When faced with a new set of material, an Instructional Designer has to ask the question, “How can I make this material interactive and engaging?”

Why ask this question? Because research shows that interactive learning—that is, the learning focused around telling, showing, and letting the user get hands-on—is one of the most effective ways to get new material to stick.

So to answer that question, we need to look at each of those three categories and explore how they affect the learning process.

Tell Me

Within the arena of “Tell Me” is the core of basic instruction: Information is provided for the user in the form of one-sided communication. This includes the delivery of facts, rules, processes, and basic knowledge.

For example: If you were designing a course for a sales-oriented company, you would provide basic information about the sales software (like Salesforce) in this phase. The learner would then be equipped with a basic understanding of what it is they are using and how it keeps data organized.

This area needs to be kept as brief as possible. Nothing turns boring and tunes people out as quickly as an information dump (which nobody needs). Unfortunately, most non-pros in Instructional Design spend most of their time here.

Many clients feel ALL of their information is important, even when the reality is that too much is not better–it’s actually worse for the learning experience. Often there is a negotiation to determine which information is truly relevant, and what can reasonably be left on the cutting room floor.

Show Me

In the “Show Me” portion, the learner sees the tool in action. This includes everything from live demos to simple animations that demonstrate how to use the tool and execute different processes.

For example: Now the learners will see the sales tool used to complete different tasks. This might be something like entering new leads or updating contact information for a customer who has relocated.

Don’t get carried away here either, because this is still a passive activity. Since this section is inherently visual and process-oriented, it is more relevant and engaging than Tell Me, but don’t overdo the demos. Keep them relevant and to the point, but leverage them to let learners see how things are done.

Let Me

Finally, it’s time to let the trainee get some hands-on learning in the “Let Me” phase. This often means using branched scenarios to let learners see different results as a product of their actions. This allows learners to troubleshoot and learn from their mistakes before they’re placed in a live situation.

For example: The learner tests their ability to handle sales calls and gets different reactions from customer characters based on their performance. This simulates a real-life situation and is a “test drive” form of training.

While this can be the most challenging of the three areas to design as an Instructional Designer, it is the most crucial to learning. You’ve all heard “learn by doing” and this is where that happens. Whether it’s the physical act of clicking buttons and performing a process, or merely the mental aspect of applying knowledge to a prescribed activity, doing is where the learning happens.

What’s the secret to Instructional Design?

The secret to Instructional Design is to leverage all three areas: Tell, Show, and Let your learners experiment with the material, but not always in this order. Sometimes the magic of a great course is in mixing up the sequence of these aspects. While you don’t always want to throw people into something without knowing what they’re doing, sometimes great things can some from setting them off to discover, and then explaining and helping them correct their course along the way.

Why does this work?

Well, remember when you were in school and you’d find yourself daydreaming while the teacher just spoke at the front of the class? The same thing happens in an eLearning situation. Your learner needs to be actively involved—or their minds are going to wander.

Instead of just telling, you also need to demonstrate and then let the learner test drive what they’ve learned. This form of learning is much more effective because it activates different parts of the brain.

Just remember: Powerful, lasting skills are a result of TSL (Tell, Show, Let.)