Do Your WBT Courses Put Learners to Sleep?


Unengaged e-learners do not learn; the course content skims lightly across their neural surfaces without leaving re-traceable neuron paths. Zzzz.

So what’s an instructional designer to do? Sweeten the course with flashy graphics, captivating video, and interesting sound effects? Nah. A sugar-coated sleeping pill goes down smoother, but still makes you doze off.

Stories Keep Learners Awake and Engaged

Remember two things:

  • The shortest path between a course objective and a human learner is a story (with apologies to Anthony de Mello)
  • When you make the learner’s self-interest the focus of every stop along that story path, everybody involved will be happy with the destination.

A learner-focused, job-relevant story presents course content in a way that requires learners to think through the process (not simply read a list) and practice activities (not regurgitate facts).

How to Build Learner-Focused Stories

Training stories transform paragraphs of dry abstractions into learning that is interactive and directly applicable to job functions. What are the essential components of effective learning stories?

  • Learner perspective (course design from the learner’s point of view)
  • Learner engagement (job-relevant activities that allow the learner to be hands-on)
  • Logical sequencing (step-by-step scenarios that enable the learner to think through the process)

Let’s look at the steps involved in crafting learner-focused stories for e-learning courses.

  1. Adopt a learner’s perspective.
    This goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway:  Get to know your audience. If you want to understand what is meaningful to learners:

    • Figure out a way to sit where they’re sitting and find out what they need.
    • Design training activities based on job-relevant objectives.
    • Make sure every objective has a corresponding activity (or set of activities) for practice (exercise) and/or assessment (evaluation).
  2. Weave the activities into a story, one step at a time.
    Most tasks are multi-step procedures. At each step in your training story:

    • Allow the learner make meaningful decisions and
    • Provide intelligent feedback that shows the consequences of each choice.

This very simple and basic example of an interactive,  learner-oriented story requires learners to make decisions before they click to proceed.  I used the interactive story creation software Twine to create the branching options.  Check out the tool and let us know what you think.  Or better yet, improve on my effort; create and share your own branching scenario.

Have fun!