5 Ways to Use Instructional Design For E-Learning
Nowadays, anyone can make an online course and upload it as e-learning, much in the same way that anyone can make a video and put it on YouTube or take a photo and post it on Instagram.
But you will quickly discover, not anyone can make an effective e-learning course for higher education or professional development.
This entails strategic course development and instructional design, which is the practice of creating and implementing experiences and materials that enable learners to achieve intended goals—be it to acquire a new skill, make a career change, update knowledge, or graduate from a degree program.
Why is e-learning instructional design so important?
Instructional design is a key component of e-learning because it provides structure and intentionality to online learning, which further differentiates quality courses from other resources found on the internet.
For example, you can watch videos on how to speak basic French, but it takes well-designed courses to help you gain fluency in the language. Or, you can read everything there is to read about web design on the internet, but you won’t earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in web design without completing an accredited program.
Given the importance of instructional design, here are some ways to integrate it into your next online course. Note that this work can be done collaboratively, between an instructional designer and a subject matter expert, or independently when the subject matter expert is the instructional designer.
1. Identify goals
Quality e-learning design means designing backwards. Starting with a learning goal in mind, determine how you can help learners meet that goal.
It sounds like a straightforward thing to do, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to articulate essential learning outcomes that are appropriate to the level of the course.
Tip: CourseTune’s visual structure helps limit the number of learning goals to an appropriate amount. An introductory or foundational course may have 3-4 learning goals; an advanced course may have 5-8. These course goals typically align to one or more overall program goals.
Start with the learner’s perspective across a program to help you identify what gaps the specific course needs to fill. In looking at the existing program, ask:
- What is driving the need for this new course?
- What will learners gain or achieve that they will not encounter in any of the other courses?
- Which program goals will this course address to deepen the learning and further the concepts?
- Which existing topics and themes will students need to revisit to provide more experience or gain the next level of mastery?
- What kinds of assessment are in use already throughout the program and what is appropriate for this specific course?
- Which accreditation or industry requirements must this course align to?
Sometimes, the bigger program picture may not exist (yet) or may not be available to you. Especially when there’s no clear direction or big picture, it’s your job as an instructional designer to engage with other individuals or teams across the program to identify exactly what a course should include.
Conduct discussions to get at the heart of what needs to be accomplished. For example, an educational institution may say they want their students to master a particular skill, but how does that skill fit in with the objectives of the curriculum? Or an organization may say they want their employees to get a third-party certification, but how will that help them perform better at their jobs?
Once you have the answers, you can design a course that provides enough support for learners not only to pass, but also to absorb the material and apply their newfound knowledge.
2. Engage learners
One of the biggest challenges of e-learning is sustaining learners’ attention in spite of the many distractions tempting to derail their progress without an instructor in the room.
It’s up to the instructional designer to create interactive courses that engage learners from start to end.
Use interactive graphics that yield additional information when clicked and a menu that can be navigated freely in whatever direction (not just linear) to promote curiosity and create stickiness.
Take it to a whole new level with gamification to simulate real-world scenarios in which learners take on roles to see a situation from different perspectives—all within the bounds of a safe environment.
For example, typical aviation training programs incorporate gamification to allow pilots to learn and master difficult maneuvers without risking their lives on an actual airplane.
But you don’t need to go high tech for your courses to take flight. Many simulation games and e-learning tools for different industries already exist. Familiarize yourself with what’s available and incorporate the one that best fits your curriculum to reinforce the concepts. If the goal of a course is to equip learners with practical knowledge, then gamification is a good way to go.
3. Offer bite-sized servings
Though e-learning is convenient for learners because of the flexibility it offers, it also makes it even more susceptible to distraction.
Learners accessing courses on their mobile devices can lose their focus when friends, family or work reach out to make contact. Add to that, notifications from a social media, or the urge to watch a few minutes of a show on a media streaming platform.
Their short break may become much longer once they start going down the rabbit hole of digital distractions.
Not everyone has the self-discipline needed to stay on track at all times. Thankfully, there are a lot of learning theories that can help e-learning designers in the design process.
One way to help learners is by delivering content in a variety of lengths, including in small bits, a learning strategy which is called microlearning in instructional design.
Applying this strategy to e-learning, you can present information through tip boxes, pop quizzes, short videos, infographics and other kinds of content that can be consumed in five minutes or less.
However, these nuggets should be treated as an enhancement to, and not a replacement for, a comprehensive online course.
4. Support personalization
People learn in different ways; learning styles go beyond bodily senses (visual, auditory, or tactile learning) and include things like mindset, motivation, and preferences in skills and tasks.
Trained e-learning instructional designers have design theory background on these approaches that can prove invaluable in personalizing the learning experience.
At the core of these best practices is to present concepts in various forms that reinforce the level of outcome you are trying to achieve.
Though it may not be possible to have options for every course design, strive to include them wherever feasible. It will level the playing field for all the learners of a course.
This is especially important if their performance in that specific course is part of an overall assessment, such as a bachelor’s degree, training courses, or a certificate program. You will want to give everyone a fair chance when there is so much at stake.
Universal design principles naturally allow for not only personalization but also for accessibility. Learning experiences that enable learners to upload their own avatars, switch between themes, and adjust font sizes may seem like small things, or purely aesthetic, but they can greatly improve the e-learning experience.
5. Keep things simple
For a novice instructional designer, it’s tempting to jazz up modules for a course with all sorts of graphics and animation.
But as the old adage goes, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Thus, don’t add anything just for the sake of adding it. Any element you incorporate should serve a purpose to enhance effective learning; otherwise, it will just be clutter and distraction.
It helps to remember that many learners will access courses on their mobile devices such as notebooks, tablets, and smartphones, so screen real estate is limited.
With mobile learning being more commonplace, you have only little space to work with, which may not be enough for the essentials, let alone the extra frills.
Wrapping it up
As you can see from these suggestions, adopting an instructional design model can help you create effective e-learning courses. Pair that with the right learning solutions like CourseTune, and you’ll get even better results.