Promoting interactivity, motivation, and engagement in virtual learning

Written by Briony Frost, Learning & Development Specialist, Ben Halford, Account Manager, and Aniket Parikh, Senior Medical Writer on Friday 4th June 2021

Technology-enhanced and virtual learning has been a big part of many healthcare companies training programmes for decades, and the global pandemic has accelerated the move to entirely remote or blended learning solutions in a way that has and will continue to change the face of training forever. The digital realm brings numerous advantages from on-demand opportunities, global networking without the expense and challenges of travel, and the potential to improve accessibility, to new ways of presenting, interacting with, and maintaining the relevance of learning content. New challenges have arisen too. High on the list is always how to sustain engagement and motivation when people are atomised in individual home-working spaces and may find themselves estranged from the community nature of in-person group learning spaces. In this article, we explore a few key things you can do to keep your staff inspired by and invested in their training.

Choosing virtual tools and tactics

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of a needs analysis for developing a great learning programme in terms of structure and content for your staff; the needs analysis also informs your choice of learning platform and tools. The best learning platform for the job is ideally one with which your staff are already familiar and that they are generally positive about in terms of usability, accessibility, and interactivity. But there are other things to keep in mind:

Access, reliability, and navigation: can your staff log on easily, from any location, with any device? Whether your learners travel for work or primarily work from home, potentially fitting work in around dependents and other life commitments, the easier to access your platform and make use of the features it supports, the more likely staff are to engage. Think too about how they move through learning experiences and consider investing in a learner journey, and whether there is an option to pause and return to the same point. A good experience facilitates participation.

System integration: whether you are introducing or replacing a fully-fledged learning management system, or adding content to an existing one, check the integration capacity available. Single sign-on and webhooks can enable communication between other in-house systems and linking out to social media or gamification engines can support interactive and even promotional activities.

Content compatibility: through your need’s analysis, you will be able to identify the types of content, activities, and assessments that are best suited to your learners’ requirements. Make sure that your digital tools can align with the most appropriate content formats, whether they are PDFs, PowerPoints, videos, or audio transcripts. Other valuable features may include assessment tools that provide instant feedback, opportunities to revisit certain content and retake tests, generate certificates, keep track of progress on a learning dashboard, and rate or fill out surveys on the learning experience.

Analysis and Reporting: what kind of data do you want to gather on your learners to meet your evaluation and reporting needs? Choose a system that makes metrics gathering simple and straightforward, so that you can keep track of and support your learners’ development, provide information on the quality and effectiveness of your training programme to senior managers, review programme success with your learning provider, and share relevant data with your learners for them to reflect on too.

Security and support: digital security for organizations, content, and metrics is a hot topic in learning and development circles, especially in the healthcare industry with its incredibly tight regulatory and confidentiality requirements. Check out the data protection laws for individuals as well as companies in all the countries that your learners, presenters, and any funders are contributing from to make sure your training programme ticks all the boxes. Having a good support system for rectifying any problems, whether legal, technical, or educational is essential to sustain a positive and productive learning experience.

Licensing, pricing, and future-proofing: whatever systems and tools you need or want to use to meet the needs of your learners, you need to find one that is within your price bracket and gives you the flexibility to select the appropriate level of provision for your organization. It’s easier to compare LMSs based on features than prices or licensing policies and you need to keep a close eye out for hidden costs. Make sure you think not just about your immediate need, but about your potential needs in the future. You don’t want to have to pay out extra unnecessarily when the time comes to update or enhance your learning programmes.

Keeping it interesting: innovation, competition, and gamification

We’ve talked before about our use of the ADDIE model when developing our training programmes. The easiest spaces in which to innovate are the Design and Development phases, where content can be converted into a variety of delivery forms and learning activities. Rather than relying information-heavy delivery methods, like presentations or basic edecks, work with your training provider to inject interactive opportunities through innovation, competition, and gamification.

Innovation: innovations can be very simple changes as well as high-tech and creative ones. Use your needs analysis to identify gaps in the quality or effectiveness of your learning programmes and invest your attention to innovation there. This can range from things like including upgrading your LMS platform, creating a learner journey, improving navigation, developing collaborative learning spaces, or generating better assessment and feedback approaches to introducing podcasts, video-content, virtual laboratories, and simulations. You can also introduce competition and gamification.

Competition: building in competitive elements to your training can really stimulate learners to participate, especially if there are prizes to be won. Be aware, however, that not everyone is competitive and that certain types of competition, such as those that rank learners’ achievements can be demoralising. Enabling learners to switch competitive features on or off is a constructive way to inject some fun without putting people off. Team-based competitions and those that are low-stakes, so that failure does not discourage are preferable for keeping everyone motivated.

