Train The Trainer

Learning Tips for Improved Online Course Design

If you are responsible for teaching adults, here are some best practices to create meaningful and enjoyable online learning events.

Simply delivering a traditional course via the internet is not enough for today’s learning. Online learning needs to actively engage your learners if organisations are going to improve learning outcomes and employee performance.

How can learning disciplines be used to affect online learning course design? Research has found that by coupling effective learning practices (such as goal-directed practice and timely and targeted feedback) with predictive analytics and instructional design, trainers can create highly effective learning experiences tailored to the needs of each individual based on knowledge gaps identified in a thorough Training Needs Analysis.

Lesson plans without associated learning objectives are not sufficient to provide evidence of learning and organisations run the risk of employees not having adequate skills and knowledge to perform effectively.  Assessments without sufficient practice are also deemed as bad practice and results in an incomplete learning experience with employees unable to apply the knowledge in their jobs. Using the course design aligned with course objectives with activities and assessments provides evidence of a learning outcome and therefore improved performance.

That is the first step towards developing high-impact online learning experiences for adults. There are many other online course design models and frameworks to borrow from, and many share similar concepts, incorporating “active learning” to encourage engagement and participation; providing abundant goal-directed practice with timely and targeted feedback to help adults identify their errors, as well as self-awareness about their own learning styles – see our previous blog on Learning Styles.

Many organisations are beginning to understand the benefits of developing strong instructional design in system implementations encouraging user adoption, satisfaction and a higher probability of project success.

Some best practices for online course design include

  • Set clear course goals that are achievable and measurable, and then communicate them to your learners.
  • Encourage critical thinking by presenting your learners with tasks that require analysis, synthesis, problem recognition, problem-solving, inference, and evaluation.
  • Insert questions, charts, and/or diagrams into text to help learners better regulate their own comprehension or to visualise a concept.
  • Encourage good learning strategies, such as re-reading, note-taking, distributing learning over time, and time management.
  • Make sure that instruction is relevant to the learner.
  • Design meaningful interactivity.
  • Involve the learner by creating memory joggers.
  • Reward desired performance.
  • Provide appropriate review and practice.
  • Explore the possibilities of videos, audio, and other activities.
  • Learners pay more attention to things that are different. Design learning events that will keep the learner motivated and challenged through a variety of
  • Audio quality is more important than video quality for live or recorded video learning.
  • When drafting a job‐aid, focus on the how, be clear and direct, use simple language, present information in small bits, provide examples, and use graphics as needed.
  • Move learners from knowing to doing with powerful, practical job aids.
  • Video is an amazing tool, but if you want to know if it’s applicable to your training topic, ask yourself, “What do I need to demonstrate?” If it’s not a topic that learners need to see demonstrated or a visual example, video may not be the best method to use.
  • Support your learners with the proper preparation, online discussion forums, and coaching to ensure learning sticks and transfers back to the job!

Las Positas College (LPC) in Livermore, California produced a document called Best Practices in Designing Online Courses for its faculty. Their guide is a step-by-step collection of standards with instructions, examples, and useful references for any educator to build an excellent online course.

  • Course Introduction. Begin by detailing the general course content and learner objectives. Open your online course by greeting your learners with a welcome message telling them how to get started in the course and showing them how to navigate the course. Introduce yourself to the class, and have learners introduce themselves to you and to one another in order to begin building a “community of learners.” You’ll need to familiarise learners with the course software and make sure they understand what is required for them to succeed in an online course.
  • Course Organisation. LPC advises that you structure your course in a well-organised manner and make it easy to navigate. Test all of the links in your course to make sure they are active and up to date. Create web pages that are consistent and reasonably attractive and design your course so that all aspects of it are accessible to all learners. Design your course so pages can be downloaded within a reasonable period of time even without a high-speed internet connection.
  • Be sure to include one discussion board forum where learners can ask and answer class-related questions and one where they can ask and answer non–class-related questions. Also, post frequently asked questions in your course.
  • Instructional Design. Introduce learning units with an overview of the topic and connect what the learners already know about the topic to what they are going to learn. Earlier, you defined what your objectives were for each course. Now, write and post objectives for each learning unit or module within the course. Align your learning activities and assessments to your objectives and outcomes. Clearly write your content and lessons and structure your learning activities to foster learner-trainer, learner-learner, and learner-content interactions.

Creating Personalized Learning Experiences Online

Christopher Pappas, founder of The eLearning Industry’s Network, explores best practices for online course design that are “relevant, relatable, personal, and practical.”

  • Create learner-centred goals and objectives.
  • Assess online learners to identify knowledge gaps through pre-assessments.
  • Immediate and personalised feedback helps see their progress toward objectives and to know what they need to turn attention to.

The Most Important Components

All of the experts agree – the most important components in your online course design include establishing objectives for your course and your learners, aligning learning activities with your objectives, creating meaningful content, activities and assessments and providing timely feedback to your learners.

These experts also agree on approaching online course design with a spirit of personal and professional growth. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Get feedback from your colleagues and your learners. Experiment, review, revise, enhance.

And, have fun in the process!

If you are interested in designing E-learning or delivering online courses, why not join our courses, or contact us for more information.

How to Design E-learning

How to Deliver Training Online


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