Top 3 reasons why you should have realistic learning activities

Which year did our company launch its most famous product line ABC?

  1. a) 2013
  2. b) 2014
  3. c) this product line doesn’t exist yet

We just told you 5 slides ago what the main raw material for our new product XYZ is. So, what is it? 

  1. a) plastic
  2. b) steel
  3. c) both of the above

These questions measure how well I’m able to use the knowledge I have learned.



  1. Interaction is not the same as engagement

When writing scripts for learning materials, I often use the Economist Style Guide to check questions I have about grammar, choice of word or writing style. The introduction to the Style Guide says: “Your readers will generally be interested in what you have to say. By the way you say it you may encourage them either to read on or give up.” This is obviously true with regard to the text content in learning materials, but the same goes for the activities in your learning material. The type of learning activities you create encourage your users to either dig deeper in your material, or give up entirely, because they feel frustrated, patronised, or both.

Like Julian Stodd wisely says: “Interaction is not engagement”.

  1. Add business value, don’t just educate

We’re in business, not education. We want people to do stuff, not just know stuff. Like Harold Jarche says: Learning is the new literacy. Being able to take in a lot of information is expected of you so knowledge is simply not enough anymore, and doesn’t bring you authority. Instead, you need to show what you can do with the knowledge you have. This is why every single activity or interaction you have needs to be about how knowledge is applied in practice, not just ticking a box to prove that you have stayed awake for the previous ten slides.

You can even consider every single activity of your eLearning as a bite-size investment decision. Will doing this activity help the person achieve the goal we have set for the course? If yes, keep it – if not, get rid of it.

  1. Make them struggle

Why? When people struggle a bit, they can learn more deeply. Challenging activities where the user needs to apply knowledge in real-life context build intrinsic motivation, and this is of course what we are after.


Why aren’t all eLearning activities you see realistic ones where you need to be able to apply knowledge? Basically because creating good, realistic activities takes skills. You need to analyse what people need to be able to do after they’ve completed your learning content. You need to know what they most struggle with. You need to know about your users’ everyday work to be able to create realistic-sounding context to your activities. All in all, you need to talk with your subject matter experts, ask them a lot of questions, and do plenty of deep thinking by yourself.

Coming back to the Economist Style Guide. It says “Clear thinking is the key to clear writing.“ Could we tweak this a little and say that a clear business goal is the key to clear learning activities?


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