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.

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