Using Interactive Materials in Custom eLearning

Learners interacting with custom eLearning products

When it comes to eLearning planning, the importance of custom eLearning interactions cannot be stressed enough. Online learning without engagement is a waste of organization’s time and resources. Participants who aren’t engaged in their learning process are more likely to drop out of the training (by failing to complete the training or simply mentally checking out), forget what they learned, and be less productive – recent studies show that happy employees are 12% more productive and unhappy employees are 10% less.

If learners are engaged with the material, they will be more productive, satisfied with their jobs, and able to apply what they learned in their day-to-day work. The best way to engage staff in the learning process is to introduce interactive elements.  Here are some of the custom eLearning interactions you can add to your online courses.

Custom eLearning Games (Serious Games) in eLearning

Learning games, when done well, are the ultimate experience in engaging online instruction. We’re all familiar with games for pleasure, but might not be comfortable with the idea of games in the workplace or learning environment. Psychologically, the same features that make games so fun can be used to teach and inspire. These features include:

  • Some sort of progress bar, which allows learners to see how individual learning goals progress toward a larger goal.
  • Short-term and long-term goals. Varying length goals allow your users to learn and practice before demonstrating mastery in harder challenges. Short-term goals also provide encouragement along the way to a larger goal.
  • Reward for effort. Every time your learners try something, they receive reward for their effort. This encourages them to take risks and try new things, which supports deeper understanding of concepts.
  • Rapid, clear feedback. Games and simulations are able to immediately provide feedback to the learner, so he knows whether he’s on the right path or not.
  • An element of uncertainty. A known reward excites people, but an uncertain reward is even more stimulating. Think about games that ask you to do some small task, and when you break open the rock or complete a level, a chest releases a prize – and you don’t know what the prize is until you win. You feel compelled to keep playing (and your learners will feel compelled to continue learning).

You’ll find that by using learning games, you have higher completion of learning activities than you have in traditional, static online learning modules. Game features are intensely psychologically enthralling, and they help your learners better understand, retain, and apply their learning in the workplace. Learning games can teach just about any skill, including soft skills such as communications, negotiating, and teamwork, and hard skills such as programming, step-by-step procedures, and safety checks.

Examples of learning games

  • Restaurant procedures. KFC uses an escape room virtual reality game to teach the five steps of its cooking process. It takes an average of 10 minutes for employees to escape, whereas previously it took 25 minutes for them to watch an instructional video.
  • City resources management and prioritization. In a city resources game, the learner decides how to allocate resources in order to develop the city and satisfy the public. Because resources are limited, every decision matters. The game incorporates instant feedback so that the learner can immediately learn from every decision.
  • Emergency response coordination. This simulation game drops the learner into an emergency response workplace. The learner communicates with various government agencies to response to an emergency and receives real time feedback, allowing the learner to hone her communication skills in a safe environment before using these skills in an actual emergency.

Interactive Videos in eLearning

Many organizations are turning to learning videos to replace standard classroom training. One advantage to video is that it’s more cost-effective than sending employees to a classroom. Additionally, material that can be difficult to convey in a classroom can be animated or filmed, such as schematics, architectural plans, or the inner workings of computer systems.

Regular videos can quickly bore the viewer, especially if they are long. By using interactive videos, you can hold the learners’ attention longer and help them retain, analyze, and apply the knowledge faster.  With interactive videos, learners are no longer passive recipients of information pushed at them. They become actively engaged in their learning, exchanging information with the system.

There are many options for interactive video elements, including:

  • Hot spots – click on parts of an animation to choose which part of the video to view next
  • Answer questions (multiple choice, true/false, short answer, etc.) to proceed within the video
  • Branching – a learner’s answer to a question determines the next portion of the video

Interactive videos help users identify learning areas they should focus on and provide immediate knowledge checks, which helps with retention of learning. Like learning games, interactive videos are great for a variety of soft and hard skills, including leadership, technical, change management, and behavioral training.

