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How to Build Engaging Digital Experiences

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When you think of online learning experiences in government, you probably think of static slides that you click through or videos with a droning moderator. But according to GovDelivery’s Learning Strategist Jamie Catania and Senior Learning Consultant Julia Taylor, that doesn’t have to be the case.

At GovDelivery’s recent 2016 Digital Communications Workshop, they explored unique tactics to build truly engaging digital experiences in government.

Defining Engagement

The first hurdle to creating engaging digital experience is defining what you mean by that term. Is engagement simply getting people excited about the information you’re relaying? How do you measure that, if so?

“Engagement is about getting people to take action,” said Taylor. Rather than seeking intangible results like excitement, Taylor said you should define an action that you want the learner to take after completing your online training. That should be your baseline measurement of engagement.

The Problem with Engagement

Yet even with an actionable definition, Catania and Taylor admitted that it’s difficult to pin down engagement in the real-world. “It isn’t a science. It’s easy to recognize, but unpredictable,” said Catania.

While the signals and actions of engagement are easy to recognize, the means to achieving that immersion are less clear. Depending on the content you’re presenting, the ways to make it come alive and enthrall your audience will inevitably be varied. To make it even more challenging, effective ways to engage one person may be drastically different than successful tactics for a separate individual.

Yet we have to meet those diverse preferences and learning styles if we’re going to educate government workers. “Unfortunately, we can’t force people to be engaged,” Catania said. “We can’t point a finger at someone, tell them to be engaged because the information is important to them.”

Solving the Anti-Problem

But rather than looking at the challenges to engagement as an overwhelming hurdle to successful trainings, Catania suggested taking a different approach to the issue. “While there is no one way to engage everyone, we can talk about disengagement,” he said.

Unlike the signs and tactics of engagement, which are diverse and person-specific, “disengagement is more universal,” Catania said. “What’s more, the signs of disengagement are even easier to recognize. Certain factors almost always lead to disengagement.”

There are certain attributes – like a monotone presenter, overly complex or obtuse language, and text-heavy slides – that will inevitably deter a person from engaging in your digital content. Those universal factors of disengagement can be used to tackle the hurdle of diverse engagement.

“If we can create experiences designed to avoid the pitfalls of disengagement, the likelihood of engagement skyrockets,” said Catania.

The Exercise

To do just that, Catania led an exercise with the audience. He started with the prompt: “Ask yourself, ‘What steps might we take?’; ‘How might we generate as little activity as possible?’; and ‘How might we actively disengage people?’”

Participants wrote down the answers to those questions individually, then compared their answers in smaller groups. Where there was agreement or overlap on disengagement tactics, those ideas were grouped together and presented to the audience.

Common themes quickly emerged. After considering those themes, Catania gave another prompt. “Now flip those. If that’s how you disengage a learner, what rules can you set in place to make sure you never do that?” he asked.

By the end of the exercise, we had a long list of rules for building engaging online content. And we made that list without ever really talking about specific content, user preferences, or learning styles.

The next time you’re trying to build a meaningful online learning experience, take a step back and ask how you might disengage your end user. As we learned today, that can be powerful inspiration for improvement.

To view Catania’s full presentation on engaging digital experiences, click here, and learn more about GovDelivery’s learning solutions here.