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interactiveMerriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “interactive” as, “involving the actions or input of a user.” When you stop to think about it, that’s not very clear. So, is eLearning with nothing but a next button interactive? The learner clicks something. Is a choose your own adventure book interactive? The reader picks which page to turn to. Let’s dive into this.


In terms of eLearning, I think “meaningful” is the key part that’s missing from that definition. Clicking a button or moving a drag and drop is certainly action. Unless there’s thought behind it, however, it isn’t worth a lot. Thinking is an action too. Learners interact with content in their minds when they think about it.


If the learner needs to click something in an eLearning course some places will call that interactive. Even if that’s just the next button. Making courses like that is quick and easy because they don’t take much work. In these cases, people use interactive as a buzzword. It doesn’t do anything to help the learner.

In addition, it seems like organizations often worry about making learners think too hard. So, information gets dumbed down and learners are told to “just memorize this.” But anything that’s set up that way is easy to forget.These organizations are leaving out mental interaction. That’s not good, because it can unlock deeper, more lasting learning.


In this case, I’m using “something involving meaningful action or input from a learner” as the definition. That action can be physical or mental. Here are some examples:

  • Branching scenarios
  • Project-based learning
  • Game-based learning (as opposed to gamified learning)
  • Role-playing
  • Situation or behavior-based questions
  • Reading a case study and using it to come to conclusions
  • Putting an activity or pre-test before the content

In summary, interactive means something requires meaningful action. And it can be physical or mental. I don’t count “click next to continue” a meaningful action. I do count picking which page to turn to in a choose your own adventure book as meaningful.