SHIFT's eLearning Blog

Our blog provides the best practices, tips, and inspiration for corporate training, instructional design, eLearning and mLearning.

All Posts

E-Learning Magic: Explaining Complicated Procedures Simply

If you’ve ever found yourself tearing through your whole house looking for an instruction booklet to fix a phone, tablet or other device that had the audacity to stop working just when you needed it most then you know how important it is to know the procedure for things.

Procedures are action oriented. They help complete a task with detailed, step by step instructions. They guide us through the soul-crushing darkness of malfunctioning electronics and help us complete simple to complex tasks. 

How to Present Procedures in eLearning Courses:

In the workplace we are often bombarded with seemingly unnecessary procedures. For example, a call center rep that has to ask the same three questions to every customer even when that customer’s problem has nothing to do with the questions. However, when a rep doesn’t ask these questions or record the answers a bigger problem is created for the manager who now can’t track vital information like sales, problems with a website or other issues. In other jobs not adhering to regular procedures can lead to injuries, lawsuits and costly mistakes. 

Employees need to carry out these important tasks yet most organizations struggle to train them. This is why procedure training needs to be made real and feel relevant to students. Procedure training should always:

1)     Benefit the student

2)     Relieve a real problem 

There are many learning strategies that can help you present a procedure in your eLearning courses. Here are some: 


Strategy #1: Flow Chart

What is it?: A diagram that shows the sequence of actions needed to complete a task.

When to use it: to visualize a multi-step process, a series of conditional outcomes or a sequence of causes and effects.  Flowcharts can help to clearly give a visual representation to the steps that need to be taken.

How to build it: Set the goal of the procedure and determine the series of actions or operations in sequential order.

Note: In order to make it more interactive you can create an animation. The animation would start with the first question on the screen with a prompt for the user to click “YES” or “NO.” Depending on their response, a different path would be shown. Also, you can illustrate the process in an infographic, prompting your learners to travel the flowchart trying different pathsSee this example:


Here are some simple guides for creating flow charts correctly:

Strategy #2: Illustrations

What are they? They are visual representations used to exemplify and describe procedures, processes, critical paths, troubleshooting, etc.

When to use them: Use illustrations when a process is hard to photograph or when words aren’t adequate to explain something. Showing spatial relationships, for example, are easier with an illustration. 

Illustrations make it possible to show things that aren’t easily seen like the inner workings of a machine.  Often, details of things like these can be clearer in an illustration than in a photograph. 

How to build it:  Through a series of illustrations accompanied with explanatory text.

Note: Clarify the procedure by adding numbers to each step, and arrows to guide the direction of flow.



Visit this site for more info on The Instructional Role of Illustrations

#3: Step graphic or table

What is it? Step graphics or tables break up a complete task into subtasks, showing information in a sequential way that helps learners understand a procedure visually

When to use it: If you have a procedure that’s complex or just hard to describe, step graphics or tables are excellent ways to show what can’t be easily described in words.

How to build it:

  • Divide the procedure into complex tasks.
  • Determine the subtasks that must be performed to complete each of the larger tasks.
  • Define the sequence in which they must be carried out and place them on the table or graphic in the form of steps.

Example: Create an interactive screen to explain the financial planning process in your company. Learners have to click on the numbers to see the contents of each step.


#4: Hot Spot Interactions

What is it? These are spots that a learner can click to reveal additional information. Hotspots invite learners to click to learn more. It’s a simple way to interact but helps keep learners engaged.

When to use it: This type of interaction is good to explain individual elements within a larger picture and when information is very brief.

How to build it:  Set up a slide with different screen shots of the actual software and create hotspots in sequence to simulate the sequence of steps need to complete a task. 


#5: Videos

What is it? We’re all familiar with videos and know that they help us learn, visualize and, occasionally watch cats doing silly things on the internet.  And, best of all, if done well, they can add tangible learning benefits to eLearning courses.

