Hey, Instructional Designer, Training Specialist, Training Manager, and Freelance ID, what instructional design best practices do you incorporate into every course you develop?
If you are here, you have most likely already designed live and online courses. You design these to help people succeed in their job or some other aspect of their life. Or maybe you created a training session for your office to help your employees in an area that they were struggling. If so, let me ask you this question, “Do you see the kind of results that you are expecting?”
Is your training course or program producing the results you were going for? If not, I have some strategies that just might help you get closer to the results you are targeting. Today, I am going to share 15 Instructional Design Best Practices that I use for every course I create. These should help you get the results you want.
Read through each of the Instructional Design Best Practices, and if you decide that you already have one of the best practices mastered, move to the next Instructional Design Best Practice You might be surprised to find that that you aren’t fully incorporating a few of these into your instructional design process. But enough talk, let’s get started!
Determine Key Players and Then Include Them
If you need the office or warehouse to become a more secure place, there are a couple of key people you should include in the training process. You would want to ensure you fully cover the safety issues. I refer to these people as “key players” and “stakeholders.” For a warehouse safety training, the key players might include the warehouse manager, security guard, frontline employees, and anyone else who has knowledge of the cause and solution of the safety issues being addressed in the training.
Figure out who you need to involve in your scoping meeting and SME interviews and make sure to include them. Overlooking this step could result in missing information that is needed to ensure the course achieves the desired results. Be thorough, and take extra steps to avoid this mistake.
Identify the Goals
Every course and training program should have at least one goal. The goals that you want to achieve with the course or training program are fundamental. The primary purpose or outcome of the course needs to be clearly stated and evident throughout the course.
For example, if you were building a course on office etiquette, you would create content and activities that support the course goal. Every single quiz, exercise, learning objective and all the “Need to Know” content works together. Like a symphony, it focuses on delivering the course goal.
The development of course goals should be an early step in your instructional design process. I recommend that you have a Scoping Meeting to set clear, attainable goals at the beginning of building your course or training program.
Host a Scoping Meeting
Remember those “key players” we talked about earlier? Well, one of the most important instructional design best practices is to host a scoping meeting and invite those key players to talk about the needs of the course.
Training courses and programs are often created to solve a problem. During the scoping meeting, you and the key players will get really clear on what the problem is, what the solution is, and what the desired results are.
The course goals and learning objectives should drive the solution.
In the scoping meeting, you will complete the “Training Analysis” with the key players to identify the needs of the training.
Identify Learning Objectives and Key Outcomes
Educators in the public school system are required to explain their outcomes and objectives at each lesson they present to their students. You are going to model your style after what they do and express what you plan on learning during this conference time.
You shouldn’t be having “The Office” style conference meetings. Especially not if you want to get things accomplished!
Cascade the Content from Objectives
Imagine that every piece of content has a thread running through it. That thread connects the content to the learning objectives and the learning objectives to the course goal. A quality instructionally designed course will ensure everything is connected.
When the content cascades down from the course goal to the learning objectives to the “Need to Know” information, the content should deliver on the desired results. Take the time to dive into your objectives and ensure that they are connected to goals and desired results.
Focus on the Need to Know Content
According to BrainShark, we as humans remember about four slides in a 20 slide presentation. That’s about 20% of the course, if we are lucky. When you organize the content, the focus should be on what we call “Need to Know” information.
Any content that does not thread up to a learning objective, course goal, or a learning outcome is irrelevant information. It is content that participants do not need to know in order to be successful. They don’t need this info to achieve the desired results associated with the training course.
Chunk Content into 10-20 Minute Lessons
Chunking content is a great way to help learners stay focused and on topic while learning. There is actual science behind this. Our brain quickly runs out of will-power to work or focus. However, if you chunk the content into smaller segments, it helps the learner’s brain to stay focused.
It is also helpful to group your most relevant content towards the beginning or the end. We remember how things start, and how they finish. Often, the middle is a little blurry. So grouping things together at those two hotspots can help your employees remember what was taught. Grouping and chunking promote long term memory and critical thinking during your presentation.
Include Brain-Friendly Activities
Questioning, group-work, reflection, scenarios, and anything that gives the learner the opportunity to practice is a brain-friendly activity.
It is during these brain-friendly activities that the brain has time to process, understand, and make the learning stick. These should “brain games” should frequent your training. Your employees can enjoy your course and learn at the same time!
Another instructional design best practice is to actively engage learners throughout the learning experience in both live and online learning environments. You must be intentional in your design process and include engagement activities often. These engagement activities can help you chunk the content as well.
