So many online learning programmes don’t start well. They’re often dull, overlong or, worse, a boring list of learning objectives. We have to get over the idea that we’re putting textbooks on screen. This is the web folks and the rule is – you have 2 seconds to impress. Attention is a necessary condition for learning, so your job is to raise attention and curiosity, not bore them into submission.
1. First impressions matter
First impressions matter, so they say, but in online learning they really do matter. Ebbinghaus showed us, back in 1885, that memory has a tendency towards ‘primacy and recency’, a bias in which the first and last things are retained and recalled better than what is presented in-between. So pay attention to the intro. It is the door to the learning experience and they should want to push it open. Make it relevant and memorable.
Too many courses are have titles that seem designed to turn you off before you’ve even started. A great title will catch attention, intrigue, give an idea of the content and even set the tone or voice of the leaning experience. Write a list of titles, one word titles, two word titles, three word titles, Why..., How to... Is there a concrete image that can be used? How about a play on words, rather than Use of Gamification in mobile learning' try 'Game of Phones'. Pick a title that excites. That’s what movie makers do and it’s a good practice. Rather than ‘Learning technologies 101’ try “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg’. Be more imaginative. Question? Did the title to this article, or word 'badass' get you here in the first place? One can also do a little A/B testing to get this right - this is what tech and ad companies do as a matter of course.
3. Ditch learning objectives
Straight out of behaviourism, this practice lingers on and on in courses. In online courses, avoid this edu-speak and focus on an effort that gets the learners attention. Attention is important in learning and it is counter-productive to bore them with a list of dull objectives. For more on this see 7 reasons to kill up-front learning objectives
4. Avoid paddingSubject matter experts, perhaps because they’re used to writing textbooks or manuals, have the unerring habit of writing over-long pieces called ‘Introduction to…’ or ‘The history of…’ or ‘Background to…’ at the start of courses. This is rarely either necessary or desirable. Attention is your currency, don’t devalue it by turning your subject into a snoozefest. Look at how great books and movies grab you with their opening lines or scenes.
5. Focus on just one thing
Nothing raises attention and curiosity more than a suprise. Most great movie openings do this. They start with being wide open then bang, focus on a close-up or one great scene. Great courses start with these surprises – a great quote, shocking statistic, compelling image, poignant question, conundrum. Think long and hard about your singular intro, as it sets the scene for the whole course. Great movies have great opening sequences. Check out this opening sequence in one of The Hangover films....
6. Keep it short
There’s nothing worse than an interminable legal warning, disclaimer, video, overlong animation or boring text introduction to a course. Your learners may have come to the course with high expectations, even low expectations. It is your job to grab and excite them. That is rarely achieved with long opening sequences. Make it count but cut to the chase. If you do have to have this stuff, make it optional, like terms and conditions, from a button.
Online learning is interactive, so don’t be afraid to start with participation. Try a question, a common misconception, something that wakens the learner up, raises attention. A good ‘hinge’ question can work well. On the other hand, whatever you do, don’t start with a long learning styles quiz (because they don't exist and it will be a waste of time) or some fatuous Myers-Briggs nonsense. More on the Ponzi scheme that is Myers-Briggs here. Be bold.
Doesn’t always work but when it does, it can do exactly what you want, raise a smile and, if relevant, make a great opening point. You can do a lot worse than raise a smile at the start of a learning experience. I made a programme for maintenance engineers once, where I deliberately made the screen go blank. Every engineer in the world leans forward to check the power supply then the lead connections. I then switched the programme back on and said, "That's what customers feel like when their service gos down...." It raised a laugh or two.
9. Skip on return
It can be annoying to see the same intro time after time. If the user returns to a course or module across many sessions, allow them to skip the intro or remove it altogether.
10. Movies and TV
Watch the openings to Movies and TV, then ignore the fact that you have to have credits. But do pay attention to the way they use smart titles, pose questions, make you think about what you’re about to see, show a fascinating clip that you’ll see later. They want to grab you before you switch to another channel. Plagiarism is a form of flattery. Here's a list of the Top 25 film openings.
To get off to a good start, attention should be your aim, not showboating with overlong sequences or dull objectives. There’s no silver bullet here, as each course needs its own unique introduction. Hopefully, these ten ideas provide some sort of stimulus when you’re faced with that blank piece of paper.
Other related pieces…..
10 bloody good reasons for using much-maligned text in online learning http://bit.ly/1KnJB2c
10 essential online learning writing tips & psychology behind them http://bit.ly/1JnUo6J
10 stupid mistakes in design of Multiple Choice question http://bit.ly/1JvMNCf
10 essential points on use of (recall not recognition) open-response questions http://bit.ly/1PPjIXb
10 sound pieces of advice on use of AUDIO in online learning http://bit.ly/1MccsXJ
10 rules on how to create great GRAPHICS in online learning http://bit.ly/1iguKL4