When to use it? When something can be better explained by showing vs. telling then you have a chance to use video very effectively. 

Videos are wonderful visual tools that can really help some learners understand and remember complex procedures. They are useful for displaying dynamic data, moving parts, chemical or physical reactions, and how to assemble a piece of equipment. Here are other examples of procedures that would benefit from video:

  • Baking a cake
  • Call center representative training
  • How to change a background color in a drawing program

How to build it:  

Videos are an area where good quality is more important than with other resources. The last thing you want is to produce a low-budget, groan-worthy eLearning video.  Hire professionals whenever possible and make sure the actors are decent too. Bad dialogue and acting can really be distracting and prevent learners from engaging in your content. There are thousands of online resources to get you started!

Note: If you are teaching the student how to use a specific software or program, you can also include a screencast demonstration with a voice recording.

See this example on How to Sharpen a Knife

Attention-Grabbing Course


Information Mapping. (2012). Guía del Participante para el curso Desarrollo de Políticas, Procedimientos y Documentación.

Peralta Caballero A, Olvera Sánchez A, Cuevas Manzanares A. (2013). Metodología de Diseño Instruccional eLearning. México D.F.: Aura Interactiva. 

Pimienta, J. (2012). Estrategias de enseñanza-aprendizaje. México: Pearson.

Emilia Iñigo
Emilia Iñigo
Psicóloga Educativa. Planea, diseña y produce cursos de eLearning. Con talento para la elaboración propuestas didácticas creativas.

Related Posts

The Key Components of a Learner-Friendly eLearning Course

It's so easy to assume the content is all that matters in an eLearning course. But, how information is presented affects its effectiveness. The design, for instance, influences how students interact with information. Think about one of your existing eLearning course designs: Is it too cluttered? Or is it designed to properly guide learners toward clear goals? 

  • 6 min read
  • Wed, Sep 22, 2021 @ 05:55 PM

How to Turn Your Employees into Lifelong Learners

A fat paycheck? Yes, but not always. The corner office within the next five years? Yes sure, but what about now? 401(k) plan. Health and dental insurance. Paid vacation. Well, these would be nice. What do you think is the single biggest factor that motivates employees to recommend their company as THE place to work for young, ambitious people? According to Bersin by Deloitte’s research with Glassdoor, learning, and career opportunities are accorded the highest priorities by employees. Clearly, employees know that in an ever-changing and volatile workplace, there is only ONE way to make oneself indispensable. Keep growing. Keep learning. Innovate consistently. Employees have not failed to learn from the examples around them. Companies like Yahoo,  BlackBerry, Blockbuster failed to keep up with the times. The result: they continued to lag till the day when they were forced to give up. Innovation is the game-changer. It is true not only for organizations but also for individuals. This is why companies are able to lure valuable employees away from their rivals with the promise of training opportunities. As an HR or training professional, you have to keep your employees interested in working for the company by providing them with ample learning opportunities. They need to improve their skills, increase productivity, and be on top of their game, so your business can out-innovate its rivals, tide over disruptions, and respond to market changes.

  • 13 min read
  • Wed, Sep 15, 2021 @ 04:44 PM

Don't Frustrate Your Learners! 7 Rules for Creating User-Friendly eLearning

What if the secret to life existed but was locked in a box that no one could open? Well, you’d pretty much just have a box, wouldn’t you? And that is also what you have when you design an eLearning course without taking usability into consideration. It matters little how relevant information in a course might be if your audience can’t access that information. While engaging students and making sure content is entirely covered are critical parts of course success, it is just as important to go through and make sure your user interface (UI) ducks are in a row. Taking the time to go through and check for user-friendliness will help ensure that your students don’t lose out just because the course is difficult to navigate. Keep in mind that an eLearning course often isn’t a choice for most people. They are taking this because they have to and will have little patience for guesswork. Make it clear what the user needs to do in order to advance in the course. Learning is difficult enough without the added annoyance of having to hunt for what to click on.