• Travis Jordan

5 Instructional Design Strategies for Creating Better E-learning

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

Blog Contributor: Kristin Savage

Whether you are an independent instructor or a part of a platform development team, chances are that instructional design has you worried. Platforms such as Duolingo and Khan Academy create amazing e-learning experiences seemingly without mistake. However, these platforms have gone through numerous iterations and trial and error until they landed on their feet.

E-learning is becoming a huge trend in the corporate sector, with 98% of companies vowing to move their training programs methods to the cloud by 2020. With such a large market to look out for, instructional design is more important than ever. With that in mind, let’s take a look at several design strategies which can improve your online courses and create a more streamlined and refined learning environment.

1. Course Gamification

We all like to delve into video games every once in a while. After all, smartphones and social media platforms such as Facebook are filled with attractive pick-up-and-play games. Games found on Android and iOS stores are designed with recurring play in mind. This means that they offer small but significant rewards for players who keep coming back for more levels. Things such as cosmetic decorations, additional stages and new in-game features all become available as more time is put into the game.

This process represents what is commonly referred to as “gamification”. It offers ongoing incentive for people to come back to a service or an application in exchange for their daily dose of dopamine. Gamification is often used in e-learning and formal education, given the point-based nature of today’s grading systems. This principle can easily be implemented as an e-learning feature, giving people more reason to stick with your course or platform.

2. Learning through Scenarios

People memorize new terms, knowledge and skills through association better than any other way. E-learning of today has the advantage of not being reliant on outdated literature and a lack of multimedia. In that regard, your courses should be retrofitted with scenarios which match the given lessons. For example, if your course is on graphic design, you can base your scenario on an artist named “Greg” and his journey of professional self-discovery. Greg can learn about relevant design software, network with other professionals and work on exciting projects – all through the eyes and ears of your course’s students.

This simple storytelling technique will allow you to retain students and reach a far wider audience than the niche you initially targeted. However, you should also keep the international translation of your scenarios in mind while doing so. Platforms such as Pick Writers can be an effective tool in your arsenal when it comes to localization of online courses into other languages. Make sure that your courses are as accessible and user-friendly as possible through custom-made scenarios in each.

3. Micro-Learning

Both millennials and youth represent the largest portion of e-learning audiences. These ambitious, energetic individuals carry smartphones everywhere they go, including their beds and classrooms. They like to dabble into interesting materials, social media feeds and online courses in very small intervals which usually only last minutes. Building your design strategy with bite-sized, micro lessons in mind might be the secret ingredient you are looking for. Break your course into smaller milestones and goals, with clear “achievements” at the end of each section. Make sure to include percentage meters and other visual incentives which will help the learners keep an eye on their progress.

Do whatever you can to make your courses understandable and as short as possible between lessons. This doesn’t mean you should cut anything out or dumb down important terminology or processes. All you have to do is dissect the course you are trying to design to the smallest details and form small lessons which can be completed in a matter of minutes at a time. Before they know it, your students will have completed much more of the course they set out to learn from. Creating a commitment-free learning environment is one of the hallmarks of e-learning, which is why you should bank on it as much as possible.

4. Value through Multimedia

The purpose of e-learning is to provide a rich, comprehensive breakdown of something that people would otherwise have to get through formal education. This can relate to anything from marketing and sales skills to operating a 3D modeling piece of software. Visual materials such as pictures, videos and audio are pivotal to today’s e-learning, especially for smaller development teams. Platforms such as Lynda have fully adopted an in-house production methodology when it comes to their courses. Each course is specifically curated so that it can be understood both by professional and amateur users of any given skill.

Presenting a course without any multimedia or practice materials to speak of will only backfire for you. No one wants to look at walls of text and waste their time trying to understand what the writer wanted to communicate. Take the long road to success and make sure to offer your students as much quality multimedia as possible in each course you design. That way, your e-learning crowd will grow over time and you will have managed to build a brand reputation within the online community.

5. Quiz-based Recaps

Lastly, there is a good reason for the existence of quizzes and tests in formal education. E-learning offers the opportunity to implement quizzes in a less stressful, more productive manner however. You can include quizzes at the end of each section of your online course as a means of solidifying the learned knowledge. Quizzes can be based on the previously-covered lessons or present the students with problematic situations which can be solved using the knowledge gathered so far.

Both solutions work in your favor since the students will have an opportunity to test their newly-acquired wisdom and skills in a safe environment free of real-world consequences. This can give the students more incentive to keep learning until they reach an error-free result in their quizzes. It also offers a good indication of their current progress after each section is complete. The name of the game is student retention and satisfaction, both of which must be present in equal measure.


No matter what instructional design principles you apply to your online courses, your students should remain the top priority. Make sure to take their ongoing feedback and criticism into consideration since they are the ones you create the e-learning environment for.

In time, you will be able to find the perfect balance between value delivery, student retention and online marketing. All of these factors play a large role in whether or not your platform and courses will find and keep the audience engaged for extended periods of time.

About the Author

Kristin Savage (a guest contributor to IDC) nourishes, sparks and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Now she had found herself as a freelance writer. She observes with a special interest how the latest achievements in media and technology help to grow readership and revenue and shares her opinion. You can find her on Facebook and Medium.

#Microlearning #OnlineLearning #eLearning #InstructionalDesign


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