What makes good learning?

Mar 05, 2020

Hello everyone. I’m looking for a bit of guidance. I’ve been working as an eLearning Developer for over 6 years now but I feel things have evolved during this time without me changing with it.

I come from a graphic design background, eLearning is the direction I went with it. I’ve never had to come up with content as we’ve always had SMEs, they’re the content experts so they collect the information and break it up in a PowerPoint document slide by slide.

This is where I properly step in. I turn this written documentation into engaging self paced learning modules. Interactions, quizzes, you name it. But the thing with me is I know what LOOKS good, but I don’t actually know what makes it a good learning piece. Sure I know how to break content up, include some voiceover, have a check your knowledge slide, throw in an interaction to keep the user engaged, but am I doing this right?

I don’t know what adult learning theories or practices are, what a pedagogy or methodology even is, I can’t even pronounce it!

I feel very one sided in this field. I feel it used to be eLearning developers who take on the things I do and leave the content creation to the experts (Instructional designers, SMEs) who lay it out for you. Now it seems like everyone is a ‘Learning Experience Designer’ which is a single role that does all the above!

These are my experiences and views on it anyway. Any new roles seem way beyond me because I can only do 50% of the job.

I’m a designer. I don’t come from an education background as a learning and development professional.

I’d really like to start upskilling on the other side of things. Where do I begin? Does anyone have any book recommendations or online courses that help people ‘start out’? Am I looking for a beginners guide to eLearning, instructional design, learning experience design or other? 

I did notice the free eBooks that Articulate have on offer here so I may start there, but any advice or recommendations would be amazing.


5 Replies
Ray Cole

Hi Mark,

My small team has articulated (no pun intended!) four principles that tend to characterize good quality instructional designs:

  1. Jumpstart learner practice: Don't just tell people what to do, have them practice doing it.
  2. Practice skills in context: We try to make the learning context match as closely as possible the performance context learners will face outside of the class (in real life) because research shows that when the learning and performance contexts match, learning is improved.
  3. Prioritize actions over memorization: We explicitly do not try to mention every possible thing anyone could ever want to know about the topic. When deciding what information to include and what to leave out, we prioritize information that informs the specific actions we're asking learners to take.
  4. Isolate, then integrate: We borrowed this one from Doug Lemov's book, Practice Perfect, but we use it more in our larger, more complex classroom designs than in our e-learning. The basic idea is to take complex skills and break them down into smaller parts. Get learners to master the smaller parts in isolation, and then integrate them back together until they can perform lengthy and complex tasks from start to finish. It's a strategy for managing cognitive load, among other things.

Here's a "highlight reel" we put together--excerpts from some recent work that show how these principles look in finished e-learning courses we've built.

Berkeley Lab Highlight Reel



 We've added Back buttons at the upper right-hand corner of most pages in this highlight reel so you can always easily get back to the main menu and we've added About buttons on selected pages with some additional thoughts on what to look for or what is interesting about the example.

I recommend starting with the "Transitions" example at the bottom of the Video column at the right. Try pouring the acid waste down the drain to see what happens. Then try to dispose of it properly. You'll get to certain points where you need to fill out labels but for purposes of exploring these examples, you can just use the Next button to skip over those if you want (or, you can go ahead and try to learn how to fill them out).

You'll laugh (or, perhaps, groan) at the low quality of some of the graphics. We did not come to our roles with graphic design backgrounds. The image quality in some places probably wouldn't pass muster if we were a consulting shop, but we are an internal training group, severely understaffed, and we try to get the images at least "good enough" to support the instruction. Anything beyond that is gravy at this time for us.

That said, the graphics are not the point of this highlight reel. Instead, pay attention to how we are simulating the relevant aspects of the learners' jobs and forcing them to THINK--to make decisions and take actions. In our view, practicing skills in realistic, high-context situations is what makes learning effective.

I hope this gives you some food for thought.



Articulate 10

Hi Mark,

My background is similar to yours; I was a graphic designer/animator for quite some time before I got in to eLearning. I had no idea what an effective course consisted of, I was only concerned that it looked good. Anyway, I went back to school for instructional design and learned all about pedagogy, andragogy and other principles and theories of learning.

If going back to school is not your thing, I would suggest reading Gagne's Nine Events of Instruction, Merrill's Principles of Instruction, and Bloom's Taxonomy, to name a few. There are also several instructional design models you can refer to, ADDIE being the most popular. A book I often refer to is Instructional-Design Theories and Models by Reigeluth and Carr-Chellman. It's often referred to as "The Green Book" by instructional designers. Richard E. Meyer has a couple of books on elearning design and multimedia learning  that you should definitely check out.

That should get you started. You may also want to consider teaming up with an instructional designer. I know several who are great at ID but can barely draw a straight line.

Hope that helps.

Karl Muller

Hi Mark,

Some great advice has already been provided. I would recommend some formal training in the instructional design field. If that is not an option there are many online resources related to instructional design.

There are a lot of great (and free) articles on the eLearning Guild website: https://www.elearningguild.com/ 

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