SHIFT's eLearning Blog

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

To visit the Spanish blog, click here
All Posts

Empathy As Your Starting Point for Great eLearning Design

Happy New Year! It is that time of the year when we get busy making resolutions. It is a time of hope and new beginnings. We resolve to lose weight, manage our time better, become more productive, and turn over a new leaf. This year, let's resolve to become more empathetic eLearning designers. We can resolve to stop churning out cookie-cutter courses, and instead, create learning material that is truly inspiring. We can resolve to stop talking down to our learners, and instead, reach out and connect with them. We can resolve to stop being aloof, and instead, show more empathy.

According to Theresa Wiseman, the four attributes of empathy are putting yourself in another person's shoes, understanding their feelings, accepting them non-judgmentally, and communicating with them to make them feel assured and cared for.


Why Should eLearning Courses be Empathetic?

According to social scientists, human beings are wired to relate to one another and feel a sense of belonging. We respond readily to affection and understanding. Advertisers understand the human psyche. The commercials that really click (read: drive action) are the ones that speak to our hearts, anticipate our deepest needs, understand our wordless desires, and provide solutions to our most pressing problems. Why should eLearning courses be any different? After all, you too want to influence and inspire your learners with your message.

In the midst of trying to apply learning theories, adhere to the course objectives, map assignments to objectives, meet deadlines, and fulfill organizational expectations, empathy usually gets the boot. That's a pity, because without empathy, you cannot make your learners trust you and believe in your message. 

How Can You Become an Empathetic Instructional Designer?

Empathy as a mindset can be cultivated. With appropriate practice, it can even become your second nature. Before heading to the drawing board or defining the learning objectives, try practice being empathetic by understanding your learners.

1) Understand Your Target Audience

Demographic profiles of your target audience do not always paint the complete picture. You have to look beyond statistics like age, educational qualification, and occupation to understand the learner. Your learner is a sum total of his past experiences, desires, aspirations, and expectations. His learning styles and media preferences are shaped by his familiarity with and access to technology. His cultural upbringing influences his perception of symbols, images, words, or analogies. The learner is a complex and multi-dimensional human being; just a few numbers do not define him. 

Here's how you can get into the shoes of your target audience:

- Use polls, surveys, and emails.

- Track social media habits and usage patterns. Your target audience, which comprises corporate executives, may not exactly bare their souls on social media. But you can accurately gauge the type of content that whets their imagination, stimulates their gray cells, and tickles their fancy from the posts they like and the videos they re-tweet.

- Carry out usability tests with existing courses and take down copious notes after interviewing the users.

- Use eye-tracking software to find out which screen elements grab eyeballs readily and which ones get missed.

Although it is not always possible, but if you have the chance to observe your target audience in action, grab it. For some, this might mean spending a day at the departmental store to understand what a floor manager's job entails before creating a refresher course for him! "Immerse" yourself in his world.

Pay attention to everything that is happening on the floor, so at the end of the day you know the ins and outs of the manager's work environment—the people he interacts with, his challenges, the pain points of the job, and the areas for improvement. When you "observe" his world minutely, you can figure out how you can design your course to help him improve his workplace performance.

You might also want to follow the floor manager when he steps out of the building for his lunch. No, you don't have to stalk him. Introduce yourself and get him to talk about his job and how he sees himself five years down the line. Don't expect him to come up with a learning solution, but just talking shop ("engaging") with him might give you ideas for one.

We recommend using the "Empathy Map" to analyze your learners effectively:


2) Use Appropriate Tools to Convey Empathy

You have tried to understand your learner's point of view. You empathize with him, but does he know? How can you make him believe you are a kindred spirit who has the solutions to his woes? Use the following tools:

- Images: Images are one of the most powerful design tools in your arsenal. Use images to convey emotions. Photographs of people, especially facial shots, are extremely effective in evoking emotions. That is because, we human beings like to relate to other people. However, you can also use evocative images of inanimate objects. Images of teddy bears never fail to bring out the "aww"s from us. Photographs of cozy den areas where the wooden floor is strewn with plush rugs and a crackling fire is on evoke feelings of warmth. You got the idea, right?

- Words: Use powerful verbs to convey emotions and bring alive a scene in the mind's eye of your learner. If your course has scenarios, pay particular attention to the dialogs; make them as natural-sounding as possible.

- Colors: Colors work on our brains and tickle our moods. They can even make us hungry or feel like shivering with cold! Colors can convey empathy, evoke feelings of friendliness, and make learners warm up to the course.

Empathy brings people closer and creates lasting bonds. Your learners have left their school days behind; they no longer have to learn for fear of being punished. Because your learners have a choice to take or not take your course, you have to go the extra mile to create that bond of empathy with them. 

Attention-Grabbing Course




Karla Gutierrez
Karla Gutierrez
Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

Related Posts

Four Ways to Create an Effective mLearning Strategy

Chief learning officers, learning leaders, and training coordinators everywhere are well aware of the need to increase mobile training programs. After all,  74% of employees say they access resources from their smartphones to do their jobs— and that number is expected to continue to grow. 

How to Design Microlearning Around Moments of Need

Let’s be honest: your employees use smartphones and tablets every day, everywhere — including in your workplace.

  • 8 min read
  • Thu, Jun 16, 2022 @ 04:44 PM

The Basics of Motivational eLearning Design

When we think of the word, motivation, instantly two things come to mind. First, when we are young, many outside things motivate us, a desire to do something, the reality of punishment from our parents, positive and negative reinforcement of what we are doing, etc. All of these things help to motivate children, and in some cases, it has a positive effect, and in other cases, it does not. The more proactive the motivation, the more positive the response to that motivation, the more reactionary the motivation, the more negative the response. The second picture that comes to mind is a learned reaction to something. Like Pavlov and his dogs, which would salivate when he rang the bell, motivation can be at times subconscious. However, there are much more things that drive the motivation of human beings, and in the arena of learning, there are some critical pieces to the puzzle that have to be developed so that learners feel the value of what they are learning and how it will benefit them. The rewards of their success must be considered from a variety of sources and satisfy them on a variety of levels, and as instructional designers of e-learning programs, we must not only understand these factors but be skilled in utilizing them in the courses that we design.