Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Interactivity in E-learning

I’m sure all of us have had first hand experience of attending a long, never ending class room lecture; where the audience hardly gets to speak or interact with the speaker. Such a lecture hardly makes an impact on the audience and they forget what it was all about. But do we realize whether the course/lecture, whether a face-to-face classroom lecture or an e-learning course intended for the target audience gets registered in their minds; or everything sounds hollow? And if we want to make any course engaging and enlightening, how do we do it? Well, in this post I’m going to focus on interactivity used in e-learning. I’ll deal with questions such as:
What does interactivity mean to us?
Is it really required?
If so, what are the different types of interactivities used?
Let’s quickly move to the discussion.

What does Interactivity mean to me?
Interaction means exchange of ideas, a sort of a dialogue. Assume that you’ve joined a cooking class. Let’s say everyday you go to the class and jot down the ingredients of how to make a certain dish. You list down the amount required and the steps you have to follow. But you don’t find it interesting enough because the instructor does not allow you to get a first hand experience of what you learn. To sum it up I can say:

You would like to “Actively Experience” it by cooking rather than “Passively Watching” the dish being cooked. Here is where interactivity comes into play.

What does Interactivity in e-learning mean?
· Interactivity is a process that will help you to actively engage with:
Other learners
Material being learned
· Interactivity helps you reflect on the information and to grasp the knowledge being taught.
· It is the foundation to effective learning.
· It helps grab the learner’s attention.
· Helps retain learner’s interest.
· Helps transfer information better.
· Acts as an aid to retention.
· Can be used as an evaluation method - both formative and summative. (View References to know more.)

Types of Interactivity:

Interactivity can be of four types:
1. Learner to Content:
In learner-content interaction the student interacts with the course materials. The learner gains and constructs knowledge by working with the subject matter.
Example: Distance Education

2. Learner to Instructor:
It involves direct communication between the learner and the instructor. In this process the instructor assists students to understand the course content.
Example: Blended Learning (traditional + computer based learning)

3. Learner to Computer/Software/Interface:
In this process the learner merely interacts with any software just by clicking and navigating from one page to the other.

4. Learner to Learner:
In this process the interaction depends on a dialogue between two participants.
Example: In a virtual classroom/ group discussions

What is the difference between Interactivity and Instructional Interactivity?

You can achieve interactivity by asking the learner click a button or click a link. However, instructional interactivity is an activity that makes the learners interact with the course. For example, clicking next can be simple interactivity while answering a question can be an instructional interactivity.

Interactivity models used in E-learning:

Flash Cards
· This model is used when you want the learners to register facts or information.
· In this model facts are given on Flash Cards in the form of questions or hints.
· Learners flip the cards by clicking on each of them to learn more.

Roll over Text/Images
· This model helps the learner to register information.
· Here learners point the mouse cursor over text/word/images and relevant information is displayed.
· Hyperlink is one of the examples. For example when you point your mouse pointer over any software application; a tool tip describes its function which is quite useful for any new user.
· This model is extremely useful when designing a technical course, where you need to give a lot of information about various technical terms.

When the user moves the mouse over math s/he gets to see the math course.
Go to the above link to view more such examples.
Drag and Drops
· This model is used when you want to test learners’ knowledge on something.
· In this model you can use a combination of images and texts. Learners drag and drop images corresponding to relevant text or vice versa. For example if you want to check if learners know how to locate different countries on a world map.
· Display the country name in text form.
· Allow the learners to drag and drop the country names on the map.
Go to the link to try it yourself.

Flow Diagrams
· This model is best suited when you want to teach process steps.
· The steps of a process as a flow diagram can be shown at the same time providing explanation for each step in detail. For example, you can teach the process of evaporation or say how to retrieve a phone number from a contact database.

Show Me
· This is an advanced interactivity model.
· It is used for product demos. For example when you are teaching learners how to use an application or product, you can capture the actions on screen take screen shots of those actions and teach the learner.
· This model proves beneficial, more effective and easy to remember as compared to plain text based manuals.
Go to the link to learn about the different ports in a laptop. This example does not test your knowledge rather teaches you how quickly can you take the test.
Characteristics of Good Interactivity
Stimulates the brain and helps the learner think
This is puzzle. This kind of activity stimulates the learner to think.

Encourages and motivates learners to learn effectively

Here when the user clicks on any alphabet they get to see a picture and its name. This kind of interactivity helps to register information quickly.
Builds confidence by providing the necessary feedback

Characteristics of Bad Interactivity
Allows learner to perform activities that do not aid learning.
Too many activities in a screen; making the screen look cluttered and increasing the cognitive load.

The user has to click on each object to get simple information. This is a typical example of information overload.

This is an example of bad interactivity. There’s no information regarding how to move on to the next slide; until one accidentally clicks on the maize symbol.

Sample Interactivity
Assume that all this while you were using yahoo mail but now you’ve switched to gmail. As you are new to this interface, you don’t know how to compose mail.

We will try to recall the prior knowledge of the user. Like in any other mail this one has the same field as “to”, “subject”, “content area” and a “send” button. Take a screenshot of gmail and then allow the learner to explore and learn. Highlight the required fields in order to show and then instruct the user to practice the same as shown in the figure.

To conclude, I would say that interactivity is required because:
It boosts learning.
People learn faster.
Learners are able to apply what they learn.
Unlike traditional instruction, which pushes information into your head interactivity pulls you into the instruction and engages you.


Formative Assessment:
It is used to check the progress of the learner in the form of questions and by providing constant feedback. Small activities are included to ensure that learning is taking place.

Summative Assessment:
It kind of summarizes the whole learning. Generally a test (question bank sort of a thing) is taken by the learner at the end of the course to check its efficacy.

Motor Skills:
“Motor skills" refers to movement or motion.
It is skill that requires an organism to utilize their muscles effectively.
An example would be to click the mouse button in order to navigate from one slide to the other.

Cognitive Skills:
The word “cognition” is defined as “the act of knowing” or knowledge.” It is a process of obtaining knowledge through thought, experience, and the senses.
Cognitive skills refer to those skills that make it possible for us to know.
All cognitive skills must be taught.
Most important cognitive skills are:
Concentration: paying attention for a prolonged period
Perception: act of interpretation
Memory: ability to recall stimuli
Logical Thinking: reasoning used to solve problems and arrive at a conclusion