In the education system most of us grew up with, there was a set schedule made up of a series of class periods with short breaks between them. The syllabus was handed down from teachers without conversation about our specific needs or interests. There weren’t a lot of options or opportunities to weigh in on what you wanted to learn about, or how you preferred to learn it.

Thankfully, e-learning flips that experience on its head. It puts training in learners’ hands. It empowers them to learn what they want, when they want, at a pace that lets them absorb and apply the material effectively. Learners can start and stop lessons at their leisure and take as much time as they need. They can skip over sections with content they’ve already mastered and go straight to topics they’re less familiar with. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

However, when you’re designing courses that give learners the opportunity to explore content freely, there are a few things to consider. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Include a Course Menu

Course menus allow learners to move around in your e-learning—but they’re not just for navigation! Including a course menu is a must because it also doubles as a course outline—giving learners a preview of the content. This lets learners check out your course content before diving in, allowing them to anticipate what’s coming up. It also helps them identify areas that include information they might already know—allowing them to predict how much of the course they might be able to skip or briefly skim and estimate the amount of time they’ll need to finish. 

2. Create a Series of Short Courses

A crucial element of designing self-paced learning is structuring it so learners can dip in and out of content as needed. And since you can safely assume your learners don’t have time to sit through a lengthy course, try creating a series of smaller micro-learning courses instead. This approach allows learners to start and finish each course in one sitting—instead of stopping in the middle and forgetting where they left off. And if they have more time, they can always take a few in a row. 

To learn more about how to go about this, check out this article: What Is Micro-Learning

3. Give Learners a Brief Refresher

If you’ve ever thought “Wait, what was I doing?” when doing something like opening a new browser window, you can guarantee some of your learners will have this reaction when resuming a learning path. Help jog their memories by beginning each course with a refresher. There’s certainly no need to go over everything again, but providing links to refresher content is enough to help them make the leap to the new material (especially when it’s been awhile since they completed the last course). 

Another great way to remind learners where they’re at is to connect what they’re about to learn with the previous information covered. For example, say something like “In the last course you saw how micro-learning benefits learners. In this course we’ll talk about how to get started creating it.” This helps to quickly remind your learners where they left off and gets them thinking about the upcoming lesson. 


Self-paced learning is a great way to share information with a wide variety of learners because it gives them the power to adapt the experience to their own unique needs. By following the tips in this article, you’ll be well on your way to making that experience a good one. 

What tips do you have for developing self-paced learning? If you excel at building courses that empower learners to navigate freely, leave your helpful tips in a comment! And to learn even more, check out these articles:

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Crisa McCarty
Jono Hoare

I break my packages into modules with a menu page (after providing a full introduction) and dictate the order of access. The final assessment cannot be accessed until the content has been read. We also found it easier to voice-over as well to allow for Language/Literacy/Numeracy problems. The user must read/listen to the module (complete with interactive learning) and then answer several short 'pop quizzes' at the end of each module with simple feedback. When it comes to critical content, I allow the user to try again. At completion of the elearning package, I set a full assessment (all info pulled from the content so there are no surprises) requiring the user to achieve 100% to pass. It works well and at the end of the day, I (along with the key stakeholders) am satisfied the user ... Expand