Sunday, April 14, 2013

Engage Learners Emotionally in eLearning Experiences

By Shelley A. Gable

What was the last book you couldn’t put down? The last movie you couldn’t stop talking about? The last song you found yourself playing repeatedly?

While you may feel drawn to each of these for different reasons, chances are, you have emotional connections to them all. Perhaps you found one of them profoundly relatable. Maybe one was uplifting. Maybe another surged your adrenaline. Regardless of the nature of that connection, you likely felt engaged and the experience with it was memorable.

How can we create these emotionally engaging experiences in eLearning?

Inspiring engagement doesn’t require an investment in high-end video production. Rather, a simple yet compelling story can help emotionally engage learners with the content, creating a motivational and memorable learning experience. These stories can also create a challenge that permeates an entire course or lesson. Consider some of the suggestions below.

Create a story with good guys and bad guys.

I recently reviewed training a colleague created on a security-related topic. The training opened with a short story about a thief. It conveyed what the thief intended to steal, how, and the likely consequences for the victims. The learner was then challenged to use the skills learned in training to protect the victims by preventing the theft from occurring.

The rest of the training built on the opening story by applauding learners when their correct choices improved security and protected the would-be victims. Similarly, feedback for incorrect choices illustrated how the suboptimal action helped the thief by making the potential victims vulnerable.

This good guy versus bad guy type of story could apply to a variety of skill and knowledge topics. And, the “bad guy” doesn’t always have to be another person. The “bad guy” could be more conceptual, such as difficult environmental conditions, confusing processes, or day-to-day inconveniences.

Teach exemplar behaviors through employee recognition.

Imagine starting a lesson with an actual story of a customer service representative – let’s call her Janie – who received a rave review from a customer who provided feedback on a particular interaction. The lesson might start with the customer’s kind words and how Janie felt about receiving the recognition. The lesson could then challenge learners to earn the high praise Janie received by following her stellar example. The rest of the lesson might provide performance guidance and feedback in Janie’s voice, offering insight into how experienced, high-performing peers approach – and even think about – the tasks taught in the lesson.

Provide testimonials that boost the content’s credibility.

A few years ago, I briefly contributed to a project that involved redesigning instructor-led training on coaching skills for self-paced, eLearning delivery. Coaching, like many soft skills, is one of those topics that have a lot of models and “how to” books in the marketplace. Many of the approaches out there seem like common sense. Thus, I can understand why experienced supervisors may not feel eager to embrace the behaviors taught in training, especially if the organization hasn’t communicated a compelling reason for them to do so.

In this project, we created a series of eLearning lessons, with a short lesson (i.e., 30 minutes or less) dedicated to each major coaching skill in the coaching model. At the beginning of each lesson, we included a short video testimonial of someone describing their success with that lesson’s skill. We asked the storytellers to describe a specific situation where they used the new skill successfully and to predict how the situation may have ended differently if they hadn’t applied the new skill. The intent was to ensure that the testimonials felt realistic and actionable, in hopes of building credibility and interest for the content that followed.

How do you engage learners emotionally in eLearning experiences?

The examples above are just a few approaches I’ve encountered for engaging learners emotionally in eLearning experiences. What approaches have you designed?