Today, more and more companies are training employees online, thanks to the modernization of course authoring. As face-to-face training becomes less common and elearning takes over, employees find themselves taking training courses in the flow of their work day. This means they are juggling multiple tasks, and that means you need to be good at engaging learners to grab their attention. But how do you do this? It depends on what is right for you, your learners, and your topic. Common approaches to grabbing your learners’ attention, also known as “hooks,” include:

  • Asking a thought-provoking or unexpected question.
  • Sharing a compelling story or image.
  • Creating challenges that engage learners while imparting knowledge.

Stimulating learner curiosity

Asking a thought-provoking or unexpected question is great for engaging learners because it elicits curiosity. This happens because we experience surprise when we encounter the unexpected. Surprise leads to curiosity, and curiosity creates engagement. Surprising, thought-provoking questions therefore draw learners into the lesson as they puzzle over the answer and seek its solution in the course of the lesson.

Let’s say you are teaching a class on soft skills, and one of the lessons is on empathy and communication. The lesson explains how a person’s body language and tone of voice can indicate motives and feelings. You might lead with a question like “Do you think you would be more successful if you could read people’s minds?”

This question is certainly unexpected and surprising, but it hints at the value of empathy and good communication. We can’t read other’s minds, but what if we can do a better job of discerning their true thoughts and feelings? Would this make you more successful? Absolutely, and tells the learner that the empathy and communication training is valuable.

Telling compelling stories

Stories are some of our most effective teaching tools. From the time we are children, we are told stories meant to impart wisdom and teach us how to navigate in our world. The value of stories continues to impact us throughout our lives, and you should be using stories to teach your learners at every level. Stories make learning relatable by giving us people we can relate to as they undertake actions we need to learn in order to succeed.

The best stories do two things: teach and inspire. Good stories allow the reader to play along, imagining what they would have done when faced with the circumstances of the story. We could quite effectively follow up our opening question, “Do you think you would be more successful if you could read people’s minds?”, with a story about an employee who found success in difficult circumstances using empathy and communication. This could be a story drawn from personal experience, a story you were told, or a story from the news.

No matter which you choose, make sure the story has a problem or obstacle that was overcome through the use of knowledge related to your training. This allows your learners to see the real world value of the training and understand how they might ultimately apply it in their lives.

Engaging learners with creative challenges

Ask an unexpected question. Tell an interesting, inspiring story. Or, do both. However you lead off your lesson, once you have learners hooked, you need to keep their attention. There’s no need to get boring now with pages of text and dry explanations of procedures and processes. In the case of our example lesson on empathy and communication, we might reinforce learning with some interactive examples. Use audio recordings of someone saying the same thing with different tones of voice, then ask learners to interpret what they heard. Use interactive diagrams to describe body language. Remember, the goal is to get learners invested in the lesson so they are actively learning. Remember, great course authoring isn’t just about the software you choose. It’s about applying effective techniques to your training.