ATD Blog

Effective Strategies for Creating Engaging E-Learning

Thursday, July 14, 2022

As instructional designers or learning experience designers, we’re always trying to make our e-learning courses more effective, interesting, and engaging. But with a sizeable amount of content to produce, deadlines, and a small budget, where do we start?

In this blog, we’ll identify, define, and share different engagement strategies to incorporate throughout the learning development process. Any element that is part of your online training course—a video, an exercise, or anything else—must always answer a simple question: “How does this contribute to the achievement of the overall objectives?”

We’ve sorted different engagement strategies into categories based on complexity below, but be aware that the same type of interaction could be a different level of complexity based on its use context.

Low Complexity

This category contains the most frequently used (and often overused) interactive elements. These don’t require specific or complex applications, and most modern authoring tools support these natively. Although often relegated to making poor e-learning less of a “PowerPoint presentation,” these engagement strategies actually have more to offer. Here are some strategies for better use of the most iconic low-complexity interactions:

Static or animated videos. Research shows learners benefit from stories and how they stick. The video format has enormous potential to deliver stories. Tell stories that matter to your participants. How do you know what stories matter? Interview and empathize with them. You can’t design an effective learning experience without understanding your audience.


Flashcard and click-to-reveal activities. These popular activities were born from the spaced repetition technique, but they have almost completely lost their memorization function to become purely aesthetic. If you work for an organization that still uses flashcards for the purpose devised by Landauer and Bjork:

  • Keep the message simple and topic-oriented.
  • Put the key points first.
  • Tell the user what you want. The use of phrases like “don’t forget to” makes a concept more difficult to understand, sometimes encouraging unwanted behavior.

Classic assessments and quizzes. Use assessments to assist users with recollection and understanding of important concepts and not to test them. Adding a quiz at the end of an e-learning course without proper planning does not capture the effectiveness of the online training. Learning is complex, and you cannot reduce the complexity by putting a few questions in a quiz. But a well-done assessment can draw attention to the most important concepts, reinforce learning through corrective feedback, and keep track of the student’s progress.


Medium-High Complexity

In this category, interactive elements contain a greater level of customization, which provides freedom to learn and practice a new skill. The additional complexity carries a cost of both time and money, so plan this kind of interactivity well in advance.

Gamification. Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts. Designing gamification is a complex process with rules and models. It requires you to think like a game designer without forgetting your education objectives. Gamification is frequently confused with its popular elements like points, badges, and leaderboards (PBL). These elements that make up the game are not the game itself, but the relationship between them as the player interacts with them creates the magic. It is not enough to give some badges at the end of training and call that gamification.

Simulation. Simulation and branching scenarios are interactions that allow learners to experience different situations in a safe way. Simulations can be open-ended or story-driven. In both cases, it’s important to develop stories and settings that the learners can relate to and to engage them in interactions that they might encounter on their job.

Whether you opt for low complexity or medium-high complexity strategies to engage your learners, ensure that they achieve your learning objectives. To learn more about effective strategies for creating engaging e-learning, visit

About the Author

Raffaello Allegrini is the training and learning expert of Nestlé Digital Adoption Group, with more than 22 years of experience in IT and training. Currently, he is in charge of designing training strategies for many global projects. He has multiple projects under his belt and has exposure to delivering a variety of business solutions based on the project needs. As a typical Italian, he loves his food and absolutely adores his family life. He spends most of his free time with his wife, his son, and some pedagogical books. He truly believes that learning is an ongoing and never-ending process and is always keen to explore new tools and solutions to provide the best experiences.

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