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5 Instructional Design strategies for effective e-learning

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

5 Instructional Design strategies for engaging learning experiences
Strategies for effective elearning

Instructional Design remains a crucial aspect in corporate training in 2023 as more firms adopt or expand their eLearning programs. It's crucial to consider not only the content, but also the delivery method, as effective instructional design prioritizes the learner experience, delivering high-quality, personalised, intuitive, enjoyable, and innovative content tailored to their needs.

The process of Instructional Design involves analysing the learning requirements of a target audience and creating learning experiences that efficiently facilitate knowledge transfer. To effectively apply these established techniques in the fast-paced world of eLearning design, how can we optimise their effectiveness?

Here are 5 instructional design strategies to maximise the effectiveness of online programs:-

1. Save time with Microlearning

Microlearning is a method of delivering focused, bite-sized segments of learning designed to meet a specific learning outcome. This approach reduces cognitive load and enhances learners' ability to absorb, recall, and retain information. Additionally, microlearning is easily accessible on mobile devices, allowing learners to access the information they need in real-time.

Why: If you're struggling to keep learners engaged, microlearning might be the solution. In today's fast-paced world, distractions are prevalent, making microlearning an effective way to hold learners' attention. The quick format of microlearning allows learners to learn in short bursts during their daily routine, rather than dedicating long hours to training. It's more feasible to ask employees to complete a 10-minute lesson per week than a 3-hour course.

How: Each "chunk" of learning should be 5-7 minutes maximum, with one key takeaway. Microlearning can be delivered through interactive videos, augmented reality, infographics, checklists, or job aids. This strategy works best as a supplement to reinforce formal training, such as after a conference or workshop. By using microlearning as a reflection tool or connecting it to the workplace, learners can take action on the concepts they've learned.

Tip: Make sure the content is accessible and usable on mobile devices to enable microlearning. As more and more learners are turning to their smartphones for learning, it's essential to ensure that your microlearning content is optimized for mobile consumption. This means that it should be easy to read and interact with on a smaller screen, and the layout should be clean and user-friendly.

Thinkdom's tips for microlearning: mobile-first design, personalised paths, stunning visuals, and customisation

2. Connect emotionally through Storytelling

Storytelling is a popular instructional technique used in eLearning to connect with learners and make dull topics engaging. The incorporation of stories into eLearning can result in a stronger emotional connection with learners, as they can relate to the characters, participate in problem-solving, and retain knowledge through the experience. This can be achieved through case studies, comic strips and scenarios.

Why: Storytelling creates emotional connections, increases empathy, and makes otherwise boring training subjects interesting.

How: Storytelling can be used in any eLearning course to add a human touch and make the content more relatable to learners.Case studies provide an in-depth look at a situation or individual's experience in resolving a problem. Comic strips offer a similar approach with a more casual and humorous tone.

Tip: Choose stories that are relevant to the course content. The story should align with the overall learning objectives and help learners understand the key concepts better. The relevance of the story can help learners engage with the content and retain the information better.

3. Enable play through Gamification

Gamification is the integration of game elements into non-game contexts, such as learning, to make it more engaging and entertaining. In instructional design, gamification can be a powerful tool to motivate learners, encourage active participation, and enhance knowledge retention.

Why: Gamification is an effective way to increase engagement and motivation in eLearning courses. It provides a fun and interactive way for learners to engage with the content and allows them to see their progress and improvement.

How: Gamification can be achieved through the following techniques:

  • Adding points, badges, or leaderboards to track progress and encourage competition

  • Incorporating challenges, quests, and missions to keep learners motivated

  • Using game-like interfaces, such as virtual worlds, to create an immersive experience

  • Providing immediate feedback and rewards for correct answers and completing tasks

Tip: When implementing gamification in your eLearning course, it’s important to strike a balance between the game elements and the learning objectives. The game elements should support the learning goals, not distract from them. Also, keep in mind that not all learners are equally motivated by gamification, so it’s important to provide multiple engagement options to cater to different learning styles.

By creating a game-like environment, learners can feel a sense of accomplishment as they progress through the course and become more motivated to complete the learning objectives.

4. Enhance retention through Spaced Learning

Spaced Learning involves repeating information over time instead of all at once to improve memory retention and recall. Spaced learning can be used as a follow-up to a single training event or structured into an entire course. It's ideal for busy learners who prefer learning in short bursts and for organisations looking to minimize employee time away from work. The approach is also well-suited for mobile learning.

Why: Research shows that spaced learning leads to better long-term retention and recall compared to mass learning. Experiments have found that spaced repetition leads to a 200% improvement in retention over time.

How: This is achieved by incorporating regular review sessions at set intervals (e.g. days, weeks, or months after initial learning) and implementing study breaks within lessons. The length of the breaks and sessions can vary based on the subject matter, but the standard is three 5-minute eLearning sessions with 10-minute breaks in between. This approach requires instructional designers to present the same information from multiple angles.

Tip: Schedule reminders or schedule reviews and practice sessions at regular intervals after the initial learning. Additionally, you can personalize the spaced repetition based on the learners' progress, so they can review and reinforce the content they are struggling with the most.

5. Cater to ‘Me’ with Personalisation

Personalised eLearning is an instructional design strategy that tailors the learning experience to meet the individual needs and preferences of each learner. This approach takes into account the learner's prior knowledge, learning style, and pace, to create a customized learning path that is relevant and engaging.

Why: In a large organisation, employees come from different backgrounds and have varying concerns. Generic training won't address these differences. Personalised training helps each employee better understand their role, benefits, potential changes in responsibilities, and available support.

How: Personalization can be achieved through several methods, including:

  • Allowing learners to select an avatar

  • Offering options to customise themes, fonts, and backgrounds

  • Personalising the format of content delivery, such as audio/video/text or the level of interactions

  • Customizing the learning path based on pre-assessment or survey results

Tip: Before the course starts, diagnose learners' needs, gaps, and confidence levels through a series of questions. Then, provide a customised course tailored to their needs. Create pre-made pages containing challenges, polls, videos, and expert guidance, and set rules for what content to show and when. For example, if learners are confident but inexperienced, provide a challenge with accompanying expert guidance. If they have specific knowledge gaps relevant to their roles, link to those pages. Don't just present information, create a personalized menu for each learner with relevant and useful content.

Leverage Instructional Design with microlearning, storytelling, Gamification, Spaced Learning, & Personalisation for training

Parting Thoughts

In conclusion, the field of instructional design is constantly evolving and e-learning is one of its fastest-growing areas. By incorporating proven instructional design strategies such as gamification, personalisation, micro-learning, and others, instructional designers can create effective and engaging e-learning experiences for their learners. Whether it's a micro-credential program or a full-length course, the effective instructional design will ensure that the learning objectives are met and the learners are able to retain and apply the information. By following best practices and experimenting with new methods, instructional designers can continue to raise the bar for e-learning and make it an even more valuable tool for learning and development.

Here's to Instructional Design, the backbone of successful corporate training, and micro eLearning, the game-changer in delivering effective, engaging, and efficient learning experiences. We are filled with anticipation for the advancements and innovations that the integration of Instructional Design with micro eLearning will bring in the future. Until then!


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