SHIFT's eLearning Blog

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Five Rules of Engagement All eLearning Designers Should Live By

As a course designer, you are eager to offer the most helpful and engaging courses available to employees. However, to succeed in this mission, you must create the perfect balance between the right information, a memorable online experience, and an intuitive path from start to finish.

So, how do you do this? Check out the savviest tips and tricks that can guarantee you create this desired balance in your courses. Being aware of each of these points will remove rookie mistakes that get in the way of a positive learning experience.


1) To engage your learners, keep it simple

As an eLearning designer, you want to make sure that your course is engaging, but you also want to avoid overwhelming your audience with too many information and flashy objects. To succeed in your engagement mission, above all, the design of the course should flow in a way that allows the user to focus exclusively on the learning rather than trying to figure out how something works or where they should click. These distractions interrupt and hurt the learning process.

When you are choosing content, make sure that:

  • You have a purpose: Everything you include in the course should be there fore a reason. Before adding anything to a screen, ask yourself if every element is necessary. Does it support your learning objectives, or does it sidetrack to a different path? Any interaction, image, audio  you build into the course should be based on the objectives and not the other way around. Always identify what the learners will get out of your course. If the content is not delivered in a way that has personal relevance, then it is not likely to stick.
  • Media: Not flashy bling-bling, PLEASE! When you are choosing media, choose the option that does not complicate the student’s experience or delay their learning outcome. When you are considering features or additional learning resources, select only those that truly add value your audience.
  • Navigation: Lastly, always remember to keep it simple regarding navigation. Make sure that it’s easy to move around and that the colors or icons selected are intuitive and easy to read on any device.

Read more: How To Avoid Designing Cluttered eLearning Screens

2) Make it Attention-Worthy

To engage learners the first thing you must have is the learners’ attention.

Variety is the key to achieve this. If they can write out your course, you’ve lost them. Nothing kills attention faster than if your learners think they already know what's going to happen next. Include unexpected elements once in a while to make it irresistible for them to continue taking the course until the end. Read more: 10 Things That Learners Pay Attention To (And How to Use Them in eLearning)

That said, it’s imperative to avoid bombarding students with too much at once. The best courses balance content out between text, audio, video, and graphics in every screen. Different concepts are processed in different ways and its key to know when and where they help the student best.

Vary evaluation formats too. For example, for one portion of the lesson, you can use a multiple-choice format following with a simple text, or a short drag and drop.

Learning is an emotional adventure. Everyone has a particular way of retaining information, and including variety will help each student achieve completion in their own way.

Read more: 10 Types of Visual Content You Should Use to Increase Learner Engagement

3) Make your course actionable and easy to implement

Trigger thinking by guiding the audience through reality-based learning scenarios. Ask the learners to solve a problem that they may encounter during their daily activities. Any time you can include the learner to make a decision, create something or evaluate a real problem, you are involving them in their own learning process while also preventing boredom.

When designing your course, put thought into how the learners will actually apply what they have learned in the real world. A common mistake is to include games and activities to just "entertain" learners and, as a result, the focus is pulled away from the actual content. While it is important to keep the audience interested and engaged, do not lose sight of the purpose of the course.

Each of the lessons should include many examples too. Instead of expecting course participants to take you at your word, let examples do the work for you. Giving them examples (and counter-examples) is like giving them a compass so they can actually find their way.  Read more6 Ways to Incorporate Examples into Your eLearning Courses

Provide valuable, applicable information. A student will always come back to sources that provided content that is easily applied.  Students need real life situations to make the information relevant to them, so don’t skimp!

4) Fast, quick, and responsive 

This is the age of information. Knowledge doubles after every 12 hours. So, it is likely that at any point in time, some knowledge is uncovered that you don’t know yet. For this and other reasons, it is key eLearning professionals fuel the learners’ need for learning rapidly and regularly.


Make knowledge easily accessible on any device. Learners should have the freedom to define the “place and pace” of the learning. Today’s students are using devices of all sizes and shapes — their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and personal computers — and they’re often switching between them multiple times per day depending on their location. Responsive eLearning courses maximize the user experience regardless of device the learner is using.

In addition to creating responsive courses, the savvy eLearning designer needs to create content that is easily completed on a mobile device. Typing is not native to these devices, and interactions such as multiple select or drag-and-drop are more intuitive and less cognitively demanding. Seamless learning experiences help keep your audience in the flow of their learning.  Read: Why Reading on Mobile is Different (And What You Can Do About It)

Also, forget the linear way of imparting content. Remember, your learners are looking for just-in-time solutions. You need to give workers bite-sized modules frequently, to fit into their work day more easily.

5) Test, test, test!

One of the little secrets of engagement is continuous testing and iterations. And more importantly, take the eLearning course as if you were the student. Anyone seeking to create engaging eLearning courses can benefit by remembering what it is like to be on the other side. It is bad practice to subject learners to any training that you would not participate in yourself.

It’s time you stop blaming the “boring” content and commit to stop tormenting the learners who are required to take your course! Our job as eLearning designers is to DELIGHT the learner from beginning to end.

So, before launching your course, you need to have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t. When you’ve tackled a program or course first hand, you’ll have a lot more information than anyone else can give you through observations.

If a few people on your team do this too, make sure to tally up the typical answers like:

  • What formats did you enjoy most?
  • What formats did you enjoy least?
  • Did the content flow? If not, what interrupted things for you?
  • Did you experience confusion with navigation?
  • What elements were distracting?
  • What elements were extremely useful?
  • Is the content behaving as it should be? (e.g., animations, interactions, etc.)
  • Is media (audio and videos) playing correctly? Is it clear enough?

Gathering information to guide your improvements before launching your course will be important to always guarantee that the experience is a positive one.

In the end, what’s going to get students coming back for more is constantly walking away with information they didn’t have before. If you can untangle a complicated process, you’re going to solve a lot of procrastination in the workplace. In the mind of the student, one positive experiences should lead to another, and so they will go, taking on additional courses. Keep in mind that helping employees go through these courses positively is going to change the way that they view their tasks which will change their approach altogether. 

Other reads you might like:

Delivering Engaging eLearning in the Experience Age: Diversifying Content for All Learners

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