Effective Learning Design

Are we designing eLearning courses following a common practice?

I recently listened to Ethan Edward’s webinar on ‘10 ways to ruin your eLearning’, and it sparked some thoughts in me.

Here are the 10 ways mentioned by Ethan:

  1. Explain every function of the interface
  2. Use the standard C-shell template
  3. Show a talking head introducing all textual statements
  4. Score and record every action taken by the user
  5. Limit interactions to fit the LMS data standards
  6. Open the lesson with formal learning objectives
  7. Write content to be an exhaustive treatment of the field
  8. Dictate learner’s progress and sequence
  9. Record verbatim the words on the screen
  10. Create eLearning in PowerPoint and import into authoring tools

I’m not intended to share my thought on all of the above points. I leave it to you to decide which ones you agree or disagree. I’d only like to share my opinions on two of them; Interface guidance and learning objectives, and then add some other points which I believe will help us design more effective eLearning.

Interface Guidance

I personally believe a course designed should not be very complicated in terms of its functions containing too many branches and layers. Depending on the course subject and theme as well as the authoring tool used, we must choose the simplest possible way to avoid any confusion.

Sufficient guidance in how to use and what to look for in the course should be provided as an option to learners. Those who feel they need to go through it can choose to do so, while some others might feel otherwise. Giving the learners control/option rather than forcing them to follow the pages might be more demotivating; nonetheless, I agree with Ethan that the guide should be as succinct as possible.

In addition, in case there are many pages in a course, adding a progress indicator can be very helpful to indicate to the learners how much or which parts of the course they have completed. This can be done is some very visually creative ways depending on your preference.

Learning Objectives

We were taught to write and add the learning objectives at the beginning of each course following Bloom’s taxonomy. I agree with Ethan that we shouldn’t place a list of them in this manner at the beginning of each course. In fact, I’ve seen very long lists too. However, I don’t think we should do away with or hide them, but we can write a more effective and succinct list as it’s important that learners know what they can achieve in a course. In other words, the learning objectives can be written in response to question “why they should do this course.” I suggest that we phrase the objectives in a manner that they relate to real-life experience. Adult learners, in particular, need to know the immediate value of a course. Setting micro-results that are tangible to learners can be motivating to them. Based on Knowles’ Andragogy, adults are self-directed and need to know why the need to learn something.

In an earlier post, I shared that I ask the SMEs what skills the learners are expected to demonstrate after completing the course. Hence, stating the objectives in relation to these skills can be more tangible to the learners in helping them realize the effectiveness of the course. What matters to the learners most is how applicable it can be in their daily life.

Letting the learners know why they are doing the course and what they can gain from it is more motivating than listing learning objectives which don’t resonate real-based meaning.

Review Cycle

While we might think the learners can repeat the lessons any time they want, we would be able to create a more effective eLearning if we include a review cycle in our courses. This can be done through different techniques, one of which is linking previously mentioned important points to the new concepts. This helps the learners retain the information by referring to their schema. Another method is helping the learners connect the dots themselves, which will provide a more meaningful learning experience for them. We should either connect the dots for them or provide activities/ questions that help them do it by themselves. This can also be done through examples, images, and videos. In other words using incremental learning techniques.


I personally believe an online quiz is not sufficient to add challenge to the learners’ learning. The aim should therefore be to assist the learners in retaining and applying their knowledge in an authentic manner. Learning activities that simulate real-life challenges can be more effective. As Bransford et al. (qtd in Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2010) argue “the eLearning course can provide ill-defined activities which have real-world relevance, and which present a simple complex task to be completed over a sustained period of time, rather than a series of shorter disconnected examples” [1].

I also suggest asking the learners create a concept map or infographic to help them monitor their own learning process.


Explanatory feedback which provides hints or reference to certain sections of the content can be more effective in helping the learners think in a higher level rather than stating a choice is right or wrong. In other words, stating the reason for a wrong choice/hint will be more helpful. I’ve seen quizzes or activities that contain quite a number of questions and just provide a right or wrong feedback/smiley or non-smiley face. Imagine the frustrated learner clicking on every option/tab to find the correct answer.


Herrington, J., Reeves, T., & Oliver, R. (2010). A guide to authentic e-learning. NY: Routledge.

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