Applying best practices for instructional design while building your first eLearning course is a huge task! It can definitely seem overwhelming at first.
But, with a lot of planning under your belt and a few tips from me, you’ll be well on your way to building an awesomely effective first eLearning course. I can tell you from experience, the only thing more exciting than building your first eLearning course is finishing your first eLearning course!
8 Elements to Consider When Building Your First Elearning Course
It is not an easy task to develop and design an effective eLearning course. Here are eight features that every effective eLearning course should have.
Elearning Authoring Tool
No tool or software can replace an instructional designer’s expertise in taking content and putting it into a learner-friendly format. But eLearning authoring tools help instructional designers turn their training visions into reality!
Familiarize yourself with these popular tools so you can make recommendations, work effectively alongside developers, and maybe do delve into the development side yourself one day!
The suite of software offered by Articulate includes popular authoring tools like Storyline and Rise, as well as resources for instructional designers like templates, multimedia, and online training.
Storyline is a popular tool for developing customizable eLearning courses using a combination of slides, animations, audio, interactions, and more. At first glance, it looks a little like PowerPoint. You can actually import existing PowerPoint slides into Storyline as a template for your course. Although my friend Stephen, the Story Ninja, would recommend that you don’t do this.
Unlike PowerPoint, Storyline lets you add in a whole slew of interactive elements to make your course more engaging. Even if you don’t ever develop within Storyline, I recommend playing around with the free trial to get a feel for the different kinds of knowledge checks and interactive objects.
Rise is a really user-friendly authoring tool that doesn’t require the same amount of developing know-how as Storyline. In Rise, you can build your first eLearning course using customizable blocks organized into modules. If you’re interested in development, Rise is a great place to start.
Similar to Articulate Storyline, Captivate is a great canvas to customize your first learning course. Both tools have the same interactive capabilities but while Storyline transforms PowerPoint slides, Captivate transforms Photoshop assets.
Captivate is also a great tool for creating eLearning courses that need to be responsive to different players (laptop vs. phone, for example). And if your project includes virtual reality? Captivate is the tool for your project!
Regardless of the tool you use, eLearning authoring software comes with a hefty price tag! It’s also important to note that many instructional designers have long and fruitful careers without ever getting into the nitty-gritty of developing. Basic knowledge of the tools’ capabilities allows the instructional
designer to make recommendations to the client and create a storyboard that instructs a developer which interactions are most effective.
Every eLearning course should be easy to navigate. Imagine if your learner grew frustrated just trying to move through the course? They might not finish it, let alone meet the learning objectives!
Make sure your first eLearning course has intuitive and easy navigation. Moving backward and forwards in the learning environment should be quick and easy. Icons should be clear and easily found. A ‘Help’ button should be available throughout the course and contain information that will help less tech-savvy users.
Basically, if you feel like your learner will need a mini-training just to learn how to navigate your training, your navigation is too complicated!
Course Learning Objectives
By now, you know that every eLearning course must have a clear set of learning objectives. You won’t get very far in building your first eLearning course without identifying these goals! But did you know it’s equally important for the learner to understand the learning objectives?
The learning objectives tell the learner what they’ll be able to do by the end of the training. Clearly establishing the learning expectations will help the learner set the right intention and focus. It also helps to get the learner to buy into the training. Adult learners need to understand what’s in it for them!
Consistency is key when it comes to the design of your first eLearning course. An appealing, consistent design contributes to the effectiveness of the course. Poor course design, on the other hand, is distracting at best. At worst, it can become an obstacle for your audience.
Instructional designers should have a basic understanding of visual design to ensure a consistent look-and-feel throughout the course. I go into detail about different elements of visual design in this post.
Follow company branding guidelines (if the company you’re working for has them). Sometimes, companies will have a PowerPoint template and preferred color palettes and fonts that you can use in your course. Bonus points if the company has a creative team you can consult!
If you don’t have branding guidelines or a creative team, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. You can find free, pre-made templates, like the one included in this instructional design starter kit, that you can customize for your course.
My best advice when it comes to visual design? Don’t overdo it. Just because you CAN use 50 different kinds of animation and a whole rainbow of colors, doesn’t mean you should. Maintaining visual consistency throughout the course will help your learners stay focused and ultimately help them meet the learning goals.
Multimedia goes hand in hand with visual design. You know I absolutely love good video-based training! But multimedia includes all the images, icons, audio, AND video that you use in your first eLearning course.
Learners are more attracted to visuals than text, and their brains are wired to store the visual stimuli for longer periods. So what does this mean for your training? When course content is supported by images, the learner can keep that info in their long-term memory. This is why all learning experiences – live, eLearning, hybrid – should be highly visual.
When we talk about visual stimuli, it does not mean just images. It also includes eLearning infographics, as well as videos. Even the colors you use in your presentations can impact how an audience remembers the information you present.
Create a balance of multimedia with text. Make sure visuals (images, icons, videos, infographics, charts, etc…) support your content instead of distracting from it.
Learner interactions are crucial to a good learning design. Your learners need to interact with content instead of passively moving through it. You should intentionally design interactions that pull your learner into the experience. This is called engagement. If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into learner engagement strategies, I have seven suggestions!
The purpose of interactions in eLearning is to provide the learner with opportunities to practice, reflect, explore, self-evaluate, and more. When you can, set your interactions up to simulate your learner’s real-world needs. For example, if your audience includes retail associates, design scenarios that allow the learner to virtually interact with customers.
When it comes to your eLearning course, onscreen text plus multimedia plus narration is like the trifecta! Those three elements can take your course to the next level. Just like with visuals and multimedia, narration needs to complement your content.
Your narration can set the tone of the course. Some courses need a more formal tone while others can be more conversational, so choose a voiceover artist that meets your needs.
Make sure your narration and on-screen text work together. If you find you’re shortening sentences or changing wording on-screen, change your voiceover script to match the text. If the audio and text don’t match up, it can be confusing for the learner because they’re not sure what to pay attention to!
Not every training requires an end-of-course assessment, but many do. Assessments allow the organization and the learner to assess the understanding of the content presented. They also allow the instructional designer to collect important data on the effectiveness of the course.
Make sure any knowledge checks you include throughout the course support the end assessment. Think of them as practice for the test, if they have nothing to do with meeting the end goal, you probably don’t need them!
Assessments are not always graded (some may be open-ended or reflective) but graded assessments can offer important feedback to the learner at the end of the course. Consider giving the learner feedback even if a passing grade isn’t required to complete the course.
Wrapping It Up
Building your first eLearning course is an adventure! Keeping in mind these 8 considerations are the first step to finishing strong. If you need more structured help to become a full-stack Instructional Designer, without getting another degree, check out my 12-week immersive program Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program Or, if you’re ready to start building, check out one of my pre-made eLearning course templates with sections, learning objective slides, quizzes, scenarios, and more!