nothing worse than sitting through a presentation when you’d rather be somewhere else.  Even if they’re talking about something you would normally have found interesting, just the fact that you’re being forced to attend can cut into your enjoyment.  I’ve known people to say that they won’t watch a video someone sent them if it’s over a couple minutes, while they have no problem watching a three hour movie if they were the one who decided to watch it.

Choice can be a powerful motivator when it comes to completing a task.  If we chose it, it’s often because we’re internally motivated, and don’t need some outside force to push us towards completion.  Instead we’ll want to complete the task because it’s what we want.  Obviously when it comes to eLearning, it may be difficult to find someone who’s really internally motivated to complete their cybersecurity or compliance training.  But we can still use choice to help people engage with their training.

Let’s start from the very beginning of a course.  Maybe you chose to take it, or maybe you had to because it was required.  As a general rule the second one seems to be more likely, so we will need to try and counteract the negative impression that lack of choice will give, or it may end up coloring the whole experience.  However, even from the beginning of the course there are ways to offer the user choice and so help them engage with the material.  

An example that should be familiar to anyone who has played a videogame is the personalized profile.    Almost any video game, and even most websites in this day and age will offer users the opportunity to create a profile where they can choose a name, pictures to represent them, and any other information that the platform might allow.  Of course you don’t have to offer every person who takes a course a complete social media profile.  But even the ability to enter whatever name you choose can be an easy way to establish that it’s the user who will be allowed to make choices throughout this experience, rather than having those choices made for them.

After that initial entry moment into the course the next section is usually some sort of introduction or discourse.  It’s almost impossible to introduce an element of choice in this area because it’s offering the context for what’s to come, and that’s alright.  However as soon as the introduction is completed the options for introducing opportunities for user choice return.

One good example is giving the course a flexible structure.  Most information does not have to be learned in a linear structure.  Rather, there are multiple concepts which need to be learned in order to understand some more complex concept.  Take the example of photography.  Sure you need to know about lighting, color, line, and spacing in order to really understand good composition, but there’s not really any need to learn one concept before any other.  All these concepts are on the same relative tier, and so this would be a great opportunity to allow the user to decide which they want to learn first.  By giving them the power to choose which concept to tackle first you allow them to learn what’s most interesting to them first, which increases their engagement, and might even spark a new interest in the topics they were initially less interested in because of how all the different topics intersect.