7 Instructional design principles for professors and teachers looking to create effective eLearning modules

As teachers and professors, are today begin incorporating eLearning as a key part of their curriculum, what are the instructional design principles they must keep in mind to make learning most effective?

Teachers and professors who are talking to Generation Z students in their classroom, cannot afford to only depend on conventional pedagogy. They must incorporate eLearning and mobile learning into their curriculum to ensure learner engagement and retention. It is important to note that instructional design principles for these new-age teaching techniques may be slightly different from what is conventionally used.

If you are not well acquainted with these principles already, here is a list of instructional design principles that you can use when setting up your eLearning courses.

Principle 1: Grab your learners’ attention and don’t let it go

Your content should be structured such that it is interactive and requires learner participation. Methods to do so include:

  • Use storytelling in your content. Quests, treasure hunts and journey of a hero are some examples of stories that are simple and yet, engaging
  • Intersperse content with questions that act as knowledge checks as well as those that seek the learners’ opinions
  • Use interactive content templates that reward the learner for an action that he takes. For example, make learners click on an image to learn more on what the image depicts
  • Offer visual relief through the usage of image-based content or videos. Ensure you include videos of about 5-7 minutes in every hour of content you put out. Use visuals in every 1 of 3 slides.
  • If your LMS offers the use of forums or social learning, make sure you facilitate their usage.

Principle 2: Provide learners with a clear set of objectives that the course will meet

Imagine playing soccer without a clear goalpost or basketball without a hoop. Ridiculous, right? People respond better when they are aware of the end-goal that they are looking to reach. Once you provide objectives to your online course, the learner becomes aware of where she is and how far she needs to go to meet them.

Things to do to provide objectives include:

  • Before providing any instructions, define what the course/ module will achieve and what topics and sub-topics it will cover
  • Do not forget to mention why the course topic is important and how students can apply learnings
  • Clearly put down what the minimum required performance for the online course is. This will include the percentage of content slides that need to be consumed and the minimum score that the learner must get in the assessment associated with the online course/module

Principle 3: Stimulate recall of prior learning

Help students comprehend new information by relating it to something they already know or that they have already experienced.

Methods for stimulating recall include:

  • Use anecdotes that help create analogies between what is being taught in the course and real-life scenarios
  • Ask questions to remind users of things they know where they use the concepts being taught. For example, when teaching Newton’s third law, show a visual of things hitting each other and moving back and ask learners why they think this is happening
  • Ask students questions that assess their understanding of previous concepts. In this case, if a learner is unable to answer a question correctly, she will tend to go back and brush up on her knowledge

Principle 4: Present the content in logical consumable blocks

Use strategies to present and cue lesson content to provide more effective, efficient instruction. Organize and chunk content in a meaningful way. Provide explanations after demonstrations.

Things to make content logical and consumable include:

  • Follow a simple pattern for content presentation – Definition, Description, Explanation and Evaluation. To explain any concept in eLearning this 4-step process works very well. You may sometimes choose to play around with this flow but always include all 4 steps.
  • Before getting into detailed understanding of content, include an index of key terms. This will help your learner comprehend the content better
  • Use examples generously to facilitate better understanding and retention
  • Present multiple versions of the same content. You can bolster concepts covered in decks using video, reference documents, interactive content, voice over media, etc. This addresses different learning preferences for different learners

Principle 5: Provide feedback

Provide immediate feedback of students’ performance to assess and facilitate eLearning.

Types of feedback include:

  • Confirmatory feedback – Informs students they had done what were supposed to do. For example, you could thank them for answering a survey question
  • Corrective and remedial feedback – Informs students of the accuracy of their response to something. For example, informing them that they had answered a question correctly
  • Remedial feedback – Directs students in the right direction to find the correct answer but does not provide the correct answer
  • Analytical feedback – Provides the student with suggestions, recommendations, and information for them to correct their performance

Principle 6: Assess performance

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructional events, you must test to see if the expected learning outcomes have been achieved. Performance should be based on objectives that have previously been stated.

Methods for testing learning include:

  • Conduct a baselining exercise with a pre-test before exposing the learning content.
  • Conduct a final assessment at the end of the online course. The average score on this will be higher, for well-presented and consumed content, than the average pre-test score. This score can also be looked at on a stand-alone basis to assess the student’s mastery of the subject
  • Embed questions in the content through individual questions or small quizzes
  • Include objective or criterion-referenced performances which measure how well a student has learned or understood a topic
  • Identify normative-referenced performances which compares one student to another student

Principle 7:  Enhance retention

To help learners develop expertise, they must internalize new knowledge.

Methods for helping learners internalize new knowledge include:

  • Use games to get learners to engage with the learning content/questions repeatedly. Try and use simple game mechanics such as those used in slot-machines or snakes and ladders
  • Use metaphors
  • Create concept maps or outlines
  • Create job-aids, references, etc. that the learner can use outside of when she is accessing the online course

Help us add to the list if you think we’ve’ missed out on any points in this article.

By Yashodeep Talele, Software Developer at QuoDeck
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