Engage Your Learner: Add Suspense, Mystery, Intrigue

A sense of suspense, mystery and intrigue draws people into games, movies and novels…but rarely learning events.

When playing a game, inevitably, players become curious—what happens if I go over to this place or explore this room. What if I run into the open? What if I open this door or go out through a window?

Game players explore gamespaces to see what happens.

People are naturally driven by suspense, mystery and intrigue. Game developers take advantage of that by creating different levels to explore and by slowing revealing information. Games start with questions “Can you rescue the lost astronaut?” or “Can you solve this puzzle?” The question is an important motivational technique.

On the other hand, most learning experiences begin with learning objectives which provide the learner no mystery or intrigue or suspense. They give you the answer “You will learn 3 things about…” The learning objectives tell the learner what to expect. They are not engaging. Don’t start learning with specific objectives, start with questions or some type of mystery.

Most learning tends to be based on telling the learner what he or she needs to know in bulleted lists or paragraphs on the screen. Telling a learner what he or she needs to do throughout an entire e-learning module doesn’t motivate action or create a desire to continue through the learning.

Leverage a learner’s natural sense of curiosity by not providing all the information or answers upfront. Reveal information a little at a time; add a sense of mystery or unknown outcome. Compel the learner to move through the content to seek answers and to satisfy her natural curiosity.

As a technique, highlight areas of inconsistency, incompleteness or even inelegance in the learners’ knowledge base. Give the learner an activity in which they want to find the answer, want to learn the correct process and want to solve the problem. Setting up these types of learning experiences tap into the curiosity of the learner and will propel them through the instruction in the same way video game players are propelled through a game. For example, give the learner various choices and then let them replay those choices to see what would happen if they chose an alternative or give them a space to explore and to discover new information and content.

Posted in: Design

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Karl Kapp
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