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Do You Know How to Create the Perfect e-Learning Challenge?

by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist | @ethanaedwards

I taught a few sessions of ATD’s e-Learning Instructional Design Certificate Program this past month. I love the opportunity to share insights into what makes e-learning work with instructional designers, both experienced professionals and talented designers just getting their feet wet, with creating experiences to teach online. Part of the value of the experience is to encourage people to trust their instincts about learning and about online experiences.

 So many examples of ineffective teaching and boring interactivity are modeled by existing courseware, and by the examples and templates advocated by a designer’s authoring tools. It is wonderful to share in those “Aha!” moments when students realize that e-learning design needs to be so much more than dumping content on the screen and then asking trivia questions about what the learner can remember.

Regular readers of Michael Allen’s books or of this blog know how fervently we preach the necessity of creating lessons centered on true instructional interactivity–or as we abbreviate it: CCAF design. A CCAF interaction has a compelling Context, a meaningful Challenge, a behaviorally-significant Action, and content-rich intrinsic Feedback. These are simple words, reasonably easy concepts to grasp, yet sometimes difficult to start designing around.


Creating the Perfect Challenge

Challenge is achieved through several different aspects of stimulating the learner to act. You want the Challenge to make the learner pause, to think, then be motivated, to persist, to create a solution. Unfortunately, Challenge is often confused with difficulty…and interactions that are difficult just to be difficult (e.g., tricky wording of distractors, challenges that focus attention away from actual performance outcomes, misguided emphasis on preventing cheating at the cost of teaching, etc.) end up creating obstacles to learning rather than challenges to make learning more accessible. 

But getting the Challenge right is often the main thing that changes boring modules into what I call “irresistible e-learning.” Irresistible e-learning captures the learners’ attention in a way that holds them captive (in a good way) so that learning and achieving and solving replace getting done as their primary motivator.

Challenge and risk are the primary drivers in most games, and organizations often seek (and regularly fail) to capture a similar appeal in their e-learning through “gamification.” The bad news is that creating games is actually a lot easier than creating e-learning. (For one thing, most games are developed with budgets and resources many, many times greater than typically devoted to e-learning.) But resources aside, games only need to create a compelling challenge that entertains. E-Learning must create a compelling challenge that also insures mastery of performance objectives that, on the surface, seem to defy interest. One of the greatest triumphs in e-learning design, though, is when you are able to capture both: and irresistibly compelling challenge and interactivity that leads all learners to mastery.

5 Strategies for Designing Dynamite e-Learning Challenges

If you are interested in exploring the challenge of designing good challenges, check out the on-demand "5 Strategies for Designing Dynamite e-Learning Challenges". In it, I will explore the parameters of designing good challenges, share some examples, and then apply this thinking to real-life examples provided by the participants. Those who enroll in 3 days in advance, or more, will have the opportunity to submit their projects as candidates for discussion in the webinar.

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