Engaging E-Learning Framework

Free Guide: How To Design Engaging E-Learning

Apr 07, 2023

Over the last decade, I’ve created a lot of e-learning using Articulate Storyline, and coached hundreds of people do the same. That experience has helped me see what works (like clockwork) and what falls flat on its face.

In other words, how to distinguish the signal from the noise.

Now, whether you use Articulate or not, this guide is an attempt to break down much of what I know about creating engaging e-learning. It will be continuously updated as I learn/remember more. I hope it's helpful.

Frameworks For Success

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a cycle of creating e-learning content that just doesn't engage your learners?

It's frustrating, isn't it?

You might think that the problem lies in your lack of software skills, or maybe you just haven't found the right design hack yet.

But the truth is, building engaging e-learning is not about personal wizardry or magic.

It's not about dressing up content or keeping up with the latest trends.

What really matters is having a solid proof-of-concept, a framework, that helps you break through creative barriers and see learner engagement through a different lens.

Anna and I have seen this firsthand with our successful case studies. The common denominator among them all is an immersive proof-of-concept that incorporates a predictable and controllable engagement strategy.

So let's dive in and discover how you can start creating engaging e-learning today!

Step 1: Story Structure

To keep learners engaged, it's essential to use an engaging content template. Not a software template, but a content template that hooks learners and keeps them engaged.

And the best template for this purpose is Story Structure.

Why? Because humans inherently understand stories. And, as an instructional designer, you must have a basic understanding of Story Structure.

Here's how it works:

  1. Create a hero learners identify with. Learners should think, “That could be me.”
  2. Identify a goal for the hero; something the hero wants. This drives the story forward and gives learners an endpoint they will anticipate.
  3. Add conflict. There must be hurdles for your hero to overcome to achieve the goal that they’re after. And note: this is the primary source of emotion!
  4. Have a clear resolution. The hero either has to achieve the goal or fail, but there has to be a specific, and determined outcome, with real emotional impact.
  5. And finally, show a transformation. Stories are always about change, and transformative stories persuade learners to take the action you recommend.

So,… build rapport with a hero, introduce a goal, add sources of conflict, have a clear, visible outcome, and then finally a necessary transformation occurs.

And don't be fooled by the simplicity of Story Structure.

The foresight to have this content template has changed the careers of many e-learning professionals, including myself and our coaching clients.

One client in particular, Wyeth Krauchi, a freelance e-learning designer, put it this way:

“It's such a better place to be because now you have that free rein and you're more confident in presenting these ideas.”

Note: If you're struggling to create e-learning that leverages the power of storytelling, incorporates effective gamification, and is addictive to develop, I highly recommend our course, The “Interactive Storytelling Blueprint” Masterclass. Right now, in 2023, interactive storytelling is the easiest way to stand out and level up your L&D career. Join 500+ ambitious students and who can't sing its praises enough.

Step 2: The Core Mechanic

Now it's time to introduce The Core Mechanic, which I believe is the best way to create immersive practice activities.

Keep in mind, however, that this approach is only recommended for those seeking to improve decision-making skills in complex situations. For simpler tasks, a checklist or job aid may suffice.

Here's how The Core Mechanic works:

  1. Realistic Situation - Present a challenge that the learner would face in real life.
  2. Meaningful Choice Moment - Add emotional weight to the situation by giving the learner a choice to make.
  3. Authentic and Tempting Options - Provide options that may lead to a wrong choice.
  4. Consequence - Show the learner the impact of their decision.
  5. Merge, Branch, or Retry - Depending on the severity of the mistake, merge the consequence to the same following situation, branch out into a different path, or require the learner to retry.

Remember to focus on building a strong story structure and use interactivity to enhance, not distract from, the learning experience.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Show, don't tell.
  • Give learners a sense of interactivity and control.
  • Include subtle options with common mistakes.
  • Demonstrate that choices have real consequences.

And most importantly, don't branch yourself into oblivion. Plan your design carefully to ensure a smooth and effective learning experience.

Step 3: Combining Frameworks For Maximum Engagement

This is where the real magic happens - combining the hands-on source of conflict, or The Core Mechanic, with the strong Story Structure.

By doing this, you can create an emotional experience for your learners, where they become the hero of their own story and overcome their real-life challenges.

The previous frameworks laid the groundwork for this moment, but combining them takes your career to whole new level…

Not only will you keep learners interested, but these design “constraints” also build your creative muscles.

Long gone are the days of scratching your head, staring at a blank slide for hours.

And the best part?

You'll be providing clients and stakeholders with the most effective format for practice activities, which will make them look good within their organization.

By matching the training context to the real-life context, and designing activities that help people practice making decisions, you'll be making a real impact.

So take these steps seriously, put them into practice, and experience the joy of predictable engagement and creative control.

Thanks for reading.

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