Top tips for eLearning instructional design (2020)

Our instructional design team recently put their heads together to reflect on what has worked well over the years when it comes to designing great digital learning content for our client partners, so today, we want to share our top 5 tips for eLearning instructional design with you.

Considering a diverse learner demographic, and often geographically dispersed workforce, we reflected upon our instructional design approach for our digital learning content, and boiled it down to what we believe to be the top 5 tips (not an exclusive list).

Top tips for eLearning instructional design

1. The power of stories

Storytelling is a powerful way to engage the learner and make the content more authentic, sticky and meaningful. Learners may find it hard to remember a string of important, but seemingly disconnected facts, but if you include the same facts or policy in a relevant story with a peppering of empathy, we find it will stick more easily. 

Storytelling is important for top tips for eLearning instructional design

Do: Include a relatable narrative throughout the learning.

Don’t: Get too carried away with an over detailed backstory as a way to connect with the learner.

2. Know your learner

The better you understand, and more importantly, empathise with the learner, the more likely you will hit the right notes when designing their learning experiences. Put yourself in the learners’ shoes, and always consider their context and experience when designing the learning. For example, consider how a shift-working nurse or a retail assistant with sporadic access to a computer (and likely frequent interruptions) could influence the learning experience in a blended or online session.

Do: Ensure your stories and learning experiences directly relate with the learner cohort and think about ways to support their unique or personalised learning situation.

Don’t: Make wrong assumptions about your learners’ demographics or use terms and descriptions that limit the audience’s relevance.

3. Keep it simple and less is more

On-screen texts in eLearning can be tiring if used too much. Remember, a picture can tell a thousand words and timed learning sequences or animations can encapsulate a complex process or concept in simple and easily digestible learning chunks.  

Keep it simple is one of our top tips for eLearning instructional design

Do: Break things up into chunks and use visuals wherever you can – it’s about the right learning at the right time. 

Don’t: Avoid cramming too much information into a program, course, or a given page/screen and avoid paraphrasing policy (training isn’t designed to replace policy).

4. Start with the end in mind

Take the time to complete a thorough analysis upfront – of the learner, organisation and learning objectives/outcomes. Clearly define the outcomes and use them to identify content to include/exclude. In preparation for a Learning Record Store (or big data platform), consider how you would meaningfully measure the outcomes and individual/business success. 

Do: Have a clear vision of what learning success looks like in terms of measurable behaviour changes by the learner, and design from there.

Don’t: Take the easy path and simply create content based on what is handed to you from the stakeholder – as an instructional designer/L&D advisor, you need to advocate for meaningful learning solutions.

5. Make it relevant AND entertaining

Learning experiences should be enjoyable and intrinsically motivating, so the content itself is not considered boring or a corporate obligation. As an instructional designer/L&D advisor, it is our job to design for both engagement of the mind (not just an interaction) and context-relevant information entertainment (that is still meaningful and educational). This does not mean placing non-topic related mini-games into a course to wake people up; what we mean is creating learning content and workplace relevant challenges that stretch the learners’ mind in an entertaining way, immersing them in the learning experience. 

Do: Design learning pieces that make learners go “Wow, I’m really glad I learnt that!”

Don’t: Trivialise the content using gimmicks or create games that don’t bear direct relevance to the learning.

Want to learn more about Liberate Learning?

Read about how we started and what we are passionate about here.

Let us tell you our why

Sometimes, big milestones make us stop in our tracks and look back. Liberate has just turned ten, so let us tell you our why, and what makes us excited about waking up in the morning.

Liberate started in an era of economic turmoil during the Global Financial Crisis, and when many organisations were very mature in their blended and online learning offering.

eLearning was different ten years ago

Ten years ago, digital learning was a tool to deliver training pieces to large cohorts; SCORM packages reported completions, it ticked compliance boxes, it facilitated costs savings, all involved were happy.

Or were they?

The design, development, and deployment of traditional eLearning content was often seen as a technical black box. Some eLearning vendors created platforms and tools that were configured to tie eLearning buyers to one vendor, for the purpose of getting hooks into clients and being able to charge a premium for maintenance updates and make it very difficult or expensive to separate from a given vendor.

Much like a wedding photographer withholding the photo negatives or digital copies – and if you want them, you had to pay a premium price. Additionally, a lot of early eLearning was standard “click next” information based on digital summaries of policies rather than content that was designed to engage and intrinsically motivate the learner to undergo a meaningful learning journey.

Our why – A need to challenge the status quo

Rod Beach, then working as an eLearning instructional designer, became frustrated about the lack of professional pride to deliver a solution that wasn’t self-serving, one that would stand the test of time, and a need to ensure the best outcome for the learner and respective organisation.

Rod was disenfranchised by the thought of producing solutions and quoting, and the reputational fall-out that occurs when digital learning solutions only delivered on one part of the promise – with the ‘learning’ being less of a focus to the technology mode of delivery. As a former teacher and professional educator, Rod knew there was a critical need in the L&D industry for high-quality blended learning providers, who would operate with integrity, transparency and who could fill the need for solutions that are fit for purpose. 

When Rod shared his desire to set up an eLearning company, he was asked what its differentiator would be, and his reply was to ‘liberate eLearning’ – liberate it from being boring, complicated, to unshackle organisations from lock-in contracts, and stop eLearning from getting a bad reputation through the creation of ineffective’ click next’ solutions. Hence, he started the company with exactly that name.

We start with you, the client and learner

At Liberate, we believe that we should treat everyone as an equal partner in business, we don’t “Tinder-date” clients so to speak, for we form long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships, where everyone is in the partnership for the right reasons.

Not all learning can, or should be, eLearning, and our ability to create unique and engaging blended learning solutions attest to that. We want to elevate the regard placed on learning designers and help organisations understand the critical role the L&D profession plays in achieving measured business success. As a result of our genuine desire to provide end-to-end learning solutions, Liberate eLearning was renamed Liberate Learning, given it embraces all facets of learning design and development.

Here is what happened

As a result of our global reputation, transparent business model and genuine desire to create meaningful learning solutions, we don’t need to hunt for new client relationships, for we currently have approximately 150 loyal client partners who see us as an organic part of their teams.

Living and breathing pedagogical best practice and our desire to provide long-term, fit-for-purpose learning solutions, not short term gains, has seen Liberate being awarded the Global Stevie Awards for Business Growth, named ‘Learning Provider of the Year 2019 (ILP 2019), ‘Education and Training Business of the Year (Australian MyBusiness Awards 2019)‘ and ‘Business of the Decade’ finalist (MyBusiness Awards 2018). Our strong industry reputation has also enabled us to attract and retain Australia’s best talent in the learning development sector and allowed us to keep the momentum over the past decade.

Liberate Learning CEO Melany Blackwell accepting the Global Stevie Business Growth Award in 2019

Our steadfast desire to create meaningful learning solutions, and genuine interest to put the learner and organisation’s needs above all else, is in our DNA, it remains Our Why. What’s our secret to success? It’s simple, and Rod sums it up when he is regularly quoted in saying “we’ve built our reputation by helping others build theirs”, and for Rod and his team, they take their industry reputation seriously, regardless if the project is big or small.