Incorporating “Cool” – Is it Worth the Risk?


When designing online courses, selecting the right “technology mix” requires careful planning. There are several factors to consider: 1) the type of learning activities needed, 2) the trainer’s comfort level with technology, 3) the feature set of the Learning Management System, and 4) learner concerns of motivation and engagement.

Finding the Right “Technology Mix”

Lower Risk, Lower Engagement  ———– vs ———–  Higher Risk, Higher Engagement

– LMS Feature Set                                                                – New & Emerging Technology
– Little Practice                                                                     – Practice Required
– Activity is Proven                                                                – Activity is Experimental
– Typical & Possibly Boring                                                    – Adds Variety & Keeps Attention

The Type of Learning Activities Needed

Technology should never be used for the sake of technology. For example, trainers should never create a learning activity just because they want to somehow incorporate that cool new app into their course. Effective learning is the Number One concern when considering which technologies may be appropriate for an online course.

Trainer Comfort Level

Trainers should select technologies they are personally comfortable using. For example, if a trainer isn’t confident using a free tool from an outside vendor, then he or she shouldn’t use it.  However, trainers should be willing to explore new technologies from time to time. Through proper preparation and practice, a trainer can increase their comfort level with newer technologies.

The Feature Set of the LMS

The technology factor does play a role in helping keep learner engagement high in online courses. Learners like variety. Learners don’t like to be bored. Using newer technology can make an activity more interesting for learners – IF they are not distracted by technological problems or confusing instructions. Many trainers like to stick with the LMS feature set, but let’s face it: most Learning Management Systems do not offer highly interactive web tools, simulations, or games. Outside vendors are often more innovative and provide their tools at low or no cost.  Not only that, many learners who sign up for online courses are very comfortable with technology. Given the opportunity, they would love to play with new technologies as they learn.

Incorporating “Cool” – Increasing Learner Motivation

From an instructional design perspective, there are two creative ways to bring in technology that creates technologically interesting courses, without overwhelming learners. The first strategy is to introduce a new technology to increase learner engagement, but also provide low risk ways for learners to experiment with the new tool. For example, allowing learners to use the tool initially in low risk situations; for example, initially during an activity where learners are not being evaluated. Once learners are comfortable, the new tool can continue to be used throughout the course.

The other way to increase learner engagement through new technology tools is to give learners technology options. Some learners may be willing to experiment with new technologies, while others prefer to use standard software, e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint. During activities where learners are creating or curating content, a variety of technology tools options can be offered to the learner for use. In this way, the learner can choose how much they wish to experiment with new technology tools. Learners can deliberately try out a new tool or stick with a tool they are already comfortable with for their project.

Using newer technology in online courses brings both risks and benefits. When technology is incorporated in instructionally sound ways that provide learners with opportunities for practice and clear instructions, the benefits can outweigh the risks.