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Use These 5 Instructional Design Strategies to Create an Effective eLearning Course

On an eLearning team, the role of Instructional Designer is a core one. The strategy they use is majorly influenced by the needs of the stakeholders, the available resources, the intended audience, the objective of the training program, and the method by which it will be delivered to the learners.

These big-picture concerns pave the way for smaller, yet still critical decisions in the process of designing and developing the eLearning course, including:

  • What learning theory would best serve the needs of the project?
  • What Instructional Design model should you be using?
  • Is the ADDIE model best for this project, or does your team need to use something else?
  • What adaptations need to be made?
  • How will you present the learning material?
  • Which strategies are you going to use to enrich the learning experience? Read more:  How Does an Instructional Design Strategy Enrich Online Instruction?

In this post, we’re going to mention five actionable strategies that your or your Instructional Designer should use to maximize the eLearning course’s potential:


1) Microlearning

Strategy:  Microlearning is a learning strategy that involves small, focused segments of learning that are each designed to meet a specific learning outcome. To put it another way, learning is “chunked” so that the learner’s cognitive load is kept at a reasonable level and giving them a heightened ability to absorb, recall, and retain.

Microlearning also has the advantage of being easily accessible via mobile devices, allowing learners to find and use the information they need right at the time they need to use it.

How: Each “chunk” should be 5-7 minutes max. and have a ONE key takeaway. You could use an interactive video, augmented reality, an infographic, a checklist, a job aid, etc. This strategy is best applied as a supplement to reinforce formal training. For instance, it can be used after a conference or workshop to follow up on what was discussed in the professional development event. In this case, it should be used as a reflection or as a connection to the workplace to encourage a transformation of actions based on the concepts learned.

Why: If you are unable to keep your learners engaged, it might be time to implement microlearning. In the modern era, it’s often a challenge to compete with distractions, making this a great option for Instructional Designers who are having trouble holding the attention of their learners. Micolearning’s quick format allows learners to take advantage of short breaks throughout their day instead of interrupting it for long hours at a time. They can focus on something for 5-15 minutes and then move on to more important issues. It’s more realistic to request the completion of a bite-size 10-minute lesson per week then a 3-hour course from your employees. Read: Converting Long-form eLearning to Short Microlearning

Read more: Theory to Practice: Actionable MicroLearning Tips


2) Personalization

Strategy: Personalized eLearning is the customization of the course so it can meet the specific needs of each learner.

How: Here’s how it’s usually done:

  • Allowing learners to choose an avatar.
  • Giving options to change themes, fonts, backgrounds, etc.
  • Customization of the format of content delivery, like using audio/video/text, or changing the degree of interactions.
  • Personalizing the learning path for each learner via pre-assessment or surveys.

Why: In a large organization, it’s likely that all different types of employees will be involved in your eLearning course, so generic training won’t be suitable for addressing their varied concerns. Every employee wants to know how this new training will affect them and their job, and your course needs to be able to answer these questions. Tailored training will allow each employee to better understand their role, benefits they can expect to gain, how their roles and responsibilities might change, and the supports that are available to them.

Tip: Diagnose gaps and filter learners before the course even starts. Set up a series of questions to identify learners’ needs, gaps, experiences, and confidence levels upfront and then give them a course suited to their unique needs. Create ready-made pages (which could contain challenges, polls, videos, expert guidance, and anything else you could think of) and then set up rules around what to show and when. If learners, for example, are highly confident but inexperienced, give them a challenge with some accompanying expert guidance. If they have certain gaps or are in need of specific knowledge for their roles, link to those relevant pages.

Don’t just serve up info-- create a thoughtful menu for each learner and make relevant and useful content available.

3) Retrieval

Strategy: This is one you’re probably already using - and if not, you should be. Retrieval practice is basically just asking questions!

Retrieval practice can be as simple as using flashcardsflash cards or multiple choice questions that make learners recall information instead of just re-reading material. By answering the question, you’re forcing yourself to mentally rehearse what you would do in the real world when you need to access that information. Every time you do this, the pathways in your brain become stronger and the memory becomes easier to find.

Why: Asking and answering questions, while it may seem too easy to bother with, is actually one of the most fundamental interactions in our eLearning toolbox. Even directly after reading the material, having to answer a question about it is the first step in consolidating a free-floating fact into long-term memory.

How: The artistry in designing questions for an eLearning course comes in providing the right level of scaffolding and support as people progress through the material. Make sure the challenge is appropriate: low-stakes questions throughout the course will help people understand the content better.

A final note: this point only discusses questions that aid comprehension and recall. Questions can have other purposes too of course, like reflection, connection, and collaboration.

4) Spaced Learning

Strategy: Spaced learning is the practice of repeating something learners over time instead of repeating it immediately. Research suggests that this strategy helps learners refresh their knowledge and strengthen their memory of the content. 

How does it work? Present learners recaps of learned information at specific intervals (days, weeks, or months after the first learning event). The recap sessions present more opportunities to the learners to fill the gaps in learning. 

You also need to implement regular study/review breaks within your lessons. Three eLearning sessions of five minutes each, with 10-minute breaks in between, is the standard, but this can be altered depending on subject matter. For example, tougher topics that need longer sessions may also need a longer break for improved comprehension. In eLearning courses, timed breaks can be included to force online learners to pause and do something different in between modules.

Traditionally, Instructional Designers pick the single best way to present the same point, but when we use the spaced learning approach, you have to come up with multiple angles.

More tips here.

Why: According to the findings from experiments with spaced learning, people tend to retain and recall more and forget less of what they had learned when the learning is spaced across time and repeated during the teaching session. The forgetting curve has a gentler slope in this case, and as per statistics gleaned from over 800 experiments, learning using the spaced repetition method improves long-term retention by 200 percent.

When: A spaced approach can be a great follow up to a single training event, but entire courses can also be structured around this approach. This can be great if you don’t want to take employees away from their jobs for too long at one time. It’s also perfect for busy learners who like to use mobile devices to learn in short bursts.

5) Feedback

Strategy: Giving learners feedback is critical for both education and motivation. Informative, tailored, and instructional feedback is good but intrinsic feedback is usually better.

Why: Make sure your learners know why their answers were right or wrong and give them the opportunity to see real consequences of their choices. This will help to inform them and encourage them.

Putting learning objectives into a real-world scenario and showing the consequences of the learner’s actions provides context and makes the learning more meaningful, leading overall to better recollection and application.

How: If your learners are advanced enough, you may make your point just by showing them the consequences and then giving them the opportunity to find out what they did wrong. Let them have another chance before you provide instructional feedback.

If your learners are at a more rudimentary level, they may learn best when instructional feedback appears right alongside the intrinsic feedback.

What Instructional Design strategies are you using? How are they working out? Let us know in the comments below!

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