Learning Design: When You Just Don’t Know Where to Start

ADDIE is good, SAM is good. DMADDI is good. AGILE is good. Rapid instructional design is good. But sometimes a course design project can be overwhelming, and these design models are not specific enough to answer the question, “OK, so what do I write on the page right now?”

Learning Design Process

In this blog post, I’d like to share some steps to take to simplify the instructional design process so you can get started right away and continue making progress until you are done.

Write Learning Objectives: This is where to start when you do not know where to start. Just write down all the learning objectives or outcomes expected from the course. Just open Word or get out a piece of paper and start writing a “big ‘ol long lost of learning objectives.” If you must, on the top of the page, write “At the end of this course, you will be able to:” Then write down a list of sentences that use action phrases like calculate, apply, list, call, negotiate, etc.

In other words, with your learning objectives, you want to answer the question, “What do you want your learner to be able to do after they have completed your course?”

This exercise forces you to do two things. First, it forces you to do some analysis. Because you are going to ask yourself….”OK, what does this person need to be able to do when they are done with this course?” If you do not know, you will need to go ask subject-matter experts.

Group Learning Objectives into Subject Areas and Create an Outline: These subject areas will become the sections in your course whether it is for the classroom or for e-learning. For each subject area, create a section in your outline. By scanning your learning objectives, you will likely be able to group similar learning objectives to make up each section of your course.

Place Learning Objectives into Each Section: When a learner gets to a new section or topic in your course, make it very clear that it is a new section. A great way to do this is to state explicitly in your script that this is a new topic and list for the learner the learning objectives for that particular topic.

Dump Content for Each Learning Objective into Each Section: In this step, simply dump the content into your document. You have sources for your content from articles, books, web sites, internal company presentations, requirements documents, and subject matter experts. Just get that content on the page. Do not get bogged down in method yet.

Create an Activity for Each Section: I keep this Thiagi page ready at all times when designing a learning experience. A quick scan of this page give me ideas for how to engage the learned in an activity without boring learners with more lectures.

Create a Review/Assessment Page for Each Section: I like the idea of creating a short assessment for each section and then a review activity for each section. However, the assessment can be the review. There is not rule here. Be creative. The point is to pause at the end of a section, and get the learner to think about what they just learned.

Write Assessment Questions: I love the idea of writing learning objectives first, then writing the assessment questions for each learning objective. I find this ensures learners are assessed on each learning objective. And since analysis tells us that what is in the learning objectives is what the business wants people to be able to do after the training, making sure learners are assessed on each learning objective is vital. My problem is that I find it difficult to write the assessment questions before I get the content for each learning objective. Either way you do it, you want to make sure you have some form of an assessment for each learning objective.

Go Back, Get Feedback, and Polish: Now that you have everything, it is time to review and edit the materials. This is when you decide how to present the content, have stakeholders review the content, and when you go back to fix typos and other errors. Once you receive feedback from stakeholders, update the materials accordingly.

Process Matters

There is no doubt, that a talented learning experience (LX) designer follows a well-defined, flexible design process. Perhaps the steps above can help you get started on a design project and even finish it more quickly than you expected.

What tips do you have for designing a learning experience (LX) when you get stuck?

Bill Cushardauthorblogger, and head of learning at Allonhill, is a learning leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.