How many of us still remember the “ABC Song” or how bees pollinate from that episode of “The Magic School Bus”? We recall them into adulthood because our minds were hijacked by appeal. Our industry often downplays appeal, because after all, tricks are for kids. Appeal used with intent isn’t about fun and games, though – it’s a powerful tool for engaging learners of any age. Appeal creates experiences an audience won’t ever forget.

“Content and design equally must rule the land; you can’t have one without the other anymore” (Jack Makhlouf, CLO of ELM).

Every element of a course should be intentional. Intent is a thoughtful decision, from content to design, based on cognitive science research and adult pedagogy. When training professionals make decisions with intent, it is always with the learner’s brain in mind. They design courses around the learner, not the content or the instructor.

There are three elements of an unforgettable learning experience design:

  • Content rooted in cognitive science (how and why people learn)
  • Data-driven decisions (why, how and when to use motion, interaction, storytelling, etc.)
  • Delightful experiences (how you target the senses and evoke emotion – also known as appeal)

All learning experiences should evoke a sense of delight. Delight puts the audience in a receptive state, so their brains receive and retain as much as possible. It makes the learning experience efficient and effective.

When it comes to appeal, a common mistake is to throw all the bells and whistles at a project, which eats up budget and wastes time. If you understand the intent behind each element, you can create a meaningful experience using practicality and restraint. Intent is not only good for the team; it’s also good for the learner. Think about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or, for our purposes, “Goldilocks and the Three Courses”:

This course is too boring, and I can’t get through it.

This course has too many elements and is too distracting.

This course is just right!

Let’s explore some ways to create appeal using different elements with intent.

Storytelling + Intent = Delight

Stories evoke delight through appeal. When learners make connections between a course’s story elements and their own lives, they better understand and retain the information. Storytelling gives the audience the same satisfaction a hero feels after defeating a monster. A good story can be as brief as a single well-written sentence with a call to action at the end.

Imagine you’re creating a scenario for a new employee onboarding training program. Tell a story where your hero (the new hire) has to overcome his or her insecurities (the monster) about being in a new place and learning new skills. If you get stuck, flip the scenario around, making your monster the main character. What happens if insecurity wins?

Visual Design + Intent = Memorability

Visual design shapes and improves a learners’ experience. Too many organizations wonder why their 900-page manual on safety hasn’t helped to reduce the number of accidents on the factory floor. If the content is sound but lacks appeal, your learners won’t find it memorable.

Color is a great tool for stimulating memory by evoking emotion. By creating color contrast from one section or slide to another, you can refocus wandering minds. One recent course, for example, highlighted each chapter with a different color and used simple, cohesive graphics, improving learners’ memory.

Interaction Design + Intent = Applicability

The key to appeal with interaction design is to keep it real. Try to make interactions as close to learner’s real-life situations as possible to create neural connections and give learners confidence. Realism applies to every aspect of the design, from sounds (e.g., human voices) to background illustrations (e.g., an office).

Not all interactions have to be digital, even in a digital course. The idea is to offer the learner an opportunity to go deeper. You can ask them to apply what they’ve learned to real-world situations by, for example, practicing a new skill while looking in a mirror.

Motion Design + Intent = Action

Our human eyes follow appealing motions (anything that moves naturally) like cats chasing a laser pointer. Motion design, when used intentionally, creates engaging and effective experiences. Motion design can involve the timing of PowerPoint slides, GIFs or pop-up feedback.

The key to using motion to create appeal is to keep it real and complete. If the learner sees something jarring or robotic, the experience becomes unpleasant and distracting. It creates distrust, and you’ll lose your audience.

Animation + Intent = Impact

When it comes to animation, emphasizing the core concept is crucial for appeal. People learn better when related words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively. With modern animation tools, you can create an incredible video, but without a focused message, it can easily become distracting. An effective animation scene highlights the key words and phrases as the narrator says them.

Animation without intent becomes the “too much” course in “Goldilocks and the Three Courses.” The key to animation is to decide on the important message and use the simplest, most refined visual to communicate it.

Focused Messaging + Visual Communication = Effective Learning Animation

Effective learning animation focuses learners’ complete attention on an important point, helping them see and hear the information simultaneously, which then increases their understanding and retention. Below are two storyboarding exercises to demonstrate effective learning animation.

Exercise 1: Experiment with communicating an important message using an illustration.

Exercise 2: Try it again with abstract concepts.

How did you do? Here’s an example.

The elements of appeal, storytelling, color, interaction experience, motion and animation are often seen as time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary. However, when used with intent, they create engaging, memorable and impactful experiences that stay with the audience long after they complete the training.