These notes are part of a series for the book.
- If they’re not paying attention…
- Talk to the elephant
- Ways to engage the elephant
Use different techniques to keep the learner’s attention, but be careful to make sure what you do is related to learning the objectives. Dirksen lists five ways to engage learners, and discusses four in this chapter.
Stories are interesting and also good learning tools. Because they progress in a logical sequence they are easier to remember, and the story’s elements help with encoding. They are interesting because there is an element of suspense, so the learner is solving a puzzle while considering the story.
Make the learner the hero of the story by:
- Showing them how capable they will be after they learn the new skill or information
- Giving them activities in which they can succeed and feel a sense of accomplishment
- Creating a first-person story that provides a puzzle to solve, a goal to meet, and a sense of urgency
- Including context that appeals to emotion
Including a sense of urgency is important because people respond to what’s urgent or immediate more than to what’s important. You can’t just say, “This is really important.” In a story, build a sense of urgency by:
- Making sure the story has drama, with a hero who must overcome obstacles to achieve their goal
- Using visual language, action, and dialogue — showing instead of telling
- Giving options that are not clearly right or wrong, but instead are puzzles that must be solved: two good options, two bad options, three options that are all good in different levels, two options that are both good and bad but in different ways
With other learning activities, build a sense of urgency by:
- Limiting the amount of time or resources available to the learners while they are doing the activity (although be sure to give them enough time and resources to reasonably be able to complete the task)
- Making the setting “right now”. Dirksen uses fire safety training as an example. Instead of stating the evacuation procedures, ask this: A fire just broke out on the 8th floor! Quick — what do you need to do first?” (Dirksen, 2012, p. 138).
- Giving the learners choices and then sharing the actual consequences of those choices rather than blander feedback
Rewards work best when they are unexpected. Getting an expected reward is nice, but an unexpected reward is especially nice. This is one reason why slot machines and video games are popular with some people — they provide rewards at uneven an unexpected intervals, and that builds excitement, anticipation, and entertainment.
Cognitive dissonance is when something doesn’t belong. Surprising combinations are memorable.
Curiosity happen when a person becomes aware of a gap in their knowledge and thus they are motivated to fill that gap. As a designer, you can build curiosity by:
- Posing questions that require interpreting the new information
- Setting up mysteries with solutions that are slowly revealed through the course
- Leaving out key information and presenting problems that don’t have all the information embedded in them
People pay closer attention when they are interacting with other people.
- Collaboration: Include group activities in training events so that learners can work together and help each other negotiate meaning.
- Social proof: Make sure learners know that others are learning the same material. Share with them how well other groups did in the training. This provides social proof: people will think the learning is worthwhile because others think so.
- Competition: Be careful when adding competition to learning events. It can add a sense of urgency, but will not work for people who are not competitive. Also, it changes the focus from learning the material to winning the game, and isn’t a good motivator in the long run.
Visuals, humor, and rewards
- Add visuals when they contribute to the material, to explain concepts, to provide context, to help the learner encode the information. Be careful when adding visual just for decoration, because they might distract the learner from the content.
- Provide opportunities for hands-on activities that involve the senses.
- Use humor if you can do so confidently, but be aware that humor is very subjective.
- Give prizes and rewards, but this is also tricky to do well because extrinsic rewards can be demotivating. One reason for this is because it sets up an exchange in which the activity is done for the prize, and then it feels like work. A better approach is to provide intrinsic rewards — satisfaction in completing the activity, excitement about being able to use the new knowledge, pride in one’s self in having a new skill. For example, instead of rewarding gold stars (an extrinsic reward), create a gallery in which the learners can display their work (supporting intrinsic reward). Be sure to let the learners choose to participate (or not) in the intrinsic rewards; because they are intrinsic, you cannot dictate them.
Dirksen uses an analogy of a rider on an elephant, and that analogy comes from Haidt, Jonathan (2006) The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom.
People pay closer attention when they believe they are interacting with a person, even if they are really interacting with a computer. A study of this is here: Ikita, S., Bailenson, J., and Schwartz, D. (2008) ‘Mere belief of social action improves complex learning’, Proceedings of the 8th International Conference for the Learning Sciences.