Lots of e-learning modules use a “click-to-advance” design, on the assumption that it (1) allows learners to control the pace of their learning and (2) helps ensure that they won’t zone out, by forcing them to actively do something at the end of each slide.

Sounds good in theory, but a new study suggests that this kind of low-level interactivity actually interferes with learning.

The research
In a new study, subjects were divided into groups. One group viewed an automatically advanced slideshow. Another group viewed the identical slideshow, except that this one was learner-controlled (“click to advance”).

After the learning event, both groups were given a series of assessments.

The results
Researchers found a huge discrepancy between the two groups, despite the identical content.

The auto-advance group performed significantly better, with 61% getting high scores on assessments that measured deep conceptual understanding of the content (high performers).

The majority of the click-to-advance learners were low performers, receiving low scores on these same assessments.

Divided attention
Why did the click-to-advance group do so poorly?

The researchers offered this explanation: Clicking the mouse after each slide divided the subjects’ attention and created a distraction that inhibited learning. The act of clicking over and over again broke learners’ focus and contributed to their cognitive load.

In addition, the researchers suggested that repetitive clicking could lead to learner “fatigue or annoyance,” resulting in learners disengaging from the module.

Another reason the auto-advance group performed better, according to the researchers: Their module’s pace was consistent and reliable, which helped learners organize the information in their memory.

Implications
This study suggests that for training to be most effective, you need to get learners focused on the content and eliminate distractions.

The implications go beyond e-learning. When you’re training people on soft skills, you’ll want to keep your learners “in the moment” and clear away technical and housekeeping issues that disrupt the flow.

There are also some specific takeaways for e-learning instructional design:

  1. Be predictable. Set an automatic, consistent pace to your slideshow. A reliable pace helps learners absorb the information and organize it in their memory.
  2. Avoid speed bumps. Functionality like “click to advance” can break learners’ focus and result in lower retention.
  3. Don’t confuse physical engagement with mental engagement. Features like click-to-advance only get learners’ fingers engaged with the mouse. You need to get their minds engaged with the content.

Source
Sage, K. (2014). What pace is best? Assessing adults’ learning from slideshows and video. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 23(1), 91-108.

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