Engagement activities include just about any activity that requires the learner to work. One mistake that I often see is the engagement of one learner in a live setting versus the whole group. For example, if a trainer stands at the front of a room and asks questions expecting one person to answer, the trainer engaged one person.
Conversely, if the trainer asks a question and asks people to pair up and talk through possible answers, the trainer just engaged the whole class.
Do you see the difference?
Let Your Design Support You in Your Delivery
Let’s talk about PowerPoint presentations in live settings and even online for a second. The last thing you want to happen is for a trainer, the voice talent, or your learner to read what is on the screen. In fact, there should not be enough content on the screen for the learner to read and know what is going to be said before it is said.
Visuals are support elements, not the star of the course. Slides should NEVER be used to read from…EVER…regardless of delivery format. That is what a script and a facilitator guide are for, and even then, those should not be read from either.
There is something called “Cognitive Load Theory” that gets into the nitty gritty of why this type of design is bad. Check it out here. Learners will be bored out their minds and zone out if they are writing the notes on the screen and not paying any attention to what the trainer is saying.
Allow your visual design to enhance the delivery of the course content, but don’t let it deliver for the course. Use the screen for pictures, videos, sounds, and big ideas. Instead of allowing the screen to become the center of attention, make sure it is merely a tool that is used in the delivery of the “Need to Know” information.
With all that being said, don’t just go with a bland design. You can and should use colors, fonts, images, videos, and other tools to create visual interest. In business, design is a crucial part of marketing.
Think of storefront windows, do you go into stores that are cluttered with junk or the stores that look interesting? Similarly, in the design of quality training courses, visual interest is a tool best used to gain the listener’s attention.
Limit Wordy Text
As I mentioned, you don’t want the learner to scan the info and tune out before the course has a chance to get started. If you limit the text on the screen, the learner is forced to pay closer attention to the delivery of the content.
Garr Reynolds used the term “slideument” in his book “Presentation Zen” and I always go back to this. A slideument is where a slide collides with a document and the slide is used in lieu of a document. If there is a ton of information to share, the content should be shared in a workbook or a one-pager, not on screen.
Triple Check Your Content
When I was managing a team of instructional designers and eLearning specialist, everyone on my team was paired up with a reviewer. Nothing ever left the team to go to an SME or business owner without an internal review.
Why? Because people get hung up on small things and lose sight of the big picture. Take social media for example. How many times have you personally or seen someone else lose sight of a message because someone spelled a word wrong? It happens a lot.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my boss or learner to get so caught up on a few misspelled words that the training I spent six weeks working on gets a ‘meh’ rating. You have to be positive that the content you have created is error free and achieves the desired results.
In the Instructional Designer’s Toolkit, you will find the QA document that I used with my team. Check it out here.
Measure Post-Training Analytics
Another important instructional design best practice is to measure and evaluate the results of every training course and program. If you don’t measure and evaluate, how will you know whether or not the training delivered on the desired results?
Some results are easy to evaluate and measure. Others are more difficult and may require the involvement of the analytics team.
For example, if you know that the desired result of the safety training we mentioned earlier was to reduce the number of workplace accidents, you can measure the number of accidents month over month and year over year of everyone who took the training to determine if the training worked as it was planned to work.
If accidents are down in the group who took the training, great! If not, what needs to change to get better results?
Finally, Tweak the Training
The last instructional design best practice I want to share with you today is tweaking. If the course or training program failed to deliver on the desired results, you may need to tweak the training or throw it all together and start over with a quality “Training Analysis” during a scoping meeting.
Should you tweak the training if you are achieving results? Possibly. There is usually room for improvement in all that we do, but before you take on updating something that works, ask how much will the results improve if you tweak the course.
One thing I tell all my instructional designers to remember is that a training course or project is not a baby to love and protect. If something isn’t working or business need changes, we must be able to pivot without mercy. I stole “pivot without mercy” from an Agile certification program I took a couple of years ago because it is so true.
We should always be ready to pivot without mercy in training and development to support the ever changing business needs in our organizations.
Sometimes, you’ve just got a put a project you have been working on for months in the rearview mirror and walk away. Later gator!
Summing it All Up
The 15 instructional design best practices shared here run across all phases of course development. Some may resonate with you and some may not. Pick what works for you and use it.
If you have another instructional design best practices that you use, please share in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!
My Facebook Group is a great place to add your questions and engage with other instructional designers on different topics related to instructional design, so jump on in and join the conversation.