How to Create Effective & Engaging Content Pt. 4: Add Choice & Interactivity

Take a moment and think about a main character in a movie or TV show who had to make a seemingly impossible choice. 

You’re not sure what they’re going to do. The tension seems unbearable. And then they choose. Their path is set. 

But let’s take a step back. It’s weird, but no matter what you thought the character should have done, you, the viewer, actually didn’t have any influence on the character in the first place. The choice was already filmed and set in stone, right?

What if you could change their choice? Or how a scene appeared? The costumes the characters wore? In other words, what if our content could be interactive and include elements of choice?

Interactivity is a crucial component of learning (and content generally) because it allows students to engage, retain attention, and can even be fun. I always try to think about my lessons happening in a children’s museum instead of a high-end art gallery. In the first, touch and play are encouraged; in the latter, they’re discouraged. Which place do you think most students would like to visit more? Here are some strategies that a few teachers and I love to use.

Strategy: Embed Experiences

Opportunities for students to experience something means more than just us telling it to them. Here’s a few examples of how I do this (and a few app suggestions too):

A screenshot of StoryMaps
  • Choose Your Own Journey Stories: Interactive choices meet reading.
  • Newseum: Newspaper front pages from around the world.
  • Twitter Moments: Teacher-curated tweets of text, audio, pictures, and videos that can be safely consumed.

Give Students a Menu

A really easy way to add interactivity is to let students & users drive the decision-making process for how (the process) and the what (the content) of what they learn.

Jenny Garwood, a fellow Hoosier teacher, sent me this example:

It reads: In writing, my students had a mini-lesson “menu” – they could choose what they wanted to work on improving in their writing.

Awesome example! In my book, Breaking the Blockbuster Model, I gave this analogy and likened the idea of choice and agency to streaming services:

Streaming took that idea even further with algorithms that personalize selections on an individual level. Nowadays, Amazon Prime features “Movies We’ll Think You’ll Like,” Netflix offers ”Top Picks for(insert your name here),” and Hulu has a “For You” collection. 

Why do streaming services go to all the trouble of personalizing recommendations?

The answer: Interest and choice drive engagement. Because streaming algorithms tailor our viewing and give us options, we often spend more time watching than intended: “binging,” right?

There’s a lot we can take away from the metaphor. We know that: 

–Students thrive when they can see themselves in their classrooms.

–Student “buy-in”’ increases when they’re offered choices that empower them. 

So, how do you offer choice and interactivity with your content? Leave a comment below!

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