Whether the learning is instructor-led or Web-based, certain principles apply. Exciting and effective training should incorporate the following principles. The experience should:
Start with a bang — Immediately engage the learner's attention. For example, the animated graphic below catches learners' attention and makes a point that everyone can relate to.
Paul O'Neil tells his writing students: "Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, sink your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tag line." That's not bad advice (figuratively speaking) for online course authors as well.
Personally involve the learner — People remember material better when it is meaningful and personally relevant to them. We often use scenarios or real world stories that show why the topic matters. Tell people about the time your boss left her PDA in a taxi cab and realized what she'd done as the cab was driving away. Was the information on the PDA sensitive? Why wasn't it encrypted? Or at least password protected?
Use stories — In his book, Leading Minds: An Anatomy Of Leadership (Basic Books 1995) Harvard Professor Howard Gardner says that stories are the basic human cognitive form. Most people think, recall, and communicate with stories.
Be goal-based — Material that is relevant to your learners and that allows them to choose what to learn and when will be more successful.
Include activities — Use the material to convey learning by doing. Show your learners how to be good at what you're teaching them. People do not care much about activities that they are bad at. People learn through practice, so include activities that encourage learners to think and converse (even if it's a conversation with themselves).
Address multiple learning styles and personalities by engaging multiple senses and offering a choice of actions.
Use visuals — A picture is worth more than a thousand words. A video is worth even more. The brain is more engaged when it sees a picture that incorporates text, e.g., dialog, than when it sees an image and a separate caption, or an image that is not placed near the text that references the image. With dialog in the image, the brain has to figure out how the pictures and words are related.
Challenge learners — Trivia games, crosswords, and sudoku puzzles are popular because people like to be challenged. Challenging material should allow learners to fail in interesting and safe ways.
Use examples and analogies — Adults learn best when they can relate the learning to prior knowledge. In short, "Show, don't tell."
Include immediate feedback — This is essential to motivation and performance.
Be memorable — Use humor, surprise, and failure. The unexpected is more memorable than the expected.
Be fun — Engage the learner's curiosity.
Well-designed awareness and training does all these things — and it offers the opportunity to improve information security awareness and better protect your assets.
Learning technologies must be used appropriately; bigger buildings don't make better scholars, and more impressive technology doesn't automatically result in a better learning experience. It's not the technology that determines how good the learning experience is — it's the quality of thought and heart that goes into designing and delivering the overall experience.