Not sure how to go about designing your e-learning course? In his book Principles of Instructional Design, Robert Gagne and his co-authors lay out a set of guidelines to ensure your learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need. Let’s take a closer look at each of the 9 Events of Instruction and how you can incorporate them into your e-learning courses.
1. Grab the Learner’s Attention
Research shows that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Your learners will decide in a matter of seconds whether your course is worth their time—so make sure to start with a bang! A little vague on how to do that? Try one of these techniques:
- Show a short, fast-paced video that introduces your topic.
- Ask a thought-provoking question about the subject matter.
- Tell a story that they can relate to.
- State a surprising fact to pique their interest.
- Combine upbeat sound effects with great graphics and timely animations to create an enticing intro.
The key is to keep it short and sweet— give learners just enough to make them curious. Think of it like a movie trailer: You don’t want to reveal too much, or they won’t want to sit through the whole thing. Here are a couple great examples to inspire you:
2. Explain the Objective(s)
This may seem pretty straightforward, but it’s important to note that you should express the objectives in a way that resonates with the learner. There are many different ways to go about this; here are a few examples:
- Present the objectives as statements in a bullet-point list. E.g., “At the end of this course you will be able to spot shoplifters and take the appropriate action to stop them before it’s too late.”
- Turn the objectives into questions, inviting the learner to reflect. E.g., “How can you identify potential shoplifters? What would you do if you saw something suspicious?”
- Frame the learning objectives as a challenge that the learners need to overcome in order to pass the course. E.g., “Your mission is to identify potential shoplifters and stop them before it’s too late!”
The key is to focus on what the learner is going to get out of the course, so they see what’s in it for them. Check out this article on how to define your learning objectives or this one on Bloom’s Learning Taxonomy for more help with this step.
3. Help Learners See the Relationship Between the Content and What They Already Know
Showing learners how this new information or skill relates to their prior knowledge and experiences will help them assimilate it more quickly. You can do this by:
- Asking open-ended questions about past experiences or concepts they have already learned to encourage reflection.
- Quizzing them on prior knowledge and then building on it.
- Presenting a scenario or a problem and asking them to resolve it. If they are unable to do so with their preexisting knowledge alone, present them with the new information they need.
By building on what they already know instead of starting from scratch, learners are able to more easily retain new information or skills.
4. Present the Content
This is the meat of your course. There are infinite ways to present your content, so be creative! Some popular methods include:
- Gamification. Turn your course into a game by incorporating challenges, rewards, and other gaming elements. Read this article to find out more about how to apply gamification techniques to e-learning.
- Interactive Video. Add interactivity to your video by placing hotspots at strategic moments, allowing learners to answer questions, get more information, or change the course of the video. Not sure how to do that? Check out this article to see an example and learn how to make your own interactive video.
- Storytelling. Incorporate the course content into a narrative that your learner can relate to. You can choose to make the learner a character in the story, or an outside observer. Read this article for tips on writing great e-learning scenarios.
To keep your learners interested and engaged, it is important to vary the way you present content. Even gamified courses can become mundane if it’s all learners encounter.
5. Guide Learners Through the Course
While learners are technically “on their own” during an e-learning course, we certainly don’t want them to feel frustrated, lost, or abandoned. Keep in mind that you need to support your learners on two levels: by helping them understand the concepts and by providing them with clear instructions on how to complete activities and advance in the course. You can do this by:
- Building in hints to help learners with difficult concepts or questions. For example, you can place a question mark next to the concept or question that, when hovered over, displays more information to help them understand or answer the question.
- Providing examples to illustrate the content. Putting theoretical content into context will help learners to better understand and apply it.
- Including on-screen instructions when the learner is presented with a new activity type or when they need to do something in order to move onto the next section of the course, such as “Drag the correct answer to the green box and then click on Submit.”
The best way to find out whether you’ve provided enough guidance in your course is to ask someone to test it and let you know if they find anything confusing or disorienting.
6. Give Learners the Opportunity to Practice
Once you’ve presented the content to your learners, you’ll want to give them the chance to apply it as soon as possible to make sure it sticks. Depending on the subject matter, this can mean any number of things. Some examples include:
- Creating simulations. For example, in a software training course, the best way to let learners test their skills without leaving them completely out on their own is to create a simulation in “try mode.” That way you can still give them hints if they can’t figure out what to do next.
- Designing decision-making scenarios. By asking learners to apply course content to a situation or problem they may actually encounter in real life, you give them the opportunity to test their comprehension.
The sooner learners apply their new knowledge, and the more realistic the scenario, the more likely they are to retain and apply it in real life.
7. Provide Learners with Feedback
There is no point in allowing your learners to practice if you’re not going to give them feedback on their performance. There are several ways you can do this, including:
- Build in branching that changes the course of the activity based on their answers. They will understand where they went wrong based on the consequences.
- Offer a second chance when they answer incorrectly.
- Give a hint and let them try again.
- Provide the correct answer so they’re not left guessing.
- Explain what they should have done and give them the correct answer.
Depending on the subject matter, your target audience, and the way you’ve designed your course, you can determine which method is best.
8. Assess Learner Performance
Now it’s time to see if your content helped your learners achieve the learning objective(s). The evaluation or assessment should resemble the practice section, but this time learners will not receive hints along the way. Make sure you don’t include any new information or skills in this section. You should only test learners on what they have already learned.
9. Help Learners Retain Information and Transfer Skills to Their Job
Now that the learners have mastered this new information or skill, how can you make sure they retain it and use it on the job? While you can’t guarantee that learners will apply what you’ve taught them, there are a couple ways to increase the likelihood that they will, for example:
- Provide a printable job aid, such as a checklist or quick-reference document, that outlines the key concepts so learners can easily refer back to them.
- Give learners ways to practice their new knowledge or skill shortly after taking the course.
- Create a few short review courses or quizzes that they can complete during the weeks following the initial course to reinforce the knowledge or skill.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to creating an impactful e-learning course. But don’t stop there—there are many other instructional design methods that can help you take your course to the next level. Check out the following articles for more instructional design goodness:
- An Introduction to Instructional Design
- An Introduction to the ADDIE Model for Instructional Designers
- An Introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy
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Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of Instructional Design (4th ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.