Drag/Drop Interactions in eLearning Design

Sometimes, I feel like eLearning drag/drop interactions get a bad rap. Maybe that's because Serious Instructional Designers seem fairly dismissive about them in casual conversation? I've seen many questionable such activities myself, but I could say the same about every other kind of interactive exercise. Drag/drop doesn't have a monopoly on bad instructional design... but, unfortunately, it does get misused a lot!

Good use of drag/drop... maybe? How would you know?

Like any other type of user interaction, drag/drop has good and bad uses. Nielsen Norman Group has a great article on the usability considerations of drag/drop – something that every eLearning designer should read and take to heart. But what about the learning/instructional considerations?

To be honest, I think drag/drop gets used so much in eLearning because it's considered to be fun, engaging, or creative. Perhaps that's because it naturally lends itself to colourful, interesting, or fun visual designs. While that can spice up a dry or bland course, it can sometimes be an incredibly annoying interaction style.

Example: I recently saw a very nice looking exercise that asked you to estimate the quantity of sugar in a drink. You did this by dragging sugar cubes and dropping them in a pile. Let's say I already knew that a 500 mL bottle of soda contains the equivalent of 13 sugar cubes. I am not going to drag 13 individual sugar cubes halfway across the screen just to learn or confirm a single fact. Let me move a slider, type a number, or do almost anything else. (At least give me an option to move several sugar cubes at once!)

There are times when drag/drop can be an excellent (e.g., not annoying) choice for an eLearning interaction design. Off the top of my head, here are some questions that might help a designer make that decision.

Is Drag/Drop a Good Choice?

  1. Is useful information conveyed or gathered during or after each movement?
  2. Does it help manage the cognitive load of an exercise?
  3. Would other interaction types be more annoying or onerous?
  4. Does it fit the learning or assessment need (e.g., sorting, grouping, matching, placing)?
  5. Is it more efficient (learner time/effort) than other interaction types?
  6. Is it a good metaphor for a real-world situation or activity closely related to the learning?

I've been experimenting with different types of drag/drop exercises lately. Here's one I came up with yesterday. It could probably look better – I'm no graphic designer – but I think it ticks many of the items in that list of criteria. What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Or do you have any suggestions for my list of questions to consider before choosing drag/drop?

Here's a direct link just in case the embed below doesn't display nicely (possibly better on mobile): Introductory Learning Design Terminology.

by Bill Wilson
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Last updated: July 26, 2020 at 12:09 pm

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