The foundation of impactful online learning is thoughtful instructional design. It sets the tone for how learners engage and helps them feel like the coursework is relevant, especially in adult learning environments. This demographic is fueled by relevance: Before getting started, they need to know that they will be able to make use of the subject matter.
Level up your learning management system (LMS) by mastering these three instructional design best practices.
What Is Instructional Design?
Before we dive in, let’s refresh ourselves on what instructional design means. Instructional design is also sometimes referred to as Instructional System Design, or ISD. This is the process of creating dynamic content based on theories that improve a learner’s ability to learn. It goes a step further, though: Effective instructional design will also help learners apply their skills in real-world settings.
When it comes to instructional design, you can make use of several learning strategies to achieve an engaging learning experience. You can:
- break up text with graphics
- use video to offer a multimedia experience
- employ gamified learning to engage students
- leverage micro-credentialing
- offer badges and awards to motivate learners
These forms of multi-dimensional instruction can help ensure that learners can actually put their skills to use. In some cases, organizations may have instructional design experience on staff. In others, they’ll need or want to work with third-party experts, like D2L’s own Learning Services team.
If you’re just getting started, here are three things you can do on your own to improve your content today.
3 Instructional Design Best Practices
1. Make Your Homepage Easy to Navigate
Online learning starts on the homepage. A concise, easy-to-use homepage helps you make sure your audience knows exactly what they’ll be learning. It’ll also make it harder for learners to miss important information and announcements.
So how do you keep things succinct? Start with your navigation bar, making sure that it only includes relevant links. If you don’t have an active discussion component in your course, don’t include a discussion tab: That can confuse users and make them feel like they’re missing something.
You can also keep widgets to a minimum. D2L Brightspace offers several dynamic widgets but using too many can overwhelm a user and cause information to get lost in the process. Keep the most relevant ones: a calendar, a table of contents or an announcement, for example. Make sure your audience will use the widgets you’re including.
2. Help Users Get Familiar With the “Getting Started” Module
Each course is different, so having clear instructions to help learners get started is crucial. In this area, you could:
- include resources like a course outline, learning objectives, a suggested schedule, or even a video that shows them around the LMS
- direct people to your discussion board if you’ve chosen to use one, as it can encourage them to engage with one another throughout the course
- incorporate a short quiz to test learners’ understanding and ensure they’re starting from the same equal footing
Be intentional with this page. Not only does it serve as a nice book end for your course, but you can also clearly lay out expectations for your audience. Be informative and nothing will surprise them. To do this effectively, you can include things like their learning objectives, resources, a suggested schedule, or a video showing them how to navigate around your LMS.
3. Keep the User in Mind When Creating Course Content
When you’re designing your content, it’s important to focus on the user’s experience. As you create, always do so with inclusivity and accessibility in mind. Think: “How would this impact someone with a visual impairment? Am I representing a diverse audience in this course?”
You can make your content accessible by:
- ensuring videos have closed captions or that transcripts are available
- supplying alternative text for photos
- making sure font has high contrast ratios
- using headings to organize content
This is by no means an exhaustive list and each group of learners will be different. Brightspace offers a built-in Accessibility Checker, which will flag issues to you so you can remedy them before class is in session. It also includes an auto-captioning function on videos to ensure they’re accessible, too.
There are other ways you can improve the user’s experience, too. You can include an estimated completion time for each piece of content to give learners a better sense of how long they’ll want to spend on each task. Remember that it’s always better to overestimate than underestimate. This tip can help busy learners plan their time effectively.
Another time-budgeting tool you can provide is a course schedule. This is effective for both synchronous and asynchronous courses. It can help your audience plan their learning and keep track of their progress and upcoming deadlines.
Finally, you’ll want to end each learning module with a dedicated conclusion. Paired with an introduction, these are great for bookending content and can give learners a clear place to stop when they need a break. This ensures that your audience is never second-guessing whether they’ve completed a module.
Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.
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