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5-Step Rock Solid Foundation For Your eLearning Course

Most new instructional designers tend to jump directly into the “development” process. It’s a universal eagerness because as we all can imagine the fun is in the building. However, much like architecture, the blueprints are vital to making it all come together. 

Can you imagine an architect designing a building without planning it on paper first? It sounds like someone is going to lose their client!

The organizational structure for any eLearning project is key to its success. Despite your knowledge of any subject, instructional design requires a bit more. Instructional designers need to consider time constraints, data, knowledge gaps, and most importantly, THE AUDIENCE! The best way to deliver information to the learners is something that doesn’t come naturally to us; it's an exercise that needs to be thought through and planned.

Below is a list of steps that can help you achieve a solid foundation for your course. Skipping any of these five steps would be a disservice to your students as they ensure quality. Read on for more on how to draw out the blueprint for your eLearning masterpiece.


Step 1: Analysis

Great eLearning courses don’t happen by accident. The deliverables that surface from this initial analytical stage are the building blocks for great design, relevant content, and purposeful activities that come to enhance the learning experience.

We know it can seem overwhelming, but below we’ve pointed out the most critical points to focus on at this stage.

The analysis can be broken down into these four key bullets:

  • Evaluate what you want to achieve. What is the business need? What is the desired result? Read more: How to Design eLearning that Meets Business Goals
  • Analyze your audience and where they stand. Who are the learners? Who needs to improve their performance? What do they know?What do they need to know? What are their expectations, goals and frustrations? How can you communicate this?  Read more: 6 Compelling Reasons Why You Should Know Your Learners Better
  • Content analysis: You should classify content into different categories (declarative, procedural or situated ) and types of content (fact, concept, process, procedure and principle.) This will allow you to know and understand the structure of the information, as well as the relationships between them. Also, it will allow you to identify:
    • How significant each piece of content is
    • What category of content is prevailing (declarative, procedural or situated )
    • If information should be rearranged

Read more: Using Concept-Mapping Techniques for eLearning Content Analysis


  • Task analysis. Determine the tasks associated with the job. This way, you'll be able to align content with the knowledge gap. .Listing this out will help you understand:
    • What learners are already doing well
    • Where the skill gap lives and which tasks need to be addressed
    • What task should the learner know had to execute after taking the course

Step 2: Writing Learning Objectives

Learning objectives ARE NECESSARY, no objections for this!

Writing brief, well-defined learning objectives is important not only to provide direction to your students, but they provide your team a clear focus on their efforts. It is a statement of what the learner will be able to do or know when they have completed the eLearning course. As you select the content, create activities and formulate instructional strategies, the learning objectives will keep  everything aligned.

Without all these elements syncing, there will be roadbumps; the learner will question the purpose of activities. If students doubt how elements are related to the tasks they wish to learn, they will be less invested.

#ImportantTip: Make sure you write down SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) - this  is helpful in multiple ways, both for you and your learners:
  • You can identify the content that will go in (and out) of the course.
  • You can design focused and relevant courses.
  • Your learners will find “purpose” in your courses and will be more motivated to take the course.

Grab These Tips To Help You Master The Art of Writing Learning Objectives

Creating an eLearning course without defining learning objectives, is like walking in the woods without a compass. Sooner or later, you'll get lost!

Step 3: Content Mapping and Sequencing

Content mapping and sequencing is going to be a lot like creating a choreography. Much like an ice skating performance, you arrive at the rink with the knowledge of movements, glides, and jumps. It’s important to pace them out; it’s important not to overwhelm either party with intensity. However, more than anything, it’s imperative to make it look easy. No one can enjoy a performance when he or she is uneasy with the outcome.

This phase is where you bring your objectives and knowledge to the table and begin to organize it all. A storyline, even played out on the ice, is understood because when it flows.

First, Connect Objectives to Specific Modules/Sections/Screens

What order do things go in? What topics need to come before or after others? Are there any units or modules that fit together more naturally than others?  Create a quick list or overview of the key points to cover for each module/section/screen.  And be very specific that each module/section/screen is connected or responds to a learning objective. When your instructional content, and learning activities align with the objectives, students learn and are happy with what they had signed up for. 

Then, Sequence The Content

Defining an optimal sequence is essential to generate maximum impact. This is one of the essential steps in creating an eLearning course because students are able to learn best when information is presented in one of several clear and effective instructional design choices. In fact, research has proved that the order and organization of learning content affect the way information is processed and retained (Glynn & DiVesta, 1977; Lorch & Lorch, 1985; Van Patten, Chao, & Reigeluth, 1986). 

