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5 Ways Instructional Designers Can Innovate and Thrive

Sometimes it feels like instructional design hasn’t been updated since the 90s. Often, today’s courses will look remarkably similar to the ones we made ten years ago. This sense of timelessness can easily bore our target learners and actually take away from the impact of the course content.

How do we incorporate true innovation into our instructional design? How do we awaken our creativity? Most importantly, how do we design solutions that actually engage our learners.


1) Shift your mindset into Learner Experience Design (LXD)

There’s a difference between instructional design and design thinking: instructional design often focuses just on the instructional material being developed and not the details of how it is being implemented. Design thinking, on the other hand, studies and improves the entire end-user experience.

A design thinking mindset considers: 

  • How the learner hears about the course
  • How to learner decides whether they would benefit from the course
  • How the learner enrolls in the course
  • How the learner finds out about pre-requisites and preparation for the course
  • How the learner accesses the course
  • How the learner navigates the course
  • How the learner provides feedback
  • The follow-up communication after the course
  • What other resources are provided and how they are accessed
  • How the impact of the training gets measured
  • How the learner can discuss the course material with peers

These details all contribute to the learner experience or LX. The term LX Design refers to the entire user experience, from start to finish, and the design thinking that comes with a scope like that.

Instructional designers have to consider specific learning goals set out by executive or managers. These might include mastery of certain skills or fluency with certain areas of knowledge. LX Design takes into account how people learn and how they apply their new knowledge and skills.

Even when the learner objectives stay the same, an increased focus on the learner might require more flexibility in format and method. LX Design acknowledges that not all learners are the same and that their existing knowledge is unique. They might also have different environments or be using different technology-- and it matters!

Taking the broad variety of learners into consideration might lead to innovations like plus-one thinking, universal design, offering learners more than one method of access, curating content, and allowing learners to have greater control over what they learn.

Read more: Four Key Elements of Learning Experience Design

2) Engage in more prototyping in your development process

Many developers build their courses almost to completion before they ask for feedback. By that time, they’ve invested a lot of wasted resources, making it harder to implement significant changes.

Instead, try quickly prototyping the course, getting feedback, and then making adjustments. This is a software development concept that will help you improve your process, get better results, and reduce how much time you spend on development.

Read more: The Ins and Outs of Rapid Prototyping for eLearning

3) Choose game technology that fits your goals

As an instructional designer, it’s your job to make learning content more engaging while also improving performance. When incorporating game elements, ask yourself “What do I want the learner to be able to do as a result of this game/experience?” Then, design backward from that action towards the starting point of the instruction. This will streamline and focus the process.

If your goal is to increase engagement, gamification can do that. If your focus is on skill acquisition and enhancing performance, however, you can go beyond gamification and implement cognitive science methodologies. Create virtual environments that mirror real-life challenges and provide scalable training with less class time.

Read more: 

The Remarkable Benefits of Using Gamification in eLearning

Before Gamifying eLearning, Read This!

4) Use responsive design

If you are concerned about the real benefits of staying current with technology advances and modern learner expectations, using responsive design is a great way to do so as learning on multiple devices moves closer to the norm.

Responsive eLearning design (content that works equally well on any mobile device as on any computer) will help a broader population access your courses whenever and wherever they want, increasing engagement as well as letting them truly achieve self-directed learning.

The single most important benefit of responsive design is the ability to deliver true performance support to employees on multiple devices at the different moments of need. When a learner needs information the most, responsive design gives them more options to have content delivered. This helps to limit the gaps in knowledge that exist when learning simply isn’t accessible.  This flexibility and accessibility should be a key factor in determining whether responsive design and mobile learning should be adopted by your company. By arming your employees with responsive courses and the right materials at the point of need, you are empowering them, thus increasing their productivity.

5) Make use of mobile video

Video engages and motivates employees in a way that text-based or static graphics communication can’t. Not only are videos easy to access via any device at any time, video also provides that human element and make learners feel as though they are being personally mentored.

According to the findings of Brandon Hall’s poll of more than 300 L&D professionals, video is an effective instructional medium because learners report increased engagement with this learning format. So it is not a surprise that video ranks third among the most-preferred formats for delivering educational content to mobile devices, according to a 2012 ASTD report on mobile learning.

However, when developing effective mobile videos you need to have a crystal clear strategy and a drafted plan.  You have to understand in advance exactly what you want to present to your learners. Keep in mind the flow of the video and make sure that it focuses on the key points that form the foundation of your script.

Read more: Mobile Learning Stats that Will Make You Rethink Your Training Strategy

6) Start caring about emotions

When it comes to modern Instructional Design, we can’t neglect emotion. We are now in the emotion business!

Great learning content that targets the right learners can produce a powerful emotional response, which leads to greater engagement and results for L&D departments. But in today's age of distraction, creating an emotional connection is easier said than done.

Stop thinking about what you want to tell learners and start thinking about how you would feel in the learner’s shoes. Design around your learners’ needs and the rest will fall into place. Creating learner personas will help you do this.

Secondly, you need to develop emotional intelligence when dealing with your peers. Not only do instructional designers have to listen to educators and managers, but they have to synthesize what is being said. Listen actively to your target audience to show your interest in meeting their needs: ask questions, be curious, and seek out opinions.

What are your instructional design tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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