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How to use Instructional Design to Enhance your Course Development

According to a report by Microsoft, this article will only be able to hold your attention for a few more seconds.

Eight in total, to be exact.

After that, your mind may start drifting to your to-do list, or that presentation you have coming up, or maybe you’ll start wondering how that new true-crime series you’ve been bingeing is going to end...

Our attention span is shorter than ever before (thanks to the overwhelming amount of information we consume on a daily basis). And it can be even more difficult to hold that attention in a learning or training environment.

When it comes to online employee training, you not only have to get a learner’s attention but also keep them actively engaged to ensure they absorb the training material.

What’s not going to do that? Stacks on stacks of paper in a binder.

What is going to do that? Using instructional design techniques in your course creation.

By using instructional design—and, of course, a modern course development platform—you can create effective training materials that take employees’ learning experiences and results to the next level.

Still here? Great! Then let’s dive in.

In this article, you’ll learn:

What is Instructional Design?

Instructional design is the process of creating learning materials in a way that helps learners easily understand, retain, and apply the information they’re being taught.

Think of instructional design as the cheat code for effective course development. It takes the principles behind how people learn best, uses them to build the most effective lessons, and optimizes the course to maximize the learner's experience.

Instructional Design Models for Online Learning

Before we dive into how you can use instructional design in your own course development, let’s take a look at some of the most common instructional design models used for online learning.

Instructional designers typically follow one of these models to develop courses in a way that helps learners understand and retain knowledge more effectively.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, it does cover the most-used approaches:


The most common method for instructional design, ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.

The ADDIE method helps course creators determine what kind of training is needed and then helps them execute that training and assess its effectiveness.

Here’s what each step of the ADDIE method involves when you break it down even further:

  • Analysis: Conduct a training needs analysis to identify issues and information gaps in the organization. Assess the company’s goals, performance, and each employee's abilities.

  • Design: Use the information you gathered in your analysis to plan out your course development. This involves establishing learning objectives, completion criteria, assessments, and choosing training delivery methods.

  • Development: This one’s pretty self-explanatory—you develop the course materials around your analysis and design (videos, written materials, games, etc.).

  • Implementation: This is when you deliver the learning materials to the employee, typically by them logging into their personalized account on the LMS your company has chosen to host or create the courses.

  • Evaluation: Finally, it’s time to evaluate the effectiveness of your training and revise the materials if necessary. Was the learner’s experience positive? Did they retain what they learned? How was their user experience with the course?

One of the downfalls of the ADDIE method is that it follows a waterfall sequence, where one step can’t happen before the prior step is completed, which takes a while to complete and isn’t very flexible.

Merrill’s Principles of Instruction

Created in 2002 by David Merrill, this instructional design method revolves around the five principles of learning:

  • Task-Centred Principle: Learning materials should include problems and tasks that are relatable to the learner.

  • Activation Principle: The course should activate the learner’s existing knowledge, helping them connect their new knowledge to what they already know.

  • Demonstration Principle: The course should deliver learning materials through different methods (visual, written, audio etc.) to activate different parts of the brain, in turn helping the learner retain information.

  • Application Principle: The course should give users the opportunity to apply the information they’re learning and to learn from their mistakes. (This can be accomplished through scenario-based lessons.)

  • Integration Principle: Learners should have the chance to integrate what they’ve learned into their real life via discussion, reflection, or presentation.

Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

The Gagne method of instructional design, proposed by American psychologist Robert Gagne, follows the behaviourist approach to learning. This is a more flexible model compared to the popular ADDIE approach and can be applied to a variety of learning environments.

Gagne’s nine events of instruction—which are then applied to the course through the instructional design process—are:

  1. Gain the attention of the learner. This goes back to what we mentioned earlier about that teeny-tiny attention span—you want to hook the learner at the beginning of the course with either compelling storytelling, visuals, or promises of rewards.

  2. Inform the learner of their objectives. Learners typically perform better when they know what the value of the learning material is and what their goals are.

  3. Stimulate recall of existing knowledge before teaching them new information. Similar to Merrill’s activation principle, you want to help learners build upon their established knowledge and build mental connections between what they already know and what they’re learning.

  4. Present the content. Maximize the effectiveness of your course content by presenting the same learning material in different mediums, including videos, lectures, and gamified lessons.

  5. Provide guidance. Bring clarity to the learning experience by providing examples, do’s and don'ts, case studies, and overall instructional guidance so they understand what they’re supposed to learn.

  6. Elicit performance. Time to put what they’ve learned into practice! Include activities in the course that prompt the learner to recall, apply, and evaluate what they’ve learned. Examples include quizzes or written assessments.

  7. Provide feedback. To reinforce what the learner has been taught, and correct mistakes if needed, they need feedback. This includes confirmatory feedback that encourages the learner, analytic feedback that suggests how the learner can improve, and self-evaluation.

  8. Assess their performance. Conduct a pre- and post-assessment of the learner’s knowledge to establish a baseline of what they already know and to see how much information they’ve retained after their training. Use a variety of assessment techniques throughout the course to determine their progress, such as quizzes, games, or multiple-choice questions.

  9. Enhance retention and transfer. Use concept maps, repeat critical information throughout the training, and connect the information to previous or future training materials to help them transfer what they’ve learned to their day-to-day work.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Developed by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s, Bloom’s Taxonomy is an instructional design method based on the six levels of cognitive learning.

This approach pushes trainees through the stages of learning, past simply remembering the information they’ve been presented with and towards the height of education: Being able to apply the information in real situations and use it to solve problems.

