Are you Creating Engaging eLearning?

Bored learner

With the increased popularity of rapid eLearning authoring tools, it is much too easy for someone to create an eLearning module without applying adult pedagogical principles.  Clicking is not learning!

I’m sure you’ve all come across this type of “click, next” elearning.  I liken it to forcing learners to sit through 50 PowerPoint slides.  Boring, and definitely not engaging the learner.  Fortunately, not all eLearning is like this.

Traditional methods of creating eLearning are effective when they are well designed and engage the learner, but an even more effective way of designing eLearning is using “pull” learning techniques (versus “push” learning techniques).

What is Push and Pull Learning?

Push learning

Push learning in relation to eLearning, is linear, inflexible and simply “pushes” out everything we could possibly want our learners to know on the topic.  It assumes that our learners know nothing of the content, and demands that they click on each slide, regardless of any prior knowledge.  We simply “push” all of the content to them.

Is this really the best way to learn – being able to recall something that you read a couple of minutes ago?  Does this mean that the learner really understands what they’ve read and will retain it?

Does this take into account adult learning principles, such as recognition of prior knowledge, catering for different learning styles, and allowing learners to be responsible for their learning?   I don’t think so!

Pull learning

Malcolm Knowles, an adult educator known for his theories related to andragogy (adult learning theories), says that a successful adult educator recognises that adult learners are self-directed. That is, they know basically what they need to learn at a given point in their career and seek to engage in the process of their learning through active participation.

Pull learning is learning that is able to be accessed by the learner as and when the learner needs it.  Pull learning could include (but is not limited to) social media such as discussion boards, You Tube videos and informal learning.

When we create “pull” elearning, the learning content is designed in such a way that learners are not forced to go over content that they already know – they can just  access (“pull”) what they need in order to complete an assessment or task.  It is a flexible format that enables learners to pick and choose what they need in order to complete the task, and therefore demonstrate their understanding of the topic.

Why not let the learners do the assessment at the beginning of the course? If they pass, they don’t need to complete the course, otherwise they can access only the material that they need to fill the gaps, and then complete the final assessment.

Examples of pull eLearning content could include case studies, scenarios, or simulations – situations where the learners have to think about a problem and work out a solution.  Using different learning resources also enables learners to make their own decision about how they want to learn, and takes into account the different learning styles of our learners.

Case Study

As an example of eLearning that uses pull learning techniques, I’d like to share with you a case study of an online IT Induction course developed for a large organisation.


Prior to the online IT Induction course, a trainer would conduct one on one sessions with each new staff member, on average 1 ½ – 2 hours in duration, and each new staff member would be presented with a large IT induction folder.  The IT induction training was “pushed” to the learner (here it is – do it now).  The disadvantage of this system was that it was very time consuming for the trainer, and often difficult to arrange convenient times for both parties, which sometimes meant that IT induction training wasn’t carried out as soon as it should.

A blended solution, consisting of an online module, with follow-up from a trainer, seemed to better meet the needs of the learners and the organisation.

The Challenge

The brief was to design and develop an effective online IT induction course for all new staff from cleaners to CEO level.

The challenge was that there was a huge variation in computer skills of the new staff, and also a wide variation in the IT requirements for the vast range of roles.

Building the module

The course was developed with Adobe Captivate, using Audacity for audio recordings, Adobe Acrobat to create printable resources,  WimbaCreate and BlackBoard (LMS).

Modules were created for a wide variety of topics, but flexibility of navigation meant that if a person was already competent in a particular task, or if it wasn’t a requirement for their role, then they could skip it.

Different resources were available – learners could read text and print it if they wished, or they could watch a video demonstration.  Video demonstrations were followed by simulations in which the learner could replicate the task themselves, in an environment that looked like the real thing.

Learners were given contact details of relevant support people and were invited to contact them if they needed additional assistance.

An online Training Needs Analysis was available so that the learner could self-assess their Microsoft Office needs and forward this to the trainer, which would result in either group or 1-1 training.

After completion of the course (tracked through the LMS) the trainer would contact the learner and request a follow-up appointment (usually about 20 minutes) in which she would confirm that they had understood the topics that were important to their role, and answer any questions.

Some new staff didn’t feel confident in completing an online course, so the option was available for those few, to have the one on one training.

The course was successful because:

  • Learners were able to “pull” the learning, at the convenience, when they needed it (just in time)
  • They could go back to particular topics later, when the need arose.
  • Learners were motivated – it was information that they needed to do their jobs
  • It catered for different learning styles – for example, some learners liked to print information off for future reference

Designing eLearning using pull learning rather than push learning techniques is more time consuming to create, but takes into account adult learning principles and focusses on the needs of the learner.  Pull learning makes the learning experience more efficient and effective for the learner, and I believe, ensures a better understanding of the learning content.

I’d love to hear what you think about eLearning design, so please leave a comment.

Image:  Raymond Larose via Compfight




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  1. #1 by lynda clements on August 24, 2012 - 8:28 am

    A very interesting article Michelle.
    The pull method for learning certainly is more convenient with todays busy life style.

  2. #2 by Michelle Childs on August 24, 2012 - 11:11 am

    Thanks Lynda! Yes, you’re right, and “pulling” learning is the way that most people learn “informally”, for example if you need to know something, you’re likely to go to YouTube or Google it – but that’s another blog.

    Have a good day :-)
    Michelle Childs recently posted..Elearning or Face to Face training – the big divideMy Profile

  3. #3 by Simmeon on August 24, 2012 - 11:55 pm

    Hey Michelle,

    The “Pull Method” be a way in which I prefer to learn, you can go at your own pace and focus on what you want. The perfect scenario, thats why Membership sites for Internet Marketing or whatever do so well.
    Simmeon recently posted..How To Build An Email List Using Monopoly MoneyMy Profile

    • #4 by Michelle Childs on August 25, 2012 - 10:07 am

      I agree Simmeon, most people do prefer “pulling” learning. elearning designers need to take this account when design their elearning and not just expect their learners to read and click, read and click…. that’s boring learning and doesn’t consider the needs of the learner.

      Thanks for your comment, and have a great day :-)


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