3 principles of instructional design

For years we’ve been discussing the challenges of creating great courses. We know it isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard. If you keep a few basic instructional design principles in mind, you’ll be able to pull together a course that ticks all of the boxes your learners and business leaders are hoping for: engaging, mindful, and most importantly, instructive.

  1. Context, context, context

    As an industry we tend to talk about “content,” but what we should really focus on is context.  Whether it’s a training program for the sales team on a new product or a company-wide compliance initiative, consider your audience’s point of view. The goal, of course, is to make sure that the content you’re providing is actually relevant to the work people do. Don’t simply throw a pricing guide and a list of technical specs at your sales team and call it training.

    DO: Build in time for the learner to reflect. A good learning experience feels like a dialogue.

    DO: Provide learners with real-life examples of questions their customers might ask - even if they seem a bit far-fetched - and suggestions for answers that will not only satisfy the customer but also provide the learner with a bit more insight into the product. “Scripts” can be powerful as learners are growing in their comfort with new material.

    Of course, this is easy to do when you’re creating product knowledge training based on your own products. But when you’re designing compliance courses or more general training, it’s important to create and provide content that ties the information back to your business in a relatable way. Don’t simply regurgitate industry or legally mandated rules and regulations that seem highly abstract.

    DO: Wrap rules and regulations into stories that illustrate how the information applies to their own use cases.

  1. Add context with scenarios and stories

    So you’ve fleshed out your content with explanations that connect facts, policies, and other information to your users’ world. Now let’s take it further by including cases and stories that can help your employees relate and make your content more "sticky". We’re naturally wired to remember stories--the juicier and more dramatic the better. This goes beyond making sure that the content matches the context (i.e. that a course about sales training actually discusses sales training techniques). It’s about providing your learners with a way to connect the material to their real lives and their actual jobs.

    DO: When discussing compliance issues, include cases or stories that have either actually happened or have a high likelihood of happening within your company or industry. These stories illustrate why it’s important to follow the guidelines. This is helpful for two reasons:
    1. Employees see the importance of the guideline as it relates specifically to them and their line of work and,
    2. People remember stories better than arbitrary facts. When they do happen to find themselves in a similar situation, they’ll remember the story and know how to apply it to their own situation.

  1. Provide content that matters

    Finally, our top tip of instructional design: sit in the learners’ seat. People are busy and they don’t want to have to hunt around for what they need. Provide quick hits of information to keep things moving. Your employees have full plates at work and need to find balance. If you’re offering a training on a new product, be sure that the main selling and technical points are easily accessible. If there’s more nuanced information that needs to be available, be sure it’s included, but consider storing it in an “additional resources” section rather than in the mandatory training experience. Additionally, for training used in situations like new hire orientations, you don’t need to include every detail about your company, clients, organizational chart, software instructions, new and old products, etc. That level of detail gets overwhelming and isn’t what the employee needs to learn at the outset.

    DO: Offer the most necessary information first to new hires, followed by information that’s useful to have but not critical. Then, provide resources and related content that employees can refer to on an as-needed basis.

    DO: Use design methods such action mapping that can be crucial to helping you identify what content really needs to be included to help individuals improve performance. The rest of the content (on the periphery of the action map) you can leave as a resource.

    Now that we’ve filled you in on our top instructional design principles, learn more about adding value to your courses with content curation by viewing our webinar Adding value through content curation: enhance your learning offer with content your learners will love.
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