Tuesday, July 27, 2010

7 Techniques to Capture Attention in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Regardless of the extent of your background in instructional design, I think just about everyone can agree that capturing learners’ attention at the start of an eLearning course (and engaging interest throughout) is critical. Anyone who has taken an introductory public speaking class can appreciate this principle.

In the spirit of sharing some basic ideas while keeping this simple, below are seven techniques designers can use to capture learners’ attention at the start of an eLearning course.

--1-- Present a problem: Employ a problem-centered approach to instruction by presenting learners with a problem that the training will help them solve (and then prompt them to incrementally solve pieces of the problem, leading up to a learner-built resolution).

--2-- Tell a story: A brief, well-told story can create a context for learners to learn new information and connect learners emotionally with the content (i.e., inspire them to care about what they’re learning). If you have a knack for incorporating humor, even better.

--3-- Create dissonance: Provoke curiosity in learners by presenting a surprising fact or prompting them to discover an unexpected gap in their existing knowledge that the course fills (perhaps by asking questions, presenting a scenario, or conducting a pre-test).

--4-- Share a thought-provoking quote: You can use quotes in many ways. One of the most common uses is to pose an insightful quote from someone well-known. If your training is in support of a change in the organization, it might be valuable to include quotes in support of the change from managers and/or executives (or satisfied pilot participants, if the change was piloted before implementation). Quality quotes from relatively unknown people can be inspirational too, such as a glowing customer review or testimonial of a product about to be trained.

--5-- Incorporate high-quality multimedia: Ever attend a session that started with a 60-second multimedia presentation, complete with intriguing images and upbeat music? While I’m not suggesting that you work this specific music into your training, there’s a reason that many presentations include Jock Jams in their introductory piece. It gets your adrenaline pumping. And a sharp, relevant, well-placed multimedia presentation can do wonders to impress and wake up your audience.

--6-- State expectations: Since training should result in specific on-the-job behaviors, inform learners of what will be expected of them after training (and how they’ll be held accountable). Learners should also be informed of how they’ll be held accountable for learning during training (e.g., assessments, development plan, online discussion, etc.). Of course, this element should be a part of every course.

--7-- Engage before the course: Contacting learners prior to a course can communicate its importance and help make learners feel connected to it. If it’s a blended course that incorporates instructor-led training, an email or phone call from the trainer adds a nice personal touch. The contact can be used to do a pre-course learner analysis or simply communicate expectations. For a course that’s purely eLearning, pre-course communication from the learners’ managers can have a similar effect, especially when it comes to reinforcing why the course is important. Referring to the pre-course communication at the start of a course can be a great way to grab the learner’s attention.

Of course, there are numerous ways to grab learners’ attention – so, what additional techniques do you use?


  1. Good Evening!
    I really enjoyed reading your post and thoughts on Techniques to Capture Attention in eLearning.
    One thing that I would add or expand is something that was mentioned in Technique #6: State Expectations "Learners should also be informed of how they’ll be held accountable for learning during training (e.g., assessments, development plan, online discussion, etc).

    For a metacognitive thinker its imperative they have a method within the eLearning application to assist them in self regulation strategies. Most metacognitive thinkers regularly utilize self regulation strategies to maintain focus on a lesson, stay motivated, verify comprehension on an on-going basis, and exercise self reinforcement. A great way to do this is including "real life scenarios" that the user can answer questions regarding using multiple choice, true/false options etc. as well as tests or quizzes after each lesson etc.) This would be a great way to motivate the learner as well as capture and maintain their attention.

  2. Your self-regulation comment is so relevant. There's quite a bit of research published in educational journals about the connection between self-regulation and performance in virtual environments. And it makes sense that we can enhance this from a design perspective. Thanks for offering your two cents, Audrea!


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