If you’re reading this, then you’re probably familiar with the various pop-up messages, email and text message alerts that appear on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, to inform you of changes occurring to the system, or incoming communications.
Besides the bright colours, speech balloons, annoying sounds – and the fact that they can take up half your screen – there’s a positive application to these things, in the field of eLearning and online education. That’s what we’ll be discussing today.
What are Interactive Notifications?
Logically enough, interactive notifications are (usually visual) alerts that respond when you interact with them in some way – e.g. by clicking on them, or following through on an instruction they’ve just given.
You’ll find them in computer games, software installation wizards, or as guidelines on virtual tours. It’s in their ability to engage the audience with what’s going on in their setting that they have such value for education. Here are some recommendations for using interactive notifications in your training materials.
Motivate and Reward
From our experiences with computer system alerts and mobile phones, we’re used to both receiving and acting on the messages that pop up on our screens. When an email or text message alert comes through, curiosity alone may spur us to click on it to find out who’s trying to get in contact.
The notifications which appear during a digital learning experience can have a similar effect. But it’s possible to go beyond the lure of simple curiosity.
One way is to associate a reward system with each successful follow-through on an interactive notification. It could start, for example, with the issuing of points or merit badges for signing onto the course, initially. A certain number of points or merits could be assigned to each alert, with the prospect of some kind of tangible prize or benefit, when a set number of points or badges have been earned. You might choose to indicate the number of points or merits attached to each message that appears, as a further incentive – and a way of helping the learner “keep score”, as they progress.
Inspire and Inform
Drawing attention to incoming communications or confirming actions that you’ve already performed aren’t all that interactive notifications are capable of. As learners proceed through a course, they may be used to provide incidental anecdotes and information relating to the task at hand – knowledge which can be adapted to assist the learner in what they’re doing. Think floating captions above an ongoing scene, that provide clues as to what to do next.
The notifications may also draw from external sources, perhaps with links to relevant websites, blogs, or tools. Even simple quotations from books, songs, or famous figures may feature here – with points available for correctly interpreting the quote in the context of a given exercise, or for applying it to the task in an innovative way.
Mix and Match
Today’s eLearning platforms aren’t confined to simple text and images, so your notification system should reflect this.
Spoken words, snatches from popular music (make sure you have the copyright permissions, or use original work), video clips, cartoons, 3D graphics – if you have the tools and the imagination, the range of options is immense. So mix your presentation to delight, amuse, and surprise your learners. This will make for a more absorbing and informative experience for them, all round.
Link – with Care
Using interactive notifications with live links to external resources may be a tricky affair. On the one hand, you’ll want your learners to have access to as many aids and supplementary materials as possible. On the other, you’ll also want to retain a continuous flow of activity within the narrative you’ve set for your training. Having learners break off to consult outside references may also break their concentration.
A better approach might be to indicate the existence of the linked material on your notifications by designing them as relevant snippets from the source material – which may be accessed from a list of references at the end of an exercise.
Allow for Feedback and Discussion
For course designers and organisers, one of the most valuable aspects of any training programme is the feedback obtained from the participants. This can be used to highlight problem areas, runtime glitches, and the plus points that learners enjoyed – and assist in improving the material for future schemes.
Interactive notifications can be a tool in this. At set points in each exercise, you might include an interactive pop-up that asks specifically for the learner’s view on what they’ve done so far – perhaps with a text field that they can fill in directly.
Alerts may also be used to point the way to discussion forums and collaboration areas, where ideas and opinions may be shared between the learners and course facilitators.
Consider Your Audience
Whether or not you use a gamification strategy in your training, there will be a particular “story” that you want each exercise to tell – and the notifications that you use should be in keeping with that narrative.
You should also bear in mind the demographic nature of the group involved in the training (age, gender, educational level etc.), and design the course environment and its associated notification and messaging system to suit.
In our definition of interactive notifications, we mentioned that they’re usually visual – but allowances should be made for learners who may be sight-impaired, or face other physical or mental challenges. Consider audio alternatives, narration, and haptic or tactile response mechanisms for input to the learning system.
Interactive notifications can be a powerful tool, in your eLearning armoury. They’re not just colourful and loud.