It’s the season finale of your favorite show. You’re glued to the chair as everything falls apart. Your favorite character is in mortal peril and then the screen is suddenly black. No, not a cliffhanger! Are they going to make it? What happens next? You simply need to know. And that’s why you’ll watch the next season.

Cliffhangers keep us interested. If a question is posed we want to know the answer. If a story is started we want to see how it ends. It’s natural. And it may help explain why training, especially self-paced eLearning, is often considered dull. It frequently dumps information on the learner, telling them all sorts of things. But it doesn’t usually plant any burning questions in their mind. A lot of the time the only questions are the knowledge checks or the quiz at the end.

Basically, self-paced eLearning can often benefit from a dose of intentional curiosity creation. If you can get learners to wonder “why,” you’ve got their attention.

Here are some ideas for planting “I want to know!” questions in your eLearning.

  • Instead of thinking of modules/topics, think of the pieces of your course as episodes. Give each one its own self-contained story/content within the big picture, but end on a cliffhanger that’ll make learners curious to see what’s going to happen “next time.”
  • Start with a ridiculous or worst-case scenario to get the learner wondering how something like that could happen. “Where should we put these 200 boxes of flip flops?” “What? This is Alaska and it’s winter. Why do we have flip flops?”
  • Use branching scenarios to let learners explore, “What would happen if…”
  • Pretty much anything involving a context-appropriate mystery should help pique curiosity.

Curiosity, anticipation, suspense, and the like all go back to the concept of bringing emotion into training. This can be a breath of fresh air in many cases, but there are also times when it can be better to keep the delivery straightforward.

  • Performance support – Any job aids, reference guides, troubleshooting directions, tools, etc. that are used during a learner’s daily work should be as quick and simple as possible. They need to take care of an immediate need and move on.
  • Familiar content for experienced learners – Learners who already know a lot about a subject don’t usually need to be told why it’s important or have every step spelled out for them. Focus on what’s new, changing, stopping, etc. Let them get back to work ASAP.

Giving your learners a dose of suspense can help ignite their curiosity. If you can get them to ask themselves questions, you’ve got them. But, like anything in training, it should only be used when it’s appropriate and beneficial.

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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