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How to Master Online Instructional Design: A Step-by-Step Guide


How to Master Online Instructional Design: A Step-by-Step Guide

Today’s learners are increasingly demanding and technology-savvy. To keep up, institutions need instructional designers that understand how to design the right online curriculum for their students. Institutional users will typically work with instructional designers who can integrate digital content across learning systems and align digital learning programs with institutionally-defined curricula, learner profiles, learning objectives, and assessment frameworks. Whether you’re new to instructional design or want to master the fundamentals of creating engaging online courses, this virtual eLearning course is for you. This step-by-step guide shows you everything from designing your first course to implementing effective feedback loops in your eLearning courses.

What is instructional design?

Instructional design is the process of planning and creating digital content, such as online courses and web-based tools. It involves an in-depth analysis of your target learners, their learning styles, motivations, and capabilities. Instructional designers analyze learner needs and create content that addresses each user’s specific needs and capabilities. They also connect content with the learning environment, including assessment tools and systems. Instructional design is a field with many subdisciplines, such as learning architecture, visual design, and learning science. Some of the most popular subdisciplines are human-computer interaction, graphic design, accessibility design, and course analytics.

Why is instructional design important?

Instructional design plays a vital role in improving student outcomes and increasing student engagement. In a digitally native environment, the quality of the user experience directly impacts the success of the learning process. If learners are frustrated, they will likely not complete the course and forget the content. If they’re engaged, they have a much better chance of retaining the information. Instructional designers help learners find the content they need and consume it in a way that works best for the individual. This includes addressing their learning styles, and pacing needs, and creating an environment that makes the content feel relevant, important, and useful. Instructional designers also look at the broader context of the institution, including institutional partnerships and communication systems. They need to consider how to integrate digital content and make it feel like part of the institution’s overall communication system


The 3 core skills of an instructional designer

– Research: Find and evaluate relevant research materials. – Synthesis: Organize and present findings in an engaging and useful way. – Analysis: Test hypotheses and draw conclusions based on research evidence.

3 Things You Should Always Include in Your First eLearning Course

– Educational context: This helps learners understand the context of the course and related content, such as learning objectives and outcomes, topics, and so forth. – Course philosophy and approach: This helps learners understand the philosophy and approach behind the course, such as the learning style and pacing used, and what the instructor values. – Feedback loop: This helps learners leave the course with a feeling of accomplishment and a desire to continue learning. The type of feedback loop used depends on the type of course and learner.

3 Things to Avoid in your First eLearning Course

– No contextual and instructional context: If learners don’t understand where they are in the course, how they got there, and what they will learn next, they won’t be able to complete the course or retain any information. – No educational context: Learning without context is like trying to drink from a glass that has been welded shut at the top. – No feedback loop: Not only will learners not retain the information, but they’ll also feel unfulfilled like the course was a failure.


 Research and determine your audience

The first step to creating an engaging online course is to do your research. To start, you will need to define your audience and find out what motivates them. You can do this by completing a needs analysis. This will help you understand your learners and their needs, including their motivation, learning styles, and desired outcomes. You can also conduct interviews and surveys to learn more about your learners. Next, you will need to understand the context of your learners. This will help you understand their needs and context, such as their educational level, their preferred learning styles, and contextual factors such as their workflows, time constraints, and technology and device preferences.

Sketch ideas and brainstorm

Once you’ve identified your learners, you will want to brainstorm ideas for what content you can create, along with the types of instructional techniques you can use. This will help you identify which content topics resonate with your learners, determine what types of content you need to create and help you determine the length and difficulty of your content. Now is also a good time to think about how the course will look and feel to your learners. This includes the design, learning style, and the way you want them to perceive the course and the instructor. It’s also a good idea to think about how you might integrate digital content with other communication systems and other institutional partners.

 Define learning objectives and identify desired outcomes

Instructional designers will now want to develop learning objectives for each piece of content, along with learning outcomes for each objective. Learning objectives describe exactly what students will learn in the content. You should be as specific with your learning objectives as possible to help your learners find the content useful and relevant. Learning outcomes describe how the content will ultimately help your learners, such as the desired outcomes and outcomes you want learners to achieve. These outcomes should be as specific as possible so that your learners can clearly articulate the impact the content has on them. You can also break down the learning outcomes into smaller, more granular outcomes, such as understanding the concept of the content, applying specific skills, and demonstrating knowledge and skills.


Choose a course format, platform, and delivery method

Once you’ve determined the topic and length of your content, it’s time to decide on your course format, platform, and delivery method. Choosing a course format for your content is very important. You want to choose a format that allows for the best learning experience for your learners, such as video-based content or interactive content. The platform you choose should be flexible, reliable, and have an intuitive interface. It should also allow you to easily update and integrate your content with other communication systems, such as messages on your website, emails, and social media posts. A good rule of thumb is to pick a platform that allows you to create a wide range of content types and provides you with the most options.

 Next steps

Once you’ve chosen a course format for your content, it’s time to start developing your content. This includes creating the content, editing it, and testing your content before you show it to your learners. If you want to integrate your content with other communication systems, you should create a content bucket that holds your content. You can then create different buckets for different types of content, such as videos, images, and so forth. Once you’ve finished creating your content, you will want to edit it, testing each piece of content to make sure it flows well, addresses the topic well, and is as accurate as possible. You will also want to create a schedule that determines when you will edit and test each piece of content.



Instructional design is a process of creating digital content, such as online courses and web-based tools. It involves an in-depth analysis of learners, their needs, and capabilities. During this step, you will want to do research to understand your learners, their needs, and their context. You will also want to develop learning objectives for each piece of content, along with learning outcomes for each objective.