9 Design Principles You Should Follow for eLearning Courses

Posted on July 11, 2017 | Updated on January 25, 2023

Students have come to realize just how powerful online learning is. For businesses, it takes employees 40-60% less time to learn material than it would take in a traditional classroom. In addition, more of the information is retained. That is likely why eLearning has grown by 900% between 2000 and now.

An attractively designed eLearning course doesn’t guarantee that the course will be effective for students, but a poorly designed eLearning course can be difficult for students to follow and leave them feeling unsatisfied. Following some basic design principles will make your eLearning courses both visually appealing and content rich.

1. Start With a Visual Map of Your Course

When it comes to eLearning, it is important to guide the student through each phase of your course. A visual hierarchy is one of the best ways to do this. Just as with other pages, your eLearning course page needs a strong title, subtitles and a balance of white space and text.

You should also think about how you’ll take the student from Point A to Point Z. Where does the student start the course? Is that marked clearly? What is the next step? Take the time to go through the course as though you are a student. Make sure it is clear what path the student should take.

2. Hook the Student

Make sure you open each lesson with something to grab the student’s attention. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. You can engage students with:

Continue to hook the student through each phase of the course. Start each lesson with an interesting fact, story or hook. Consider how best to engage the student in the topic at hand.

3. Make eLearning Navigation Easy

Students lead busy lives. A student might be taking another course, working and raising a family. It is common for students to work a little on a lesson and then come back to it at a later time. Navigation should be simple enough that the student can easily locate their last location.

Can the student easily follow the breadcrumbs back to where they left off? For example, does the system you are using take the student to the last place visited or can they click a link to go there?

It should also be easy for a student to return to previous lessons and pages. Sometimes material needs to be reviewed to be digested.

4. Add Rich Content

You can create a beautiful course platform, add videos, infographics and great hooks, but if your content falls flat, students will be disappointed. There are many different electronic courses, so yours should stand out from the crowd.

Not only should your content be presented in a visually pleasing way, but you should present verifiable research. It is vital that you do extensive research and provide data that the audience can verify. This shows that you thoroughly understand the topic. It also shows that others are in agreement with you.

It’s also important to use storytelling techniques. Content that includes storytelling is about 57% more effective and is one of the top three things that marketers believe works to engage an audience. You can incorporate storytelling by giving examples from students, your own life or even making up scenarios as examples.

5. Create a User Persona

A user persona is simply a mock person you create who represents your typical audience member. You then filter any part of the course you create through the eyes of this persona.

To figure out the typical student you might have, you need to combine information from polls of past students, study website statistics, and consider the other types of people you want to reach with your course.

Once you’ve developed a strong user persona, you can use it to create ads and even to consider which elements to put inside your courses. For example, if you are placing an ad on Facebook about your course, you can choose demographics that match your user persona, such as age, career and education level.

6. Check User Experience

User experience is important because it can impact how much value the student feels they’ve received from your course. Experience should be checked on a couple of different levels. First, you need to know how technologically savvy your audience is. Are they familiar with online education platforms? Second, you need to know how much experience students have in the topic.

A pre-course quiz is a great way to figure out the answers to these questions, particularly since experience could change from one class to the next.

You also should take satisfaction surveys as the course progresses. This will allow you to make adjustments if students are either struggling with technology or subject matter or feel that the course is too simple for their needs.

7. Set an Objective

Each lesson should start with an objective. What do you want students to learn in this particular lesson? The best way to frame your objective is with a simple sentence that states what the student should learn or apply after completing that lesson.

For example, if you’re teaching about golf, you might write something like: “In this lesson, students will learn how to follow through on a swing.”

You can also ask questions to make students think. Do you know the one thing you should do after a swing? Do you want to improve your accuracy?

8. Add Interactivity

Learning is shaped by the interactions and engagement a student experiences when taking an online course. It is clear that engaging students with interactive elements helps enhance learning and keep students interested in the task at hand.

You can add videos, or you could add a game that enhances the lesson. Returning to the golf swing example, you could add a game where a character swings the club and the student has to remember to follow through or can’t advance to the next level.

9. Check Your Voice

The final element to consider is the voice you use when talking to your students. A conversational tone can help students feel comfortable. Check your text for formal-sounding elements and figure out how to make them more relaxed.

Keep things light-hearted and fun. Encourage students to share a joke about the topic. Share funny memes. Encourage storytelling and sharing of experiences. This allows students to add their own voices to the overall course content.

Every eLearning program features basic elements, such as text, quizzes, images and audio. How you arrange these elements and the attention you provide to detail can mean the difference between a so-so course and a successful one that students rave about.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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