Examples of interactive videos

  • Labor relations. This video leads learners through supervisory labor relations training using a series of dialogues. The learner selects the statements she wants to make, which leads to particular responses from the opponent. This method allows the learner to see the direct impact of her communication choices.
  • Public speaking. The learner must compose a concise speech for the character in the video. The character reads a few lines and pauses, at which point the learner selects what the character says next from multiple options. At the end of the video, the learner views the entire speech, receives feedback, and learns which decisions were correct and incorrect.
  • Sexual harassment training. Sexual harassment training is a hot topic right now. In a report by NPR, trainers and lawyers said that sexual harassment training is failing, in no small part due to stilted and unengaging online training. Employees zone out and don’t pay attention.
    Interactive video can go far to fix this problem. After introducing concepts of sexual harassment, the video shows several role-played scenarios that contain examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. After each short scenario, the learner answers questions about the viewed behavior. He receives immediate feedback regarding his answers. With branched learning, different answers lead to new scenarios, questions, or a short repetition of key concepts.

Timelines in eLearning

Timelines are great for explaining anything that changes over time, such as historical events, biographies, processes, and project development. Interactive timelines are similar to traditional timelines, but involve the user in the learning process. The learner chooses which moments to visit and in what order. When the learner clicks on a time point, the timeline can present text, images, and even videos. Timelines break custom eLearning into small chunks, helping to avoid cognitive overload.

Examples of interactive timelines

  • Polio research. The timeline encompasses the significant milestones in research and development of the polio vaccine. When the learner clicks on a year in the timeline, she can read what milestone(s) occurred during that year, and view images or videos.
  • Town history. Each date on the timeline presents a significant milestone in the town’s growth and advancement.
  • Sales trend graph. Instead of a standard trend chart, the chart is an interactive timeline. When the learner clicks a year in the trend chart, he can learns about why sales rose that year or fell drastically in another. This allows for greater depth of information to be presented with each data point than can be presented in a traditional chart, and encourages learner analysis to forecast future trends.

Interactive Maps in eLearning

Like interactive timelines, interactive maps allow learners to explore topics at their own pace and in their preferred order. Interactive maps obviously lend themselves to understanding spatial data. They are also useful for introducing static data that would be dull for a learner to read in a long list. For example, you can use interactive maps to teach your learners about your offices around the world, how to navigate through busy downtown New York traffic, or even where the different departments in your organization are housed and what they do.

Examples of interactive maps

  • Drug trafficking routes. The map shows cross-border routes most frequently used by drug traffickers, and the learner can click on each route to learn more.
  • Location of natural resources. The learner clicks on areas of the map to see what natural resources are available in each area.
  • Shakespearean London. A map of London is overlaid on a modern day map of London, and learners can turn the layers on and off. When the learner clicks a highlighted portion of the map, she learns about the location’s significance through text and video.

Quizzes & Knowledge Checks in eLearning

Knowledge checks are questions dropped into a custom eLearning module to test a learner’s understanding and retention of the materials. The user receives immediate feedback, and sometimes the learning module will branch based on the user’s answer. Knowledge checks are a great way to keep users engaged with written materials or videos, and can also keep learners motivated. A well-designed module gives learners a high chance of correctly answering the knowledge check questions, and this encourages them to continue the learning module.

Quizzes are similar to knowledge checks, but usually contain more questions. They are often given at the end of a learning module to test the learner’s understanding, retention, and ability to apply what he learned. Sometimes quizzes are used at the beginning of a learning module to assess the learner’s preliminary knowledge. These formative assessments are great for helping the user understand why the learning module is important (hey, I thought I knew this but I didn’t!) or for allowing a user to skip a mastered concept (hey, I thought I knew this and I was right!). If you require completion of a training course or award a certificate upon completion, quizzes are an important assessment tool to determine whether the user has met the training requirements.

Examples of quizzes and knowledge checks

  • Legal compliance completion. At the end a legal compliance training course, the learner takes a quiz to assess whether he mastered the content.
  • Foreign language evaluation. At the beginning of a foreign language course, the learner answers a series of questions to determine her current mastery level of the language.
  • Healthy living knowledge check. Users who successfully complete a wellness course receive a credit towards their health care costs. Knowledge checks are placed in the course to reinforce the most important points.


You might have noticed that many types of interactive learning assets overlap, such as knowledge checks embedded in interactive videos. You can use several interactive elements in one module, or you can link different types of interactions into a course to create a diverse and engaging experience for your learners.

About the Author

Beth Shepherd
Beth Shepherd is an online education specialist for a large US university. She has over 8 years of experience helping faculty and students navigate the world of online course design and delivery. She’s a writer, researcher, and avid list maker. You can find Beth on LinkedIn.


eLearning Company Blog | November 13, 2017