From Novice to Ninja: Expert Insights for Aspiring Instructional Designers

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You’re a new Instructional designer (ID) In the ever-changing world of learning and development. Welcome! Our L&D world has evolved beyond traditional boundaries, and technological advancements and diverse learning needs have created an intense need for our skills. We’re here to offer you some insights to help you become a successful ID who understands how to create trainings that make both organizations and learners happy. Today’s successful IDs understand how to create eLearns that tie outcomes to overall organizational goals, engage diverse audiences, and help learners retain and apply knowledge. Integrating these and other skills not only improves the quality of your work but also fosters collaborative and learner-centric approaches, ensuring your content meets the evolving needs of your company and workers. 

Define clear and measurable learning objectives 

Before you design an eLearn, you must understand what your organization’s learners need to know by the end of the training module or program. What should the learner understand, or be able to do after completing a module or course? Answers to that question guide your process, providing a clear roadmap for content creation, assessment, and evaluation. The most effective learning objectives are concise, measurable, and aligned with broader organizational goals, helping IDs focus on key content, select appropriate instructional methods, and develop assessments that accurately measure how well the learner understands the information.  

Tie training to business goals 

Understand not just what your audience needs to learn, but WHY they need to learn it. Effective training focuses on results. What are the organization’s goals, and how will training help them achieve those goals? What information should employees learn, and what behaviors do they need to change? Identify the reasons for the training request, then create learning objectives that will help achieve those goals. Not only will this promote a more focused goal-oriented approach to professional development, it also increases employee engagement and motivation; individuals can see a clear connection between their personal growth and organizational achievements. 

Grab learners’ attention upfront  

Your eLearns must immediately capture a learner’s attention. This can take many forms – eye-catching visuals, engaging video, interesting design, etc. Or start with an activity or question that challenges their knowledge. If users know the answer, they’re encouraged to learn more. If they don’t know the answer, it’s an indication that they need the eLearn. Incorporating engaging multimedia elements such as visuals, videos, or interactive simulations can quickly get a person’s attention.  

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Consider the attention economy

The term “attention economy” was coined by Herbert A. Simon. According to Jonah Berger from the Wharton School of Business, “Like money, attention is a limited resource. Consumers today have an almost unlimited amount of information at their fingertips, which means brands have to compete to get a slice of that attention.” This also applies to IDs and elearns. You are competing with a lot of noise while trying to get and maintain a learner’s attention. They have a lot on their minds and are used to the fast pace and quick delivery of internet content. Keep training focused by including essential information, not ALL information. New IDs often try to include too much information about one topic. Don’t do this! Humans are not computers and need time to think about what we’ve learned. Check in with goals and learning objectives often. Don’t bore experienced learners with information they already know, and don’t overwhelm new learners with too much content. 

Include knowledge checks and assessments 

One of the best ways to measure the effectiveness of your training is through knowledge checks and assessments. The difference between knowledge checks and assessments is that knowledge checks tend to be a few questions here and there, and they aren’t recorded or scored. Instead, they help learners verify their understanding of the content or show them that they need to repeat the module. Knowledge checks include games, matching exercises, multiple choice questions, etc. Assessments tend to work better at the end of a module and are scored and recorded. Workers who feel successful when seeing tangible progress tend to be more motivated to keep training and apply their new knowledge on the job. 

Repeat and reinforce key takeaways 

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows how we lose information over time if we don’t try to retain it. Repetition and reinforcement are essential principles of eLearning that help learners retain knowledge and apply it over time. Mix things up by incorporating spaced repetition, scenarios, simulations, feedback, and confidence checks. By learning the same information through a variety of methods, learners can reinforce knowledge and learn to apply skills in real-world situations over time. 

Learn at least one ID model 

IDs should prioritize learning at least one ID model to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of their educational content. These models provide a systematic and structured approach to the development of learning materials, ensuring the content is well-organized and aligns with learning objectives. Understanding these models can also help IDs design trainings for diverse learning preferences. Additionally, these ID models emphasize assessment and feedback for creators to evaluate the impact of their content and make any needed improvements. Popular ID models include: 

Hand holding phone with "LEARNING" on the screen in front of slightly blurry math equations on blackboard.
Follow learning theory 

Understanding a variety of learning theories is essential for IDs to address diverse learner needs. Such theories provide conceptual frameworks that help designers analyze, interpret, and apply principles of learning in the development of training materials. Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, connectivism help you tailor your approach to different types of employees. Such versatility allows for the creation of engaging and effective learning experiences that resonate with a wide range of learners. Plus, an understanding of diverse learning theories enables IDs to adapt to evolving educational trends and technologies, ensuring their designs remain relevant and impactful.  

Test and revise 

Continuous testing and revision of eLearns is crucial to providing relevant and effective trainings. Technological advancements, changing educational theories, and evolving learner needs require updated content, new instructional technologies, and keeping up with emerging challenges or gaps in the learning experience. Also, learner feedback and performance analytics provide valuable insights that guide improvements. By embracing a cycle of rest and revision, you improve the overall quality of your eLearns, optimize learning outcomes, and foster a more adaptive and responsive educational environment. By keeping content current and committing to continuous improvement, IDs offer more successful and impactful trainings. 

Stay current with trends and technologies 

IDs who understand the latest trends and technologies (learning platforms, authoring tools, learning management systems, etc.) create effective and innovative trainings.  The educational landscape is constantly evolving, so you must keep up with these developments by learning new tools, platforms, and methodologies to create relevant eLearns. Some examples include incorporating immersive technologies, embracing adaptive learning systems, or leveraging data analytics for personalized feedback. Additionally, awareness of trends ensures IDs can anticipate shifts in learner preferences and adapt accordingly. Doing so creates a learning environment that responds to learners’ needs. Committing to continuous learning and professional development will also help boost your career. 

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Design for different learning preferences 

eLearns that cater to learners with different learning preferences and needs ensure inclusivity and effectiveness. IDs should incorporate a variety of multimedia elements, interactive features, and adaptable formats to address the needs of all learners. This approach engages a broader audience and creates a more personalized and effective learning experience. Learn and implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to develop flexible eLearns that provide multiple means of representation and expression. Tailor learning format to the audience needs (including their physical environment).  

Design for different learning environments 

Will your eLearning participants learn by sitting at a desk using a laptop or desktop computer? Are they on a tablet on a loud factory floor? Perhaps they only have a few minutes here and there between deliveries and use their smartphone to access training ( not while driving, of course). IDs must consider the devices learners use as that impacts the layout, interactivity, and responsiveness of the eLearning modules. Awareness of the learner’s context — workplace, at home, or on the go — informs decisions regarding multimedia elements, complexity, and module length. By tailoring eLearns to fit the learner’s environment, you improve their overall experience. 

Final thoughts 

Again, we welcome you to the ever-changing world of instructional design! You are entering a dynamic and evolving landscape that encourages continuous learning – both for those using your eLearns and for you. We hope you have found our advice helpful and that by following it you improve the knowledge of others while you enjoy a rewarding and successful career. 

Related Blogs

Unleashing the Power of Templates for Microlearning Modules

Is Your eLearning Accessible to Everyone?

The Importance of Using Blom’s Taxonomy when Creating eLearning Courses


Basiouny, Angie (Host). “Surviving the Attention Economy: How to Keep Audiences Engaged.” Knowledge at Wharton Podcast. 9/5/23. Accessed 1/17/24. 

Cloke, Harry. “The Forgetting Curve: Why We Forget and How to Remember.” Growth Engineering. 2/27/23. Accessed 1/17/24. 

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