The hierarchy (with the simplest stages of learning at the bottom) is as follows:

  • Creating

  • Evaluating

  • Analyzing

  • Applying

  • Understanding

  • Remembering


The SAM method—or Successive Approximation Model—was created by Michael Allen. SAM is a cyclical method, rather than systemic like the ADDIE method, that involves repeating small steps over and over to continually refine the product.

With its agile approach and flexibility, SAM is a favoured method for smaller teams or projects. It includes smaller steps within each of the larger steps, so those involved can continually analyze and perfect their work.

The three main steps in the SAM method are:

  1. Preparation Phase (Background Work)

  2. Iterative Design Phase (Prototype > Review > Design)

  3. Iterative Development Phase (Implement > Develop > Evaluate)


Introduced by Conrad Gottfredson, a performance-support practitioner, the AGILE method stands for Align, Get set, Iterate and Implement, and Leverage–Evaluate. It’s not the cleanest acronym, but the process is still pretty simple:

1. Align: Define the objectives and goals of the learner and organization. 2. Get set: Create a plan for the design and development process. 3. Iterate and implement: Follow through with your plan—AKA develop the course to the point where it could be delivered to the learner. 4. Leverage-evaluate: Take in the data, analyze the effectiveness of the course and learner experience, and improve it as needed. Rinse and repeat.

AGILE is a non-linear and adaptable approach to instructional design, with a lot of flexibility and room for collaboration with the designers and their team. Most of all, it focuses on the learner and how they’ll engage with the content.

7 Instructional Design Techniques to use in your Course Development

Once you’ve chosen the instructional design method you want to follow in your course development, the next step is to choose which instructional design techniques to use in your training materials. Some of the most popular techniques include:

  1. Microlearning Microlearning reduces training overload by simplifying learning materials and delivering them within about five to seven minutes each. Each lesson should focus on one subject and the information should be delivered through multiple methods such as video, audio, or a game. This is especially effective in mobile learning, for supplemental training, or post-workshop training to help employees retain what was taught.

  2. Personalization Personalization is one of the most impactful modern instructional design techniques you can include in your course development. It typically includes creating customized learning paths for each employee or learner, which can be determined through surveys and assessments performed before the training courses are created. You can also give each employee a personal avatar and allow them to choose how they learn, whether it’s through video, text, lecture, or other.

  3. Gamification Game design techniques help create immersive experiences for the learner, increase retention, and improve their performance. When included with clear instructions for the learner and matched with the right learning objective, gamification is especially powerful. To apply gamification techniques to your training course, include badges, leaderboards, and levels, all of which will motivate learners. It’s especially effective for Just in Time Training (JITT), which is training that’s delivered right before it’s used.

  4. Knowledge Recall Through multiple-choice quizzes and flashcard activities, you can help employees retrieve the knowledge they’ve learned from the training materials, instead of simply having them re-read it. Tip: To maximize effectiveness, include knowledge recall activities right after the employee has learned the related material.

  5. Storytelling Employees need—and want—to be as immersed as possible in their training. Include a strong narrative throughout your training course, with clear plots, a relatable character, conflict/tension, and a conversational message that will keep them engaged.

  6. Scenario-Based Lessons Like good storytelling, scenario-based lessons make the training experience more interactive and improves learner engagement. Providing real-world examples challenges the learner, gives them opportunities to make decisions, and allows them to make mistakes without repercussions.

  7. Spaced Learning One of the most talked-about techniques in instructional design is the concept of spaced learning. It’s where a learner is repeatedly exposed to the same information at multiple points in their training, but in different ways—video, audio, experiential—to increase retention of that information.

The Benefits of Instructional Design in Online Learning

When you can incorporate the best of instructional design into your course development, your employees and company can thrive. Through instructional design, you can:

  • Speak to Adult Learners Adult learners absorb information differently than children or typical students. They want hands-on, accessible, and goal-oriented courses they can see the value in. Using instructional design elements—like the interactive aspects of gamification or the ease of microlearning—speaks to those needs.

  • Increase Employee Engagement When you design your training materials around the best practices for education, you can easily engage employees. Online learning—especially gamification—engages employees more effectively than traditional training materials.

  • Decrease Costs By implementing instructional design techniques, you can better train your employees, help them be more confident in their roles, and retain them for longer, in the end helping your organization save money. Mobile apps, which are used frequently for microlearning, are typically more cost-effective for employers and reduce development costs by 50%.

  • Help Learners Retain Knowledge When you incorporate effective instructional design elements into your course development, such as personalization or knowledge recall, you increase employees’ knowledge retention—which means cutting down on retraining or rehiring later on down the road.

  • Help Trainees Achieve Learning Goals Most employees desperately want to upskill and improve their workplace knowledge. Through effective course creation and on-going support, you can help them achieve those goals and become stronger, more satisfied employees.

  • Clarify L&D Goals and Objectives Many of the most effective instructional design models include the all-important steps of goal-setting and assessment. If your company has lost sight of individual employee objectives, implementing instructional design into your course creation will make it easier to assess, improve, and reach your collective goals.

How to get Started

When you’re ready to take your online training courses to the next level with customized instructional design, developed by professional instructional designers, our team is here to make it happen.

Let us turn your PDFs, PowerPoints, training binders, or other materials into engaging e-learning courses used to inspire and educate your team.

Ready? See how Learning Studio's course creation services can elevate your training. Reach out today to get started.

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