Five Simple Instructional Design Principles

business woman writing on a boardCreating learning content is – simply put – not easy. You know this better than anyone as a learning professional and maybe feel that your responsibility to educate your organization is overwhelming. Yes, it’s a big job! But that won’t stop you from continuing to do what you do to help your organization by helping the people who run it.

We at Litmos are here to help as well and believe that you deserve some extra support in getting your very important job done and hopefully making it a bit easier. So here are five instructional design principles to guide you on your way:

  1. Start at the stop.

In other words, begin at the end. Answer the critical question: “what does the learner need to know after completing this course?” This is often the hardest part in the instructional design cycle, but it is the foundation that supports the rest of the process. It can be helpful also to avoid “soft goals” that are imprecise and include vague verbs such as “will understand.” Next, classify your instructional objectives according to the three learning domains – cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. From there you can create goals for demonstrable skills and behaviors.

  1. See it from their side.

It’s essential to know your audience. This principle is just as important in instructional design as it is in public speaking. Especially in a distributed learning situation, you may not have as much information about your learners as you would like, but you should be able to ascertain some key facts such as approximate literacy levels, prior knowledge of the instructional content, level of comfort with online learning technology, and degrees of motivation.

  1. Build a blueprint.

This is the game plan that you’ll need from the beginning. Develop instructional strategies based on your analysis of both the learners and the course content. This can be a fairly lengthy step in the process because it may be open-ended and diverse, but by putting the plan down on paper (ok, probably digital “paper”) you’ll lock down what you want the outcomes to be. Very different strategies would be used to teach a psychomotor skill such as golf, for instance, as opposed to the affective behaviors that might be required to train customer service representatives.

  1. Focus on instructional materials.

The strategies you identified in the previous step will guide the process of finding or creating your instructional materials. You may find that course content already exists that would work with just a little tweaking. Or you may need to start from scratch. Sometimes it’s necessary to reinvent the wheel if the existing wheel doesn’t do what’s needed. The key point is to revisit your learner analysis and consider what types of materials will be most effective. Mobile, video-based learning might be the best option for those on their feet in a factory. Office-based workers might be more willing to read through lengthier courses with more written material. These are just simple examples, but the takeaway is to offer instructional materials that suit your learners.

  1. Evaluate how you did.

Here’s the potentially painful part. (Or maybe not!) Hopefully your self-assessment will prove that you did exactly what you set out to do and learners are delighted – and better off from what they’ve learned. Once the learning has been rolled out, ask yourself: “What worked and what didn’t?” Ask about all aspects of the instruction – the mode of delivery and the setting of the instruction as well as the content. Ask your learners for feedback and keep the questions as open-ended as possible.