Gamification: playfulness in the digital space, where it’s easier to be Covid-compliant and to reduce physical barriers to accessibility for disabled and neurodiverse staff, is a fantastic way to bolster a sense of learning community, enhance memorability of learning content, promote deep-learning, and encourage problem-solving. Gamification can also provide a metal break from your staff’s daily routines so that training contributes to overall wellbeing too. Look for games that work not just with the content that you want to include, but that also develop the skills your staff need to apply their knowledge and understanding of that content to their professional lives. Role-play is the obvious example of a game that supports competencies development, but there’s no need to be limited to the obvious choices. There is an entire game-based learning industry that can provide bespoke solutions for your teams. From building a virus and vaccine out of toy, through quizzes and virtual boardgames, to fully immersive round-the-clock virtual-reality games, there is endless scope to enhance your training through play. Know your team, though, some games are more familiar to team members from particular national demographics or cultures, so make sure that you explain the rules carefully and that if you’re integrating games and competition that lack of previous experience with the game is not a barrier to success.

Support wellbeing, inclusivity, and a work-life balance

While interactivity in training spaces brings many learning benefits, these can be undermined by wellbeing, inclusivity, and work-life balance factors that the pandemic has brought into focus. Here are some common barriers to interactivity that you need to navigate sensitively to make sure interactivity remains a positive and welcome facet of your training:

  • Be flexible about camera use: while having cameras on can promote connectedness, there are many reasons that individuals may prefer to use an avatar. These can range from limited wifi capacity or an imperfect home-working environment, such as a kitchen table or children popping in and out, to more complex issues such as a neurodiversity, mental health needs, or privacy concerns. Don’t try to police individual reasons, simply encourage camera use if staff are comfortable and accept that some may not be. Provide multiple channels through which they can interact instead.
  • Manage multiple channels: enabling people to interact through different mechanisms, such as speaking up, writing on a virtual screen via platforms such as Zoom, Mural, Mentimeter, or Padlet, or typing in the chat box accompanying a virtual call can really boost interactivity and be used with or without additional break-out rooms. Keep in mind, though, that this can mean a lot of information coming in at the same time. Organise your sessions so that interactivity or Q&A opportunities are confined to set timeframes and have more than one person on hand to manage what’s happening on the channels, so that contributions and questions aren’t overlooked and to avoid overwhelming either the presenters or audience.
  • Beware digital fatigue: your staff are human and digital fatigue is a real issue facing staff now predominantly working remotely. To get the most out of training, staff need wellbeing support both within and around their learning programmes. Within the programmes, avoid getting carried away with interactivity. Make sure your training packages interleave not just topics but types of engagement so that there is a good balance between reading, writing, listening, watching, and interactive sessions to allow people to process information in different ways, take respites from contributing, and sustain concentration through variation.

    Building in regular breaks away from the screen – even 5-minute comfort breaks every 45 minutes – can make a real difference to people’s engagement and performance. Think too about how training fits into workdays that are already very fragmented by virtual meetings, emails, deep-focus work, and administration. Help your team set aside time to train that doesn’t cut into their work-life balance and gives them a chance to focus on what you need them to learn. Watch out for signs of digital fatigue in your colleagues too and make sure there is support on hand to help them mentally reset and recover to avoid burnout.
  • Don’t confuse interaction with engagement: it can be easy to assume that interaction equals engagement, especially in digital spaces. Research has shown that learner “performativity” – where learners are expected to exhibit a specific set of behaviours that demonstrate engagement, such as contributing, maintaining eye-contact, note-taking, smiling and nodding – has emerged as one consequence of increases in auditing, monitoring, and evaluation in the workplace. Expectations that learners conform to a set of performed behaviours that indicate engagement is culturally biased and exclusionary, often to women, black and ethnic minority groups, neurodiverse learners, and non-native speakers. 

    Measuring learner performance via interactivity is ethically dubious, damages trust between trainers and trainees, generates anxiety in those less able to maximise those behaviours, can quickly become inauthentic, privileges quantity of contributions over quality, and does not create a positive learning experience. Multi-channel options to contribute can mitigate some aspects of this, but you need to think carefully about other ways to promote and reflect on engagement by providing different opportunities for learners to showcase what they have learned, and even by respecting individual choices to learn by listening.

The bottom line with interactivity and motivation is that if you follow some of the steps to produce an effective, efficient learning programme that is relevant to your learners needs, and foster positive learning environments where interactivity is supported but people are also able to participate in ways that they are confident and with which they can become comfortable, it will help you to build a motivating and engaging training experience.

OPEN Health’s L&D team brings together unique skill sets, a wealth of healthcare training and extensive communications experience. We have a range of exciting ways to keep your teams engaged in learning and to facilitate willing interactivity in the digital realm. To see how we can help you make use of industry quality standards for learning and development and establish your training benchmarks, please get in touch.

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