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  • Rikki Lee

Training Your Growing Mind

A hot topic these days is understanding how to design a course that’s more exciting and interactive for learners, so that they hold onto their newly gained knowledge and skills much longer. That’s because we’re fighting our learners’ (as well as our own) reduced attention spans, multitasking habits and competing stimuli. For example, a few weeks ago we mentioned that gamification—introducing game-like elements into the instructional design—makes learning a lot more fun.

But just because a course will be more fun for learners, it doesn’t mean that it’ll be more fun for you as a trainer, given the additional amount of time that interactivity takes to develop. A mental image of spending countless hours building, testing and retesting interactions, then tweaking and troubleshooting them, may cause you to cut corners and create a less interactive design. You might even return to your original repertoire of skills and practices because they’re less stressful for you.

Setting Up for Interactivity

What does it take to develop a course? For example, if you’re an elearning designer, you often start with the notes, PowerPoint slides and other materials from a manager or trainer at your company. Then you might perform these steps, in more or less the following order:

  1. Review the existing subject matter

  2. Talk to the SMEs

  3. Research other necessary information

  4. Synthesize and organize the content

  5. Develop learning objectives

  6. Create an outline

  7. Write a script

  8. Construct a storyboard

  9. Work with graphic designers

  10. Compile slides with text, images and other objects (using Captivate, Articulate or other authoring tool)

  11. Test and debug the course

  12. Launch it on the company’s LMS.

That’s a lot of work, and adding multiple steps for interactions can seem overwhelming.

Developing Your Mental 'Resource'

Because it often applies subject matter to real-life scenarios, interactivity requires a deeper knowledge of the content than what you may currently have. You’ll also need to have sufficient skills in the tools and techniques necessary to create interactive exercises. So you can’t create more advanced, highly interactive training with the same "resource" you’ve been using for the more traditional, less interactive training.

By “resource,” we’re not referring to updated software or computing power, but to your own mind. In other words, your brain must be able to think much longer about the interactive content as you develop it. If you’re a one-person training department, you may not have the time, and your subject matter experts might not be able to help.

Although learning about interactive approaches will help you understand the techniques, it won’t significantly prepare you mentally for the more intense design work. So, where can you find the strength to invest the extra effort that an exciting interactive design takes? What can you do to expand your mental capabilities? (The physical requirements of proper diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep will get you only so far.)

Seeking New Perspectives

One approach is to think outside your current frame of mind by seeking the perspectives of others. In doing so, you may find viewpoints about interactivity that you might not have previously considered. Doing this helps you gradually shift how you view your role as a trainer as well as how you develop curriculum. Here are two ways to do just that.

First, find out the perspectives of the different people affected by the training, and not only those of your learners. The desired outcomes of the training you develop—improved performance, increased knowledge or new skills—will be experienced by people other than your learners. You’ll need to think of the perspectives of these "hidden" stakeholders; for example, your company, your customers, and your managers and supervisors.

Before beginning a new training project, talk to these stakeholders if possible. Ask them what they do, what they'd want to know, and how they might respond to certain types of interactive techniques. Learning about different perspectives doesn’t mean considering each of them equally, but you might end up integrating them into your thinking. Sometimes, all it takes is another person’s perspective to energize your mind and unlock new ideas.

Second, nourish your mind by becoming a nonstop learner. Go constantly in search of “food for the brain.” Don’t simply become knowledgeable about the subject matter of a ILT course that you must convert to elearning, or read up on the latest interactive designs. By all means, learn those things, but also set your learning sights far beyond that. The practice of learning—studying a new language, reading historical nonfiction, taking up an instrument, attending a lecture and so on—improves the brain’s capacity to grow and change, retain more information and generate new ideas. Scientists call this process “neuroplasticity.”

Of course, it’s important to learn things that won’t fade over time, be disputed or serve little purpose. Social media posts, sports statistics, celebrity news or internet factoids won’t nourish your mind. Also question what you’ve heard and read, so that you can identify what’s valuable enough to expand your knowledge even further!

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