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4 Elements for an Engaging Learning Experience

When was the last time you needed to learn something new? Had a broken garbage disposal at home? Or maybe you wanted to master a new recipe for Thanksgiving? Or if you’re like someone I know, you needed to re-learn basic traffic laws according to the state of Maryland…

Regardless of our specific reasons, we are motivated to learn new things each day. But time is limited, as are our attention spans. So this begs the question – how can learning be designed to stick with us? Better yet, what makes a learning experience engaging and effective?

Fortunately, GovLoop has a team dedicated to answering this question and designing engaging, high-impact courses for government employees. I had the chance to speak with them and identified four characteristics that are present in all engaging learning experiences.

1. Bite-sized. We’re talking about learning, not eating, so what does this really mean? “Bite-sized” indicates the short length of the learning experience itself , which is better suited for our attention spans. A successful learning experience should consist of “bite-sized” lessons, lasting no longer than five to seven minutes each, that make up a larger course. With any lesson longer than this, you’d likely lose focus and start checking your email or day-dreaming about lunch – both known learning-killers.
2. Authentic. This is a key element because it helps us visualize how we should use a new skill, and then better execute the skill in our lives or jobs. Case studies and realistic hypothetical scenarios are crucial when we’re learning something new; they tie the skill directly to its application.
3. Interactive & Transferable. Technically, these are two distinct characteristics, but in regards to a learning experience, they should be paired together. Reading straight out of a textbook is hardly anyone’s favorite way to learn – so what could be considered the opposite of that? Interactive learning. An experience where the content takes on different forms (slides, animation, voice-over) and asks you, the learner, questions. Because the learner is interacting directly with the content, she is more likely to transfer those new skills to real-world situations.
4. Professionally Playful. Can you say that you’ve ever truly learned something new while your were completely bored by the experience? I’ll bet not. A learning experience doesn’t necessarily need fireworks and theme music to be effective, but it does need to keep your attention. Energy, tone, visuals, and creativity can all help learning be distinct, productive, and yes – even playful.

We all need to learn new things every day, whether it’s a new skill in Excel, how to fix that squeaky door, or maybe project management in public service. The common denominator for a successful learning experience is engagement.

Are you in the mood to learn now? We thought you might be. Check out GovLoop Academy for high-impact learning experiences on tons of topics relevant for anyone working in government today. Feel free to comment below on any of the courses you take, or a favorite learning experience you’ve had lately. Happy learning!

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