Instructional designers know that creating eLearning courses for adults is a unique opportunity for teaching and learning. Since adult learners are often willing participants in training, sometimes even choosing and paying for their course to better themselves personally or professionally, it can feel like you always have a willing audience.
All you need to do is deliver the content, right? Not so fast.
Creating eLearning Courses for Adults – What You Need to Know
Creating eLearning courses for adults also poses particular challenges above and beyond the actual development, especially for designers who aren’t well-versed in adult learning theory.
If you are just starting out, we offer downloadable custom eLearning templates in our Shop for your convenience. Now, before I tell you what you must know before creating eLearning courses for adults, drop down to the comments. Tell me what you love about creating training opportunities for adults!
What is Andragogy and Why does it matter?
Andragogy is basically a fancy way of saying adult learning. The educator Malcolm Knowles has many books (several more recent) on adult learning theory that are great for reference if you’re interested in really diving into the topic.
Don’t worry, I’ll give you a quick rundown right here! Back in the 80s, Knowles published his five assumptions of adult learners, distinguishing them from child learners:
- Adult learners are self-directed.
- An adult learner’s past experiences are a resource for learning.
- The engagement of adult learners in learning increases when connected to a real-world application.
- Adult learners expect to apply learning immediately, so content should be problem-centered over subject-centered.
- Adult learners’ motivation for new knowledge is internal.
I’ll build off these assumptions and add in a few strategies I’ve had success within my own work with adult learners. This will give you a crash course on what to do (and what not to do) when you’re creating eLearning courses for adults!
6 things to know before creating eLearning courses for adults
1. The course goals and objectives
In an ideal world, in your instructional design for eLearning, you would identify the course goals before a training project even begins- but this is the real world! Sometimes, you sit down with a client or department head who has an idea for a training but doesn’t quite have it narrowed down to a specific set of learning goals. Or, they have learning objectives, but the content they provide doesn’t fit the scope.
When it comes to adult learning, knowing your learning goals and objectives is a must before you can begin to design eLearning. The learning objectives will be the driving force behind the content: both in how it’s organized and how it’s assessed.
It’s your job as the training specialist to understand exactly what it is the learners should know or do by the end of the course. Then, you can use that knowledge to drive the learning goals and objectives.
2. Why the learning is important for the audience
This goes hand-in-hand with gaining a deeper understanding of the learning objectives. Don’t just ask what your client wants their audience to know or do. Ask WHY, because you can bet the audience of adult learners will ask that same question.
Make a connection between the learning objectives and the real-life application of the skills or knowledge included in the course. Do this by asking key questions (you can do this during your project kick-off meeting) like:
- What specific benefits will learners experience as a result of this training?
- Will this training make their tasks easier or more efficient?
- What other professional benefits result from this training?
- How will the audience put this new training into practice in their everyday lives?
Once you have the answers to those questions, don’t just sit with them! Use them in your marketing of the training before it’s implemented and include them within the first few minutes of the eLearning course.
The best way to engage your audience of adult learners is by first gaining their buy-in, and there’s no better way to get learners to buy-in to training than by spelling out exactly how it will benefit them.
3. How to make the content relevant
Now that you’ve got a clear picture of how training benefits the learner, it’s time to connect those benefits to the content to make sure the audience can see how it relates to their work or goals.
While selling the connection between knowledge and learner benefits is an excellent way to start, it’s not enough just to tell adult learners, “this is important because it will help you professionally!” If the learner can’t see how the actual content of the course fits into their day-to-day lives, you’re going to lose them.
During the development process, work with your stakeholders to incorporate scenarios that reflect situations the learners would encounter during an average workday. Use the company slogan and branding in your visual design. Use anything you can that will remind the audience of their typical workflow.
4. How to use graphic design elements to your advantage
Of course, your first concern when it comes to creating eLearning courses for adults should be the content. But once you have that figured out, the next step is just as important – the visual design.
