Six Highly Effective Strategies to Create Immersive eLearning

Illustration of a brain with sparks to represent thinking
May 27, 2020
9 minutes
Illustration of a brain with sparks to represent thinking

You might be intimidated by the concept of immersive elearning.  It's often paired with expensive-sounding initials like VR, AR, and XR (virtual, augmented, and extended realities, respectively).  

While that technology is becoming more attainable with time, you don't have to lay down $400k for expensive equipment that will be old news by next year.  

Immersive learning isn't the sole purview of VR technology.  It's an eLearning strategy that can be executed with the right authoring tool.

What is Immersive Learning?

At its root, immersive learning is a purposeful replication of the way humans learn most naturally: by observing and by doing.

The best way to learn a language is immersion in a culture that speaks it. It's how babies learn to talk, too. As adults, we primarily pick up new skills and knowledge "on the job," as they become relevant to our lives.

As an eLearning strategy, immersive learning shakes up the passive way we often interact with the digital world.  It uses simulation, storytelling, games, and branching scenarios to make learning interactive – often while remaining a one-person activity.

The Advantages of Immersive eLearning

Immersive eLearning has a few advantages over the "real life" kind.  It opens up possibilities for immersion where the scenario is dangerous or hard to replicate.  It can be used to prepare learners for stressful or precarious situations they'll encounter later.  They can think choices through in a safe environment. They can learn consequences without risk to themselves or others.

Immersive eLearning isn't exclusive to life and death issues, of course.  For more mundane learning objectives, it facilitates the practice of skills and decision-making with experienced guidance.  

And as a bonus, it spares everyone the awkwardness of roleplaying with fellow students who are as clueless as you are!

But how do you build a successful and effective immersive learning experience?

Effective eLearning Strategies for Immersive Learning

Even without the pricey VR gear, immersive elearning is interactive and complex, which naturally makes its development more time-consuming and expensive. You want to make the most of that money. Below, you'll eLearning strategies that increase engagement and improve the learning experience.  

eLearning Strategy #1: Go Back to the Basics

Even when you add bells and whistles, the basics of course development remain: know your learning audience and establish clear objectives.

Then keep your eye on the ball.

We know you know this. But there's a temptation with immersive elearning to add flourishes that don't have any real purpose. Chasing the "wow" can easily lead to some expensive detours.  

They also decrease the effectiveness of the course. Adult learners are goal-oriented, and they'll lose interest if you insert unnecessary small talk or move them from place to place without a clear purpose.

Every minute of instructional time should help you achieve learning objectives and connect to your audience.


eLearning Strategy #2: Tell a Story

Whether you have the learner "observing" or "doing" in a simulation, immersive elearning will involve storytelling.  

The experience needs a narrative flow. It needs characters, conflict, and a logical resolution.

Real life isn't always that clear, but it doesn't matter.  As an eLearning strategy, storytelling is a highly successful way to convey knowledge.  

Why?  Because a story…

  • makes abstract concepts memorable.
  • helps people understand the relevance of information in their lives.
  • arranges a series of events (or steps) into a logical order.
  • provides context for knowledge, which triggers recall at the right moment.
  • creates an emotional connection that aids in the retention of knowledge.
  • makes learning just a little bit more fun.

Storytelling literally changes how your brain reacts to information.  That's why it's such a fantastic memory aid.

eLearning Strategy #3: Be Visual

There are a lot of ways to tell a story. You can present it as a series of photos, make it a comic, play it out as an animation, film a traditional narrative video, or use a lapel camera to put learners in the action.  

You can also tell a story in text. (We call those novels!) That is certainly the most cost-effective option.

But let's face it, your immersive elearning narrative isn't Stephen King.  In most cases, the subject matter will be a lot drier.

That's why telling your story in a visual format is an excellent eLearning strategy. Visual presentation holds learners' attention more readily. Visuals convey more information at a glance. They can also provide a sense of place, which can help trigger recall.  

eLearning Strategy #4: Make It Realistic

In order to make immersive elearning effective, it needs to be realistic and relevant to your learners.  You should focus on scenarios they'll actually encounter on the job.  

It can be tempting to dramatize things for the sake of an exciting story, but if you exaggerate the stakes or the circumstances, your audience will have a harder time connecting to the experience. They'll also have a harder time applying what they've learned.

You should also avoid making the scenario too mundane or easy. You'll lose your audience. Plus, if your average learner can identify a commonsense solution immediately, there are probably better uses for your instructional time.  

The key is making scenarios challenging while sticking to the realistic.  

To find scenarios that resonate, you need to do your homework.  Study your target audience firsthand. Learn about their problems. Ask what skills they weren't adequately prepared in. Use online surveys and workplace observations. Tap into focus groups of experienced frontline employees to refine ideas and details.

You’ll get far better engagement and better results by ensuring that your immersive elearning activities are relevant to the learning audience.

eLearning Strategy #5: Give Them Choices

Presenting the learner with a decision is an excellent strategy for keeping them engaged in the learning environment. It also appeals to the trial-and-error method of learning that comes naturally to most of us.

Realism is still key here – don't make the "right" answer too obvious. The choices need to seem plausible to maintain the challenge and allow for experiential learning. Likewise, the consequences shouldn't be exaggerated.

Use focus groups or other research mechanisms here, as well.  What are the most common "wrong" solutions people apply to a particular problem?  

You may also consider providing some answers that aren't "right" or "wrong."  Perhaps there are three answers – one with negative consequences, one that works but could be better, and one that's optimal. That model is not only very realistic, it may provide learners with additional context or information.

eLearning Strategy #6: Provide Context for Answers

Out in the real world, experiential learning can be a shot in the dark – you don't always know why something worked or why it didn't.  

But this isn't the real world, this is eLearning!  Here, you have the opportunity to make the reasons behind every consequence clear.

If learners are "observing," let them see the characters' reasoning as they make decisions. If they're "doing" by way of making choices, explain why wrong answers are wrong and right answers are right.  

The "why" can often make the difference between the ability to apply knowledge correctly and rote performance.

The Right Tools for Immersive Learning

Immersive elearning doesn't have to be delivered with VR goggles.  It can be served up on desktop, tablet, or mobile.  But do you have the right authoring tool to bring it to life?

Our authoring platform, dominKnow | ONE, has the features you need to create responsive, interactive scenario-based learning.  You can start with out-of-the-box widgets like our Scenario Builder. With this widget, you can easily create a multi-step decision-tree-based scenario. You only need to design the content, because the widget’s wizard steps you through the rest.  

To move beyond wizard-based scenarios, you can combine advanced actions, triggers, and conditions with variables, time based conditions, a built-in timeline, and more to design an immersive experience that will pull your learners into their training and prepare them to better handle new and unique situations.  

Check out some examples of eLearning scenarios we've made for a taste.

Interested in learning more?  Contact us today for a free trial or a demo with our experts.    

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