Creating Better Online Learning Platforms with Instructional Design

One employee working on ideas on a big whiteboard.

Although online education is still relatively new, its impact can’t be ignored. Create better online education programs with instructional design.

Nearly 25% of all students are in at least one online course. Millions of others are in certificate and workplace training programs.

Online learning makes it easier to roll out programs with lower costs and wider distribution. It’s important to know how to design programs that meet the needs of participants.

The development of a new education plan is called instructional design. By understanding how people learn and process new information, instructional design can help you create learning plans that yield the most effective results.

Program design begins with understanding four key points. Revisit these points continually.

1) What are the demographics of the learning group? What are they trying to learn?

2) How do you define success?

3) How should the information be presented?

4) What tools and practices will you use to measure effectiveness?

Defining the Group

Organizations are diverse in both age and experience. Even so, many employees share common experiences.

The newness of an employee to your organization, or enrollment in a retirement plan, may be enough of a commonality to group employees together for the rollout of an educational program.

You don’t have to address individual stressors or ideologies in detail. Instead, employees can be grouped together for efficiency.

Try to understand in advance how different parts of an educational program may affect each group. Then, survey your employees. Build personas to understand how employees needs can be categorized and addressed.

The advantages of adult learning

Adults learn differently than younger students. Typically, adults enter new learning programs with a wealth of experiences and background knowledge. They then hope to build on top of it.

Additionally, adults like to know how and why new information will be relevant to them. They don’t like learning for learning’s sake.

As you design new programs, keep these points in mind. Make sure programs address the specific needs of your employees, rather than just contribute to background knowledge.

Starting with the End

Next, start with the goal in mind and work backwards to create a program that achieves that goal.

Knowing what constitutes success will keep your program focused and relevant. It can also give a framework on which to build your educational directives.

Presenting Content the Best Way

Online learning provides flexibility. Enriched media like video and interactive content are perfect for both beginner and advanced topics. Additionally, they can easily adapt to the needs of each employee.

Create clear benchmarks of success in each learning path so students can know how they’re progressing.

Although online programs feature little human supervision, they should still be humanized. Humanization can create an engaging and memorable experience.

Effective Programs with Instructional Design

New Employee Onboarding — Highlight your organization’s culture. Let new employees see what it’s like to work at your company. Successful onboarding programs use both digital and printed materials to lead the experience.

Managers should use these materials to build trust and help employees succeed. Give opportunities to new employees to seek feedback from HR or management during the onboarding process.

You can use online tools to reinforce onboarding training and to document results.

Participating in a Retirement Plan—While many employers already offer retirement programs to their employees, many employees still feel confused by their offerings and how to make the most out of a retirement program. Changing requirements at some government jobs also adds to the confusion employees feel.

Teaching employees about their retirement readiness should be part of any successful benefits program, including both information that addresses employees’ current goals and stressors, as well as helping them plan for the future.

Online education can distribute learning resources, as well as tools like retirement calculators, investment applications, and real-world case studies of how to apply financial knowledge to everyday life.

Selecting New Benefits — At large companies, the benefit selection process is usually done at formalized info sessions that can overwhelm employees. The impacts of benefit selection can be felt for years to come, so getting it wrong comes with consequences.

Using online programs before employees show up to these sessions will help them research their options, come up with questions they’d like to ask, and generally feel more prepared with which benefits they’ll select.

Additionally, financial wellness benefits made available to employees will help them understand how their decisions will impact their personal finances.

Finally, online benefits selection and information sites should include ways to ask confidential questions to HR professionals to help employees make even more informed decisions.

Online Education is Here to Stay

Online education is utilized differently in all of the above examples. Some utilize it as a reinforcing component to simply act as a resource library and act as a supplement to in-person training. In others, videos and educational resources are put online to make distribution at large organizations much easier.

Depending on how complicated a training method is, or how individual employees prefer to learn, online learning can substitute or complement in-person guidance and instruction.

Creating effective online programs rarely happens overnight. As you apply the principles of educational and instructional design to your organization, you’ll learn about what works best for your employees.

Ultimately though, using effective educational design to understand the needs of your employees, what goals they’d like to accomplish, and presenting the information in such a way that sets them up for success, can all be achieved with effective instructional design principles.

This article was written by Jackie Booth, PhD


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