In an eLearning course, your audience will take notice of the visuals before they connect too deeply with the content, so it’s up to you to use aesthetics to deliver an appealing learning environment.
I already mentioned using the company’s branding to help your audience connect to the learning, but you can also use their logo and promotional materials for color palette inspiration, then pick just a few main colors to use throughout the training.
Keep it simple, screens shouldn’t be too loud or crowded. Bear in mind that modern learners tend to skim text, so your best bet is to narrow down the on-screen text to what is essential to understanding.
5. How to incorporate problem-solving
Adult learners will engage best when they’re able to put new knowledge to practice. This can be tricky with an eLearning course, but not impossible!
There are two easy methods for allowing learning through discovery in an eLearning course that I like to use. The first is a ‘show, don’t tell’ method of delivering information.
Instead of giving learners an information dump followed by a simple knowledge check, let the audience pull the information for themselves wherever possible. One way to achieve this by using realistic scenarios or case studies within the course.
My second simple way of allowing learners to problem solve within an eLearning course is by getting creative with the knowledge checks I place within the training. Engage your learners in problem-solving at the end of a module. You can do this by asking them to drag and drop information within specific categories, matching, or a fan favorite: the scenario builder interaction in Articulate.
Don’t forget, you’ve already identified how this course will be relevant to the audience once the training is over, so you can also assign some post-training tasks for the learner to complete out in the real world once the course is over.
6. How to keep things interesting without getting too techy
Just because your audience is participating in eLearning, doesn’t mean they’re all tapped into the latest and greatest technology. So, remember that adult learners have varying levels of comfort using technology when you’re designing the course.
Make course navigation as user-friendly as possible. You might consider starting the course with a quick introduction of the interface, pointing out the important navigation buttons.
Here’s another important question to ask yourself to gauge user-friendliness. Do you have to teach the users how to use the course? Are important course features hard to access? If this is the case, your course might not be user-friendly!
For example, let’s say you have a customer service course for an HR department. You wouldn’t drop that into a brand new LMS that the department has never used before.
You should get to know some basic information about your audience during your scoping meeting. Use your best judgment when designing your course!
Wrapping it all up
So, how are you going to approach your next eLearning course differently? Still have questions on how to make eLearning effective for adult learners? Head over to my Facebook community and share your takeaways or ask a question. I can’t wait to hear what you think!
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Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.
I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.
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I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!
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The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!
Future Instructional Designer
If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!
Future Instructional Designer
I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).
Future Instructional Designer
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Krista Johnson Awomoyi
Freelance Instructional Designer
I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.
This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!
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Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.
I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!
Freelance Instructional Designer
My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!
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I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.
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Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.
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Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer. She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program. It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.
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Working with Shawntay has been an immense pleasure. She is atop notch professional who brings enthusiasm and extensiveexpertise to professional curriculum development and execution. Her knowledge of tried and true techniques to maximize the effectiveness of presentations is invaluable.
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Vice President of Research, CEIR - Center for Exhibition Industry Research
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Shawntay has exceptional knowledge and experience with all aspects of creating and implementing effective, performance based training for adults. She is exceptional at needs analysis – identifying target audiences and collaborating with business owners to keep training focused on business needs. And she is great to work with – always providing great support to get projects done on-time and on-target. She is always on the look-out for new and more effective ways to engage learners. Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!
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I have known and worked with Shawntay as a education program director and use the expertise of ShawntayMichelle for the development of my presentations. The service has always been “spot on” with professionalism, care and attention. Shawntay’s recommendations to my ideas make me look good to my clients.
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I am new to the training design and development world and I was SO excited to get in there, but I really lacked the real-world knowledge that would set me apart from my peers. And, then Shawntay Skjoldager walked into my life with an outstretched hand and a seemingly endless list of ways to knock every training out of the park. From the Training Analysis Form to the Tay Tay tips, this course made my life so much easier and even ironed out the review process that I had been struggling with for months.
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