Instructional Design Basics and Best Practices
December 5, 2022
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A person’s ability to learn new skills is largely determined by the instruction they receive.
But with remote and hybrid work models, eLearning has posed a new challenge for organizations. How do we hold learner’s attention? How do we capture the energy of being in a room together? As a result, quality instructional design is now more important than ever.
Discover instructional design basics and best practices to create effective learning programs for your team.
What is instructional design?
Instructional design (ID) is the systematic process of creating learning experiences, materials, and resources.
Research from other disciplines, such as cognitive psychology and communication, is used to study and improve the methods for developing, delivering, and evaluating instructional materials.
Understanding instructional design basics
Part of the instructional design process is to analyze learning needs and goals and create a system to meet those needs. Instructional design benefits your learning programs by:
- Helping people learn better. The goal of instructional design is to follow an intentional process that meets learners where they are and helps bridge the gap to where they need to be. By creating and organizing content through the learner’s lens, you can deliver an engaging and impactful experience.
- Improving program quality. ID helps you define impactful learning objectives and tactical ways to achieve them through training. Assessments and feedback are components of instructional design, so you can continually improve programs and learning outcomes.
- Encouraging better use of resources. Instructional design leverages a range of methods and technology in learning programs. You can scale programs quickly and efficiently by providing learning options outside a “traditional” classroom environment. This flexibility also helps to save on costs associated with in-person learning, like travel and lodging.
There’s a specific role in this field known as an instructional designer. The purpose of an instructional designer is to develop materials that help people learn about a topic and improve a set of skills.
Instructional designers use these elements to create learning materials:
- How people think
- How they learn
- Available technology
- Methods of analysis
As a result, ID aims to create systems that facilitate learning, encourage people to develop skill sets, and encourage them to continue their studies.
Principles of instructional design
Some incredible minds have devoted years of study and research to instructional design. Yet, Robert M. Gagné, an instructional psychologist, is responsible for much of what we know today.
To build a framework for delivering content while addressing learners’ needs and interests, he defined nine principles of instruction.
1. Gain attention
An effective program starts with a hook, which gets learners excited about the material. You can do this by asking a thought-provoking question, sharing a surprising fact, or leading with a group exercise.
Set a good first impression and engage learners right from the start.
2. Tell participants the learning objective
No matter how good your hook is, people want to understand the why behind what they are learning—what the end goal is. This helps them understand what they are expected to do and learn.
Give participants a clear objective. What will they be able to do as a result of the learning experience? Maybe you want learners to abide by new compliance laws or be able to use new software on the job.
Regardless of your goal, establish the standard performance criteria early in the design process and provide objectives before learning begins.
3. Recall prior learning
Most people have real-world experiences that can be related to a topic, even if the topic itself is new to them. Learners must recall their prior knowledge to fully comprehend what they’re learning, based on the Gangés principle. By relating new information to previous experiences, they can make sense of it.
You can stimulate recall in many ways, including:
- Asking questions about past experiences that relate to the topic at hand
- Understanding the learner’s current skill level
- Tying past course information into new ones
Engage learners in a discussion. If a course is about time management, ask them to describe a time that they fell behind on a project and the steps they took to resolve it. This way, they can connect the course to something they’ve experienced.
4. Present the content
After building the foundation for effective instructional design, you can begin to structure the information in a way that is easy to follow and understand. The Gangés principle requires that you organize content creatively and meaningfully.
Through blended learning, you can mix up how content is presented. Materials can take many forms, including:
- Online lectures
- Multimedia presentations
- Social learning exercises
According to research, an average learner’s attention span is between 10 and 15 minutes. For individuals to have effective training, the content must be easy to consume and understand.
When creating your learning content, follow these guidelines:
- Keep lessons short, between 3 and 5 minutes
- Split longer lessons (over 10 minutes) into sections
- Limit course length to 20 minutes
- Use a variety of formats to get your message across (text, video, audio, graphics)
- Add interactive elements to put the learner in the driver’s seat (reflection questions, knowledge checks)
- Use a conversational, high-energy voice and tone
“Focus first on what the learning experience will be like, then fit the content into that.”
– Kristi Thurston, Learning Solutions Manager, Kustomer
5. Offer guidance
Although you’ve created well-structured, high-impact lessons, some learners may struggle to understand concepts. That’s why you’ll want instructors ready to provide advice and guidance throughout their program.
Ways you can offer learning guidance include:
- Provide instructional support to help learners achieve tasks
- Offer role-playing and visualization exercises
- Use metaphors to familiarize learners with new concepts
- Present case studies that show real-world application of concepts
6. Let learners practice
Make sure students understand what they’re learning by having them apply course concepts. Bring students together and ask deep-learning questions about the course or collaborate on a related task.
Formal assessments, such as written assignments or group projects, can help to confirm comprehension. Students can also take quizzes to demonstrate their understanding of course concepts.
7. Give feedback
Sixty-five percent of employees say they want more feedback from their employers. Giving your audience feedback keeps them interested and gives you insight into their understanding.
You can include random games throughout your course. Or regularly test learners’ knowledge through quizzes and assessments. Then, give an overview of what’s going well and what needs to be improved.
