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Hold the Authoring Tool: What To Do Before Your eLearning Course Design

When you go into a fun house or corn maze, there are literally dozens of paths that you can try to take. What strategy do you take when trying to complete the course? Do you run as fast as you can, not caring how many wrong turns or dead ends you take? Do you develop a strategy and create markers for yourself, so you don’t back track? Do you set markers and have an idea of how far you have gone? These are all different choices that you make. Similar choices can be made when it comes to authoring an eLearning course. It can be overwhelming to actually sit down and create the course. However, there are tried and true steps to take before firing up that authoring tool. 

Make sure do these things first:

1) Outline Course Goals

There are multiple levels of objectives. At the highest level are course objectives. There are also lesson, module, and supporting objectives. Before you jump into putting images and text on the screens, you need to come up with the course objectives.

What is the broader goal of the course? This will influence the more granular objectives you create. From this goal come up with 1-2 big ideas. These ideas will drive further decisions. When you come to a moment in the course in which you need direction, think of the big idea and use that to guide what you do. These course goals need to meet external and internal learner requirements.

Read: Are You Writing Rockin’ Course Objectives? 7 Do’s and Don’ts

2) Create Milestones

Even with clear and consistent course goals, an eLearning project is intimidating when you look at the big picture. Milestones provide signposts and a way to track progress. As you develop the course outline, you will see natural moments in which to chunk the course. Set target dates and content that needs to be created by those dates. 

3) Scope the Course

In addition to creating a course outline and projected content, you need to fully scope everything that will be needed for the course. How many videos are you proposing? Do you need to consider accessibility and captioning concerns? Have you developed the target audience? What is your overall budget? How will you communicate progress to stakeholders? If you do not set boundaries and clear limits, then you can easily get overwhelmed and have work to do that does not contribute to the completion of the course. 

Read: 7 Factors For Ensuring a Successful eLearning Implementation

4) Develop Learner Personas

How will you know what level of content is applicable for your users? Are you developing a module for executives, for people who have two years of the experience, or people who have over 30 years in the field? In the classroom, differentiated instruction allows for tailoring of content depending on the level of the learners. In the eLearning course, this can be accomplished through personalized learning. This type of design requires branching logic, flexible modules, and the option to test out of foundational units. 

Helpful resources:

5) Decide which Instructional Design Model to Use 

There are dozens of different learning theories and models to use for guidance in an eLearning course. There are entire college courses devoted towards learning about different theories of instructional design. You should not stick with only one theory of instructional design. Rather, the content analysis should guide the models that you use.

There are two facets of content that you need to consider:

  • One is the domain of the content. Do you need to use a subject matter expert? How should the content be structured to match these objectives? These are critical decisions that will inform the type of framework you use.
  • The other type of content decision to inform your design is that of leveling. Are you focused more on understanding, remembering, and recalling or on creating, evaluating, and analyzing? Whatever you select, make sure that the system you are using enables your learning objectives to be measurable. Without this, it is impossible to know if learners are taking away from the course what you intend.

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


"....if you just run straight ahead without thinking about and mapping the course, you run the risk of creating random and nonsensical eLearning experiences".  

6) Decide which Instructional Design Model to Use 

There are tools that you can use to storyboard your course. However, you can also use Microsoft PowerPoint (Grab this template here) or simple pen and paper. This storyboard can be as detailed or simple as you want it. At the bare minimum, it requires that you write a couple of words for every idea that is going to be added to the course. Make sure that you have a variety of ways to present information ranging from text to photos to videos. Also, make sure that everything you add to the course has a purpose. Do not add an image simply to add one. It should add meaning and provide a learnable moment. 

Read: A Simple Guide to Creating Your First eLearning Storyboard

7) Use Creating Consistent Graphic Design

The consistency of a course reduces the cognitive load of learners focusing on unnecessary features of the course. If every screen of the course has different color schemas and fonts, it does not foster a continuous learning experience. The other negative of not having a consistent course design is that it does not speak to the brand of the company. A great eLearning course design will cause immediate association with the company for learners. This is crucial for connecting emotional affinity to the course. 

8) Test, Test, and Test Again

In addition to pilot testing the assessment, you need to have others review your storyboard. Does everything make sense? Does all of the content matches with your one or two big ideas. Make sure that other people see alignment in the course. If alignment is missing at this point, it is easy to figure out where in the course sequence something else needs to be done. This is much harder to see when you are actually in the authoring tool. 

If you follow these steps, you are well on your way to setting the stage for an awesome eLearning experience. This can seem like a tedious and time-consuming process. However, if you just run straight ahead without thinking about and mapping the course, you run the risk of creating random and nonsensical eLearning experiences.  

Instructional Design Tips


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.

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