Branching Activities – What, Why and When

Why interactivity?

Interactivity is an essential course design element in online learning. Interactivity could be defined in many ways, but let’s think of it in the context of passive vs. active learning. Passive learning environments contain little to no interactive elements and can be thought of as having stereotypical, “traditional” methods of content delivery and comprehension checks.

In these environments, students may go to class, take notes on everything that they see on a slide deck and take a structured weekly quiz, but they aren’t actually learning or retaining anything and aren’t able to regurgitate or apply the information in a practical setting.

In an active environment, the content may be the same as what is presented in a passive environment, but it’s interactivity that changes everything. Student learn by doing rather than just listening, and traditional methods of content delivery and reinforcement are replacing with hands-on, collaborative multimedia activities and assessments. Presenting content in more meaningful and engaging ways can lead to more effective learning experiences for students.

This is where branching activities come in.

Branching activities

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a branching activity, think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure flowchart of choices that is based on scenarios and decision making. You may remember choose-your-own-adventure books from your childhood, where you would make decisions along a storyline that led you down certain paths and ultimately an ending point based on all of your previous decisions.

In the context of online learning, branching activities are one of the many ways to bring more interactivity into a course. A well-planned, well-thought-out branching activity can transform a passive learning activity into a rich, active learning experience, one in which students are immediately able to reinforce and apply the information that they just learned.

When should I use branching activities?

Branching activities are applicable in many learning situations and have been used successfully by instructors in a number of ways:

  • Scenario/decision-based activities
    • Nursing simulations where students make decisions on how to deal with a patient
    • Interview simulations where students have to react to certain question/reactions from the interviewer
  • Activities to guide students to resources/other activities
    • Asking students to “see where they are” before a new topic is started to point them towards specific resources
    • Asking students to participate in certain alternate discussions, activities or assignments based on their responses to topic-related questions
  • Reinforce concepts with optional branching activities that can be revisited
    • Study guides that aren’t just an outline of topics to be covered in an assessment (Gamification, etc.)

There are many other situations where a branching activity could be useful. Try to think of a project or idea in your course(s) that could take on a branched format.

Over the coming months, be sure to revisit this blog for updates on our multimedia efforts. I will be sharing monthly updates, presenting easy-to-use tools that can improve your course(s) and sharing up-to-date research and developments from the eLearning world.

If you have any questions about branching activities or anything related to multimedia elements of course design, feel free to reach out to me at tamburro.5@osu.edu.