Use the Interactive Hierarchy to Affect Engagement

Lift learning performance by energizing learning. Use different levels of interaction to extend learner attention from minutes to hours.
There are 5 levels of interactivity.

You’ve likely noticed that some online courses are more engaging than others. You might have simply watched video lectures in one course, while in another, you were actively participating in simulations or games. That’s because not all online learning activities are created equal. Learning designers talk about the “hierarchy of interactivity” that can make a big difference in how well we learn and retain information. Let’s break down these levels from the simplest to the most complex.

1. Passive Activity

This is the most basic level of engagement. Think of it as sitting back and consuming content without doing much else. You might be reading an eBook, watching lecture videos, or listening to a podcast. It’s pretty straightforward, but let’s be real, it’s also where our attention starts to wane the fastest—usually around the three-minute mark. While it’s a comfortable way to get introduced to a topic, it doesn’t demand much from us as learners.

2. Limited Interactivity

Next we kick it up a notch. The second level involves a bit more from you, the learner. You might be asked to respond to on-screen prompts or answer a multiple-choice question midway through a video. These small interactions help keep your mind engaged a little longer than just passive viewing. It’s like being gently nudged to keep your mind fully engaged.

3. Moderate Interactivity

Now we’re getting into more engaging territory. This level requires you to analyze information and often gives you immediate feedback on your actions. You could be matching terms with their definitions, dragging items to categorize or put them in proper sequence, or completing timed challenges. These activities are more demanding but also more rewarding, as they help extend your engagement beyond the basics and deepen understanding of the content.

Video roleplays help keep users engaged for long periods of time.

4. Full Interactivity

At this level, your choices really start to matter. The learning path might change based on your decisions, much like choosing your own adventure in one of today’s video games. You could be participating in scenario-based learning, where you play a role in a simulated environment, or interact in real-time with instructors or other students. This kind of deep interaction can keep you engaged for much longer, typically up to 10 to 12 minutes at a stretch, making the learning experience both dynamic and memorable.

5. Immersive Interactivity

Finally, we reach the peak of the engagement hierarchy. This level uses advanced technology like VR headsets to create rich, immersive experiences. Whether you’re flying a plane in a flight simulator or practicing your swing in a golf simulator, these tools make learning incredibly vivid and interactive. It’s the closest you can get to the real thing, which can be tremendously effective at sustaining attention and enhancing learning.

The more we integrate complex and frequent interactions in learning, the more we boost engagement and improve learning outcomes. 

It’s exciting to see how far online learning has come, and even more thrilling to think about where it might go next. If you’ve had experiences with different levels of interactivity in learning, or if you have thoughts on how these methods might be improved, let’s get a discussion going. 

After all, community engagement is one of the most powerful ways to learn. Please share your thoughts and ideas!