The eLN debates the secrets of building engaging e-learning

Methods and media; learning strategies; design processes, and personality, values and culture, are the four stages in creating effective and engaging e-learning, believes e-learning designer ‘guru’, Patrick Dunn. Addressing the issue of ‘designing engaging e-learning’, Dunn explained his view at a meeting, in London, of the eLN - a non-profit organisation run by the e-learning community for the e-learning community.

[UKPRwire, Sat May 16 2009] Dunn’s presentation was one of seven presentations on this theme to eLN members. Held in London, these meetings offer members not only a chance to become informed about, and discuss, the latest tips and techniques in the e-learning world but also to network with other users and developers of e-learning.

Membership of the eLN now stands at over 1,500 – and, after some 20 years of being a ‘UK-only’ organisation, it now numbers several members who are based outside the UK. The meeting at which Dunn spoke, for example, attracted delegates from Germany, Norway and the Czech Republic as well as from the UK.

Dunn who, among other things, has worked for e-learning companies in the US and UK as well as for PricewaterhouseCoopers, holds an MBA from Warwick Business School, an MSc in Networked Learning and a music degree from Oxford University. As someone who has been designing, producing and thinking about various forms of learning technology since the early 1980s, he explained that, in the search for increased interactivity, learning designers tend to build pictures, animation and so on into their programmes.

He observed: “Although we seem to know the answers to making e-learning more engaging we aren’t applying them. That’s probably because there aren’t enough trained, experienced learning designers and because designers lack simple practical tools to help them.”

Dunn proposed an acronym – ‘CREAM’ – to cover the key features building engagement with learning materials: control, relevance, emotion, action and ‘multi-sensory environment’ (using a combination of video, audio, graphics, animation and so on). He said: “If you give learners control of their learning, you make the learning experience relevant to them – enabling them to answer the question ‘what’s in it for me?’ at every level of the learning.

“You need to be aware of the value of emotion – using drama and stories, humour, surprise and ‘controlled safe failure’ to engage with learners on an emotional level,” he continued. “You need to get learners to take action – but getting them to click a button to get more information does not count as ‘action’.

“Engaging e-learning is about the appropriate use of methods and media – but it’s only a small part of the answer,” he said. “For example, learning strategies – high level plans, based on the principles of learning, about how to change people and solve learners’ performance problems - cause people to change. Methods and media may be the tactics used but following a learning strategy is important to developing engaging e-learning because learners are intolerant of badly designed learning materials that waste their time.

“The design processes are also key,” he continued. “A great deal of e-learning is rubbish is because those who produce it think of it as ‘engineering’ rather than ‘art’.

“We need to design ‘experiences’ not content – because people learn from experiences, not from content. Designers need to understand the learning problem; how learners need to change; what experience may bring about this change, and what content is needed to support this experience.

“Designers are supposed to begin with performance objectives; use these to derive learning objectives; then devise the learning strategy, finally, the learning tactics,” Dunn explained.

“However, many designers often reverse this process. That is ‘good design’: it’s iterative and fluid.

“It can be a real help to begin by developing a prototype,” he said. “This provides something ‘concrete’ for analysis and around which to form opinions.

“This is about culture and values, not just the process associated with producing learning materials. Prototype-driven cultures are better able to make what other people need and want.

“So, engaging e-learning is built using fluid, iterative user-focused processes,” he stated.

Finally, Dunn introduced the issue of ‘culture and personality’. He explained that corporate cultures exist on several levels, including ‘representations and symbols’, ‘norms and behaviours’ and, at the core of the organisation, ‘beliefs and assumptions’.

“If an organisation’s beliefs and assumptions don’t support ‘fun’, engaging e-learning, it won’t produce or use it – regardless of what it says,” Dunn observed. “So, as a designer, you need to understand the organisational characteristics that encourage or prevent developing engaging e-learning.

“So, engaging e-learning is build by organisations with appropriate cultural values – and by people with a ‘design orientation’,” Dunn said.

For further details of the eLN visit


Notes for Editors:

About the eLearning Network

The eLearning Network (eLN) is a non-profit organisation run by the e-learning community for the e-learning community. The eLN is the number one source for guidance on best practice and future trends in technology-based learning and development at work, with more than 1,500 members in the UK and beyond.

For more information about the eLN and eLN events, call +44 (0)1273 561714 or visit

Further information from:
Clive Shepherd, The eLearning Network, +44 (0)1273 561714
Bob Little, Bob Little Press & PR, +44 (0) 1727 860405

Company: eLearning Network

Contact Name: Bob Little

Contact Email:

Contact Phone: +44 (0)1727 860405

>>Visit website