Where Do You Start When Designing Engaging & Effective Resources?, by Gill Chester

Our aim when designing learning resources is to create something that engages our learners and brings about change.  In this post I’m going to share six tips for designing elearning that focus on the learner.



1.   Understand The Learners Needs

Before you get too carried away with your designs, talk to the stakeholders.  At minimum this should be your learners and those signing off the resource.  Make sure you understand what it is they want to achieve.  There’s no point spending weeks designing an amazing software simulation if all the users need is a cheat sheet.  We should take care to not inject our personal view on elearning design and focus on what will be most effective.  A simple but effective way to understand their requirements is to get a range of people to just write down when they get stuck and what they couldn’t do.

2.     Resources Not Courses

I’m not going to go into this area in detail but you will no doubt see a shift to the development of resources rather than closed courses.  Focusing on the identification and development of self-contained resources that can be reused makes sense and allows you to use content in a number of ways (online and face to face).  Part of the resurgence of this module (made famous in the ‘90s) is the wealth of good quality and free resources available online.  This model allows teams to develop learning paths using a library of materials (internal and external).  If there are gaps you can just focus on filling these.  This can cut down the time to solve a performance problem from months to weeks.

3.     Dream And Design

When looking at a problem, use your imagination and try to identify the best possible solution.  Don’t worry at this stage about how you will create it.   Its better to pull back from an ambitious plan than to stick to solutions you have already use.  If you decided to install a new kitchen you wouldn’t leave out the sink just because you haven’t plumbed in a sink before.  So make use of a range of techniques and technology.  This might include audio, video, screen recordings, quizzes and interactive diagrams. The idea is not to throw all these different methods at every project but to consider how different media might enhance learning.

If you’re using a rapid development tool, for part or the entire project, search for solutions and inspiration from user forums, blogs and YouTube. The Articulate community is a great source of design ideas and is open to everyone, not just those using Articulate products.

4.     Simple But Effective Approaches

Consider different approaches such as storytelling. I’ve just finished a project for a client supporting the roll out of a new and internally developed, project management process.  It made sense to present this as a journey through a project, rather than the dry facts of the new procedure.   Another approach is problem solving.  Give the learner authentic and realistic problems that they have to respond to.  For example instead of explaining a new policy offer the learner a situation where the policy might have been infringed and ask them to identify how. This approach also doesn’t force them to go through unnecessary content (see tip 5).  Both these solutions present the information in a relevant context and allow the learner to build their own mental model.

 5.     Put The Learner In The Driving Seat

Whether you are creating a number of short resources or a whole course, it’s a good idea to let the learner take control and let them to decide on how they progress. In an ideal world this would allow them to skip over content they don’t believe is relevant, but this isn’t always possible, for example in the often cited compliance training.  In practical terms this might mean providing a main screen that then acts as a menu for the learner to branch off and explore a topic before returning. Unless there’s a good reason for not allowing them to go back, don’t restrict access to areas they have already visited.

6.     Don’t Overload The Learner

Finally, when designing screens, it’s important to consider how the learner will process the information onscreen.   I’m not an expert here but basically our sensory memory processes words through our eyes and ears because we read the text in our mind.  Competing graphics, narration and on screen text will put unnecessary strain on the learners working memory.  So, for example, if you are using a narration track only provide (single) words on screen to reinforce the message.


Author: Gill Chester is a learning designer at Little Man Project, the company she founded in 2010. Prior to this she ran a busy training department, which delivered a portfolio of courses across the UK. She has a Masters in Networked Learning, which was one of the first master’s programmes in this field (and it was only 12 years ago!).Web site: www.littlemanproject.com
Blog: www.littlemanproject/blog
Contact: www.about.me/gillchester


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