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5 Strategies for Leveraging the Best of ILT for Designing Engaging e-Learning

Blinda(250)y Linda Rening, PhD, Instructional Designer

At a conference recently, someone said, “We’ve taken the worst part of instructor-led training, put it online, and called it e-learning.” He's absolutely right. From what I’ve seen, most e-learning consists of PowerPoint slides converted to Storyline, with full narration of everything that is on the slide.

Case in point: I was visiting my sister this summer, and she needed to take her yearly online “compliance” refresher training one morning during my visit. When we got together for lunch later, I asked her how her morning had been. She replied, “It was great! I got so much done!”

That seemed strange, so I said, “You mean, you got through the whole e-learning course, right?”

She said, “Oh, yeah, that was no big deal. But I also finished the laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, and mixed up a batch of muffins.”

I asked, “How could you do all of that?”

She said, “It’s easy. I started the e-learning course, and turned up the volume. Then, when the speaker stopped talking, I’d go back to the computer and click the Next button.”

At that point, I gave up. While I congratulated her on her industriousness, I thought: what a terrible commentary that is on our profession!

How dare we call narrated slide presentations training? Do we know so little about how people learn that we can be satisfied with that? It’s no better than handing someone a textbook, and saying, “Here’s your training course.”

So, yeah, we’ve taken the most boring part of instructor-led training (ILT) and put it online. Doesn’t that beg the question: what’s the best part of ILT, and why can’t we put that online?

The goal of both ILT and e-learning is the same: facilitate acquisition of new knowledge and skills, combined with the appropriate attitude, to change behavior and improve performance outcomes. In both media, we:

  • Strive to make content relevant—Meaningfulfor learners
  • Work to create activities that will anchormake Memorablenew behaviors and new ways of solving problems
  • Want to show learners the advantages of the new way of doing things so they are inspiredMotivatedto adopt new behaviors.

The guiding principles for good learning experiences is that they need to be Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational. How can we do that online? The best part of ILT, for most people, is the activities in which they participate by themselves or with others in small groups.

I hope this isn’t a news flash for anyone, but it is possible to create those same in-person activities online, as well. You’ll be able to come up with wonderful things on your own, but to get you started thinking, here are some ILT training activity-based learning strategies with their e-learning corollaries. 


ILT Strategy

e-Learning Strategy

Problem solving in a small group

Present a real-to-life scenario presenting a problem similar to those which learners need to solve. Show pictures of people who look like they may be in the same workgroup as the learner. Direct the learner to select each image to read what that person has to say about how to solve the problem. Then, ask learners to select the individual(s) who are giving good advice.

In a follow-up multiple-choice question ask the learner why the advice they chose was correct. Or, require learners to type in their rationale for selecting that advice.

Practicing a task in new software

Create a “sandbox” environment of the software populated with real-to-life data. Divide the task learners must do into groups of steps of no more than five steps. Then follow this sequence with each group of steps:

  • Show learners the steps performed correctly in order.
  • Give learners a chance to try the steps and make “hints” available. Also give learners the opportunity to go back to watching the steps being performed.
  • Create a work scenario with the steps. Ask learners to enter data for that scenario correctly with no hints or help.


Choose an image that looks like a typical customer with a thought bubble containing a statement or question that customers actually might articulate. Ask learners to choose the best response. Show the customer’s reaction with a change in facial expression and in a spoken response. Then ask the learner to choose the right way to respond to what the customer said. At that point the learner can: proceed successfully to the next part of the conversation, or try to get the conversation back on track, or fail and have to start over. Realistic questions and answers are crucial to the success of this kind of  interaction.


Label diagrams during presentations

Give learners images or diagrams with blank spaces that they must label. If there are a lot of labels, provide a list of words on the side of the screen. Have them enter the correct text in the correct place on the image or diagram. Or, depending on the device, ask learners to drag the correct label to the correct part of the diagram.

Drill and practice

Create a Jack-attack-style game. For example, to reinforce product specifications when training sales people, have the specs appear on the screen one at a time. Mix in words or phrases that aren’t specifications. Direct learners to select the words or phrases that are specifications for that particular product. Give them the option to stop the activity and read a list of specifications any time they want to review.


ILT participants love competing individually and in small groups. The e-learning corollary is adding timers and success meters. Use timers in situations where time really does matter, like when learners are face-to-face with customers. Here are some ideas:

  • Create a list of questions about product features and benefits, and tell learners they have three minutes to answer all the questions. Put a real timer on the screen. If they fail to get them all right in the allotted time, they start over. Of course, offer them the option to review content any time before or during the activity.
  • Use the timer for other drill-and-practice kinds of learning: label the parts of a new product in a specified amount of time, or choose the right responses to a series of upset customers in a customer service training all while the timer is running.
  • Complete tasks in software correctly in a specified amount of time

Similarly, success meters work in situations where cumulative decision-making matters.

  • Conversations with customers is a great place to use success meters. In this application, whatever response to a customer the learner chooses moves the meter either up or down. So, part of the intrinsic feedback is not only how the customer reacts, but also how the meter moves.
  • Management and leadership training is another appropriate place for success meters. Learners are asked to make a series of decisions and then get to see the cumulative impact of their decisions on specific variables like revenue, employee loyalty, customer satisfaction, etc.


I hope some of those strategies will be helpful for you. No matter what, though, I need you to make me a promise. Raise your right hand and solemnly swear that you will never create a training program that is so boring and predictable that it results in folded laundry, a clean kitchen, and a plate of muffins.



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