Can you hear me? The importance of interactivity and feedback in learning

Writing is a one way activity. You write, you hope that people read it. Occasionally people write something back, which is reassuring, as it means that someone is awake. Very occasionally, something explodes.

Last week, i wrote about the optimum length for a piece of e-learning. I included a poll at the end, expecting one or two people to vote. I even cheated, and voted once myself to get the ball rolling.

I’ve been used to a slow but steady readership for the blog, not bad for the first month, but last week i hit the jackpot. Ten times as many people as usual visited, and many of them voted. In political terms, i’d found the policy issue that people cared about, or in marketing terms, i’d gone viral.

Most importantly, it felt great; watching the numbers go up, hitting refresh every 15 minutes and seeing the steady increase.

Clearly in this case, feedback is a good thing. It’s motivated me and encouraged me that i’m hitting the right spot. Or at least the right vicinity. And it got me thinking about the kinds of feedback and interactivity that we use in learning.

I should set out my stall from the start – i can’t stand ‘interactivity’ for the sake of it. Show me ‘drag and drop’ and i’ll show you the door. Interactivity as defined by shuttling small boxes around the screen with your mouse is the worst kind of lazy, ineffective and unoriginal learning design.

I should know, because i’ve used it myself often enough, but the argument is that ‘people get bored just reading, so we need to make it interactive and get them to click on things’. Dreadful. I managed to make it through a 210 page book today without clicking anything, because it was well written, and i’m fairly sure that there’s a lesson there.

If something is so tedious, boring or badly written that you need to add in some boxes to shuffle around to keep peoples attention, you probably just need to rewrite the whole thing.

There are, of course, modes of interactivity that are engaging, creative and dynamic, and these are the ones that are based upon a more rigorous learning methodology; exploration with contextual feedback. Allowing users to explore interactive scenarios, uncover evidence, process evidence, diagnose issues, explore options and experience outcomes – all the skills and methods that we use in the exploration of any new situation or environment. If we can embed these into a piece of e-learning, we’re onto a winner.

Then there’s the issue of technology led interaction; blogs, forums, chat rooms and so on. The theory here is that by creating a space, people will interact in it. In fact, the evidence is that corporate spaces are often sparsely populated. It takes more than technology to create an interactive online space: it takes community, and community is something that grows out of enlightened self interest.

Interactivity can be a key part of an e-learning solution, but a solution should never just be interactive for the sake of it. You can build an amazing theatre, but you need a good playwright to make a good play. Interactivity needs to be used within an overall learning methodology that sees users explore and take actions, receiving feedback and diagnosing issues.

Used properly, interactivity can provide the feedback that will engage and stimulate us, used ineffectively, it’s just a waste of time and effort. And if you disagree with that, use the space below!

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Blog, E-Learning, Engagement, Exploration, Feedback, Formal Learning Spaces, Interactivity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Can you hear me? The importance of interactivity and feedback in learning

  1. Vicky Johnson says:

    I suppose I am going to have to agree with this…

    Even though I do like things that are more interactive and colourful, so to speak, it doesn’t mean it is the best quality or giving me the best information.
    I would probably refer to this with the books I read, I normally go for the ones that are the most colourful, girlish and normally has to have something to do with romance. Or it has become popular enough to become a film or tv series. This doesn’t always mean that it is a good book, it means that the concept is good, the outcome; depends.
    Maybe next time, when I buy a book, or game, or film, anything! I will look into it more, look for people’s opinions before buying it for the way it looks or the actors/authors etc who are involved.

  2. The problem as I see it today is there is either too much reliance on ‘interactivity’ and not enough feedback (and ‘feed-feedback’) or too much interactive requirements on the users/recipients. I don’t know about you or the rest of us here on this thread, but your post reminded me of my time at uni where I had to take two free-choice education modules. (You’re an educator, so you have a fair idea of what I’m about to say.) The modules kept harping on about a need to show ‘reflection’ in our studies and school attachment/placement, and it was mighty offputting to some of us. This is the kind of forced reflection or interaction or feedback that does a great disservice to education studies. I’m trained as a lawyer, and, to us lawyers, that just sounds like the desperate words of a luser. Silence may be golden, but duct tape is silver. Silence isn’t always a sign of profoundness: sometimes it’s just empty space with no noise.

    I happen to be an extremely sensitive reader and listener (having been a professional editor for 32 years in books, magazines and newspapers before I switched to the less profit-challenged business of printing). If the stuff is put together well, interactivity and feedback is always a bonus and always appreciated (as your posts are) – and I’m more than happy to interact and provide feedback. The problem with quite a lot of people is they jig up something that basically rehashes something else and expect interactivity and feedback to do the legwork. Brownie points are not earned that way.

    Thankfully, you’re not one of ‘those’ people.

  3. Pingback: Experiential Learning | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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