Stop playing with that! Interactivity in learning

I’m working today on the new book around mobile learning. This following extract is from a section around ‘interactivity’ which i’m still working on.


We play with things to learn about them. From our earliest efforts to perceive meaning in our environment through the senses of taste, touch and hearing, we grow to become creatures who learn through interaction. As we grow, we develop methodologies for exploring our environment and we learn to reflect on the things that we sense.

Sensation is the term for what touches us, the interaction between ‘self’ and ‘not self’. By definition, it takes place at the extent of what we know: we can only sense things that touch us, that are within sight, within hearing or within our reach. Everything else is conjecture. Sensation leads to perception: categorising what we sense into what we know, reflecting upon the new knowledge and aligning it with what we know to be true, what we believe, what we aspire to.

In this very concrete way, the processes of sensation and perception change us: we call it learning.

So interaction is a good thing? Well, sort of. Exploring our environment is good. Manipulating things around us is good: but only if it has a purpose. Interaction without purpose is fine when you’re a baby and you’re just figuring out what to prod or poke, but generally it’s less useful as an adult. A challenge with learning design is to figure our the good interaction and avoid the bad. This is the realm of the learning methodology: the mechanism by which we identify and follow the core narrative of the learning and ensure that any interaction is in service of that.

Within the learning method, we are telling a story and then looking for learners to reflect that story back to us. Let’s consider a practical example of a piece of learning: looking at how to manage constructive challenge in a conversation.

First, we want to demonstrate what we are talking about. This is primarily a storytelling exercise, so the potential for interaction is limited. Introducing interactivity at this stage may be counter productive: for example, making people have to click ‘next’ a lot to introduce new elements of the description simply muddles the narrative, throws the pace off. It’s ok to have to turn a page in a book, but clicking next in a narrative is best avoided. It adds nothing to the story.

Next, we have a stage where we want learners to explore the learning. From a methodological perspective, we have told them a story and now i want to be sure that they understand it. This could be done by using a diagnostic exercise: we see another encounter played out using video of two characters talking, but this time we ask the learner to diagnose what is going on, maybe ticking boxes against criteria or using sliders to indicate the strength of response. To complete this successfully, they need to think about what they are seeing and respond with an analysis accordingly. We could easily leave it here, but lets go one step further: instead of just proving that they can carry out an analysis, a diagnosis, i want to understand their thought process. Why have they diagnosed it as they have? So, once we have asked the learner to make a decision, we are asking them to explain their reasoning. This type of narrative, where the learner narrates their decision, is interactivity being deployed to good purpose.

After this, we give feedback based upon what they have diagnosed and their reasoning for this: our feedback is not just ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but rather contextual dependent upon their reasoning. Think of it more like a conversation than a lecture. And so we continue.

This experience is interactive: people are watching things, responding to things, sliding and clicking on things. They need to think about what they are doing, they need to justify and explain their reasoning and they need to take action.

Contrast this with what we typically see: drag and drop. Choose one of these things and drag it into the box to answer the question. Sure, it’s interactivity, but it’s not interactivity in service of learning. It’s interactive for the sake of interactivity, because we know how to make drag and drop exercises easily.

As learning designers, we need to work to ensure that everything we make interactive is interactive for a reason, as part of the story, not just for the sake of it, because we can.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Assessment, Design, Functional Design, Graphic Design, Interactive, Learning, Learning Design, Learning Methodology, Mobile Learning and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Stop playing with that! Interactivity in learning

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