Many people argue that deep information retention can only really happen through active learning. Active learning means ‘doing’ learning yourself, as opposed to just being taught something in a lecture setting (passive learning). Examples of this are carrying out independent research of something you are interested in, learning through discussion, or learning ‘on the job.’

For example, you could learn how a soufflé is made by simply reading a recipe. However, you won’t really understand the process unless you get all the ingredients and try it out yourself.

Learning designers often give up the idea of active learning when they write an online course, assuming that virtual learning is inherently passive. This does not have to be the case: here are four easy ways that you can inject some dynamic activity into your digital training.

1. Motivate the learner

The most effective learning takes place where a genuine interest motivates learning activity. You can’t always guarantee that your learners will have a prior interest in your topic, but you can write learning content that sparks motivation early on.

There will certainly be a reason for your learners to be taking your course; your job from the start is to tap into this motivation and magnify it. Topics like food safety or data compliance, for example, can be mind-numbing when approached from the wrong angle, but users will be more likely to give it their all when they are reminded of the seriousness of their importance.

2. Encourage reflection and creative thinking

Don’t create a course that your users can flick through mindlessly without taking in any of the information. Strategically placed tasks for the learner will keep their brains active and therefore more receptive to learning.

Including quizzes pushes the learner to reflect on what they have learned in each lesson or module, and thereby reinforce the information in their heads. Open answer written responses, or reflective assessment questions, encourage the user to think more creatively and give a personal response where there is not necessary a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.

3. Encourage activity outside the virtual classroom

In order to facilitate truly active learning, try to integrate an element of learning activity that takes place outside the course itself. This could be as simple as a call to action at the end of the course, instructing the user on what to do next and how they can apply their new skills and knowledge in the real world.

Another way to integrate external activity is to frame this call to action as a task within the course. Before they can access the next module, users are asked to put their learning into practice in their own lives, or workplaces, and reflect on the experience through an open answer question.

4. Enable discussion through a forum

Learning online becomes instantly more active when it is combined with social elements. Building a forum into your learning program is easy to do, and it allows learners to discuss the course amongst themselves and learn from each other as well as from the course itself.

Peer discussion doesn’t mean that your learning content isn’t clear or informative enough. It will be almost impossible to answer every question your users might have within the course content itself, and a lot of learners will just enjoy chatting with other people on the course. Forums will also radically increase retention. Remembering a piece of written information can be difficult, but conversations stick in our memories without effort.