As you train, continue to apply those insights. There might be value in revisiting a concept most people don’t understand.
8. Assess performance
Determine whether the course objectives have been met. To measure progress, you should provide pre- and post-course evaluations. Provide students with a variety of assessment methods to demonstrate their understanding.
Standard methods to test learning include:
- Peer feedback
- End-of-course assessment
- Focus groups
- Exit interviews
9. Enhance retention
You want participants to retain the knowledge and skills they learn, not just pass the course and forget about it. Your goal is to give learners the resources they need to apply concepts in the workplace.
Some methods for improving knowledge retention:
- Encourage learners to connect in Slack or other messaging apps to discuss the material
- Host regular workshops to refresh skills
- Check in with learners periodically to see how they are applying skills
- Create a dedicated portal with course materials and additional resources
Developing online training with no instructional design experience
Now that you understand instructional design basics, you’re ready to develop your first learning program. Even if you have no previous experience, you can still follow a widely-recognized and popular model called ADDIE.
ADDIE is an acronym for an instructional systems design framework used by many training developers and instructional designers. It stands for: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.
Goal: Determine training needs and develop a training plan.
The first phase involves identifying the key elements of an effective course, such as objectives, learner profiles, and training needs. Some questions to consider during this phase are:
- Who is the audience?
- How do they prefer to learn?
- What kind of learning constraints do they have?
- How can we deliver the content?
- What’s the timeline for this project?
Goal: Obtain an overview of course design and prototypes
In the design phase, course creators plan and structure content based on what they learned during analysis. This includes learning activities, exercises, assessments, visual design, and interface design. A storyboard serves as a blueprint for decisions during this stage.
Goal: Create course content
Based on the storyboard they created during the previous phase, instructional designers develop the activities, exercises, graphics, and course assets. This phase also includes debugging and beta testing. The project is reviewed and given feedback during the development phase.
Goal: Get your content live in your learning management platform and learners can begin taking the course.
After you’ve tested your courses, you can share them with learners. You can upload courses and set up delivery options in a learning management system (LMS).
You’ll set up the finer details in the LMS, such as what’s being taught, how much time students have, pass marks for assessments, and feedback options. A learning platform like WorkRamp lets you deliver your course and collect reporting and tracking data.
Before releasing content to learners, it’s a good idea to conduct a pilot to avoid problems in the implementation phase.
Goal: Evaluation report and actionable insights to improve future course content.
In the evaluation phase, we measure whether the course met the objectives set in the analysis phase. After the evaluation, you may revise or update the course content.
How to design effective online training for employees
Whether it’s your first or fifth course, keep the following tips in mind to develop effective training programs:
- Make courses flexible in place and time. Run lessons online so learners can access material from anywhere. If you’re running workshops, try to schedule them at a reasonable time for every learner.
- Keep content short and sweet. Content chunked into smaller bits is easier to comprehend and engage with.
- Provide self-directed learning content. This way, people can learn on their own and feel empowered.
- Make learning collaborative. Ninety-one percent of L&D pros believe that teams that learn new skills together are more successful. Embrace social learning elements in courses to facilitate peer-to-peer and cross-functional learning.
- Offer blended learning opportunities. Let learners develop skills and knowledge in various ways to improve retention.
How WorkRamp can help you with instructional design
A learning management platform like WorkRamp and instructional design go hand-in-hand. Instructional designers can use WorkRamp as a host for eLearning content.
WorkRamp also provides many benefits to help people learn better:
- Drag-and-drop course authoring editor. Build interactive, media-rich learning experiences with easy-to-use course-building tools that let you drag and drop videos, documents, images, and more.
- Clear and intuitive navigation for administrators. Seamlessly create courses, guides, challenges, libraries, and other learning elements.
- Challenges and certifications. Help learners practice their skills and receive feedback on their performance. WorkRamp gives you access to various coaching and certification tools to empower learners.
- Content collaboration. Work with additional administrators and content editors to build trainings together and tap into the power of internal subject matter experts.
- Prebuilt content. Assign off-the-shelf content as is or incorporate it into learning paths to supplement your learning strategy while saving you time.
- Custom courses. Create custom courses internally or leverage WorkRamp’s Learning and Instructional Design experts to create dynamic, engaging training material.
- Simple user management. Set up user profiles, create custom learning paths, automate assignments, and send group notifications.
- Integrations. Connect WorkRamp with your favorite business tools for instructional design and content management, including Iiorad, SCORM, Highspot, Guru, and more.
- Reporting. Access intuitive, easy-to-use reports that correlate effective training courses and programs to KPIs like sales, revenue, and retention.
Ready to learn more about using WorkRamp to create effective learning programs for team members? Contact us to schedule a free, personalized demo.
Complete the form for a custom demo.
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Michael is a SaaS marketer living in Guadalajara, Mexico. Through storytelling and data-driven content, his focus is providing valuable insight and advice on issues that prospects and customers care most about. He’s inspired by learning people’s stories, climbing mountains, and traveling with his partner and Xoloitzcuintles.
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