It is not a secret that most technical subject matter including training for new software, tools, or applications is boring. While all eLearning courses must be instructionally sound, fun, and engaging, technical training is much harder to design as the content is almost always dull and, at the same time, extremely critical for accurately performing the job. Furthermore, unlike soft skills training, which learners are often forced to take, technical training is typically needed to be able to perform tasks successfully at work.
So, what can instructional designers do to increase engagement and improve retention of the material? Here are a few tips and techniques that technical eLearning designers can use to captivate and challenge distant learners.
- Design for Real-Life Applications: Learning to use the new Computer Aided Design (CAD) tool, or disassemble and assemble an aircraft engine can be extremely difficult, and often “dry” to comprehend, even when using animated videos and other multimedia content. This is because technical training focuses on walking the audience through various features, functionality, and bells-and-whistles of the product. However, if instead of focusing on the principles of the technical subject, designers made it about a real-life application – by adding simulations, examples, and scenarios – the course would become much less draining for the learner.
- Keep it Short: While instructor-led technical learning sessions often stretch on for 60 minutes, distance learners are unlikely to stay engaged with the eLearning content for that length of time. Therefore, to retain the interest of an online learner, technical content should be designed in bite-sized segments – 15-20 minute sessions.
- Make it Interactive: While an in-class session may end with plenty of home assignments, online technical learners must be challenged in different ways. Simply assigning “required readings” at the end of each segment isn’t enough. To keep the learner engaged, designers must include interactive assignments, quizzes and hands-on exercises throughout the lesson – not just at the end of the course.
- Make it Flexible: Most classroom courses start from Lesson 1 and proceed sequentially to the end of the course. Regardless of whether a learner finds specific content interesting or boring, they have to “suffer” through the entire course. To keep technical learners engaged, design content in segments that can be consumed based on learners’ maturity and level of interest. That way, learners can drill-in or out of specific modules, skip the desired segment, or go back to review a previously completed content. This flexibility enhances the engagement levels and increases retention.
Takeaway: Make it Relevant!
So, to make technical training interesting, instructional designers should focus on solving a real-life problem instead of highlighting technical concepts, theoretical constructs, sophisticated features or extensive functionality. For instance, instead of teaching how shapes, angles, and slopes are drawn using the CAD system, consider designing content that teaches these same concepts by using the system to build an office complex or construct a bridge.
By taking traditional instructor lead technical content, and relating it to the audiences’ daily life through simulations and activities, instructional designers can make the course more relevant to the learner. As a result, the level of engagement and retention will significantly increase.