Some suggestions for ordering the topics or concepts include:

  • Familiar to Unfamiliar –Similar to going from easy to difficult, familiar to unfamiliar starts with what the student knows, then moves on to teach them information they do not know. This can be done by using metaphors, analogies, similes, comparisons and other methods. 
  • Non-sequential – In non-sequential or network structures, learners have to get meaning out of the information presented to them. Often, this information is presented through case studies and scenarios. These formats which a student should be able to use information they have to determine either what the problem is, or at least give them information to begin an investigation.
  • Problem-solutionThe course presents  a problem, then introduces a series of events or issues that end in one or more possible solutions to fix the problem.  
  • Simple to complex Providing a student with simple information before providing them with complex information is a way to sequence things so that it makes learning easier. The student learns something easy, and then they can access their memory for that easy or at least easier thing to facilitate learning something more difficult. 

Read more here: Organize Content Effectively to Maximize Learning Opportunities

4) Design Assessments

What knowledge, skills, attitudes, confidence or commitment were acquired by learners after taking the course? Do learners use their newly acquired skills on the job? The answers to this question can tell you if your eLearning course has been successful. 

Here's how you should design effective assessments: 

  • Determine what kind of evidence you need to assess the "understanding" of your learners. Should learners be able to list a series of steps in their correct sequence or should they know how to perform the steps as well? Is it adequate for the learners to remember the names of the elements in a chemical solution or should they be able to create the compound by mixing the elements in correct proportions? The evidence you require will determine whether you need a simple drag-and-drop activity or a more challenging simulation game in your course.
  • Ensure assessment activities are peppered throughout the course. Don't wait till the end of the course to present the activity. Assessment activities sprinkled throughout the course give you the opportunity to assess learner understanding and guide him accordingly. After all, understanding doesn't dawn on the learner suddenly at the end of the course, so why should you wait till that long to test it.
  • Assessments and learning objectives are aligned.  You should design the assessment so that it maps with the objectives and lets you figure out if the learners have understood what they had set out to learn. 

  • Provide detailed feedback. Your feedback should not be restricted to a paltry "That's correct" or "Wrong." Provide detailed diagnostic feedback to help your learners themselves assess their learning and understanding.
  • Varying methods of assessment will be useful in appealing to different knowledge bases, backgrounds, and interests. This can be done in two types different ways:
    • Formative Assessments: These allow the instructor to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. This method requires learners to recall information as they go serving as a knowledge check or quiz before advancing. It keeps information top of mind, and the learner (and instructor) quickly notes where their weakness lies.
    • Summative Assessments: This method evaluates the learner at the end of the module or section. These are often graded or are a high stakes evaluation. An example of this is a midterm exam as it doesn’t on spot learning or feedback. It determines the level of mastery of a task once all the information has been provided to the learner.

Read more: Designing eLearning Courses Backwards

Step 5: Learning Transfer

The benefit of content should be apparent almost immediately. The world we leave in today requires that we make this point clearly and quickly. Learners need to connect the practicality and functionality of the content for incentive.

Providing the right material is not enough. The learner must want to learn. Investing in the interest of the learner is paramount. Not investing in building a rapport with your audience is counteractive to your primary goal as an educational provider.

Read more: Factors that Affect the Transfer of Training

Given its importance, how can we ensure it?

  • Explain, and then quickly, apply: Real life application is almost always much more complicated than the instruction. A great way to think about this is having someone explain a “move” in a sport as opposed to doing it. Carrying out an exercise has a natural opening to understanding, doubts, or questions. Someone can explain dancing, sprinting, or even a procedure with a customer, but when you go through the application of the theory, things come up, and we focus on why we need it. True to the “use it or lose it” rule, the brain filters, so using what you’ve learned sends the brain a red flag and leaves a mark.
  • Routine skills or repetitive exercises can help things become habitual and automatic, kind of like “wax on, wax off.”
  • Connect to what’s already known. For instance, we might not all be great on the ice, but if an instructor using references or comparisons to something we do every day like running or walking, it might help a learner build off it with ease.
  • Near or Far:
    • Near transfer is transfer of instruction between very similar contexts. For example, a coach is trained to manage a baseball team with a similar skills that he’d use with a basketball team.
    • Far transfer refers to learning applied in real life situations that is quite different to the learning context. Applying project management lessons to personal catering business is farther transfer than using it on the job, where the learning occurred.

The reason we mention this is because you want to keep application exercises similar to the context in which they are being learned so that the transfer of information isn’t lost. Some people don’t always seem the similarities between duties even if they are quite similar. Focusing on directly applicable examples and scenarios are essential, so nothing is lost along the way.

Read more tips here:

Before, During, and After Training: Improving Knowledge Transfer in Your Organization in 3 Stages


The course will add value, but the use of this structure can prevent that portions of this value are not lost along the way to confusion, frustration, and disinterest. The structure provided below can give your team the power to create more engaging and effective eLearning experiences for your audience. Organizing and assessing each element (audience, objective, knowledge gap) can help you to accomplish success without wasting valuable resources.


Audience Analysis Template


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