6 Instructional Design Principles for Authoring E-learning Content

6 Instructional Design Principles for Authoring E-learning Content

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An effective e-learning experience centers on being relevant, interactive, collaborative and engaging, and is geared towards improving knowledge retention. Research shows that e-learning increases retention rates to 82% on average. Using instructional design principles allows you to begin with the end in mind, that is, you follow a systematic development process to ensure that content for your learners is memorable and easy to digest. It prompts you to share your expertise in the subject matter area with your learners in new and different ways, as these instructional design principles foster analytical thinking, creativity, flexibility and the ability to manage information, especially at a time when the demand for quality e-learning content is at its peak (an anticipated increase of 14.6% from 2020 to 2026).

To begin, let’s define instructional design.

What Is Instructional Design?

Instructional Design is the process of creating learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills. 


The ultimate goal of instructional design is to ensure that learning does occur and can be evidenced by a positive change in behavior or by means of improved performance. In fact, I look at the instructional design framework as an on-going process of assessing learner outcomes and refining content and methods used in instruction to improve the experience. While there are nine core principles to the science of instruction, six principles are a must when authoring e-learning content. By following these six principles, you will be able to author e-learning content that achieves the desired learner outcomes and objectives you establish for your courses.

Instructional Design

6 Key Principles Of Instructional Design for Course Authors

As an educator and a learning and development professional, I’ve developed content on a variety of topics, and although the subject matter content may be unique to a certain field, the instructional design principles are applicable across multiple disciplines. Why? Because instructional design principles prompt content authors to apply analytical thinking and creativity as to how content is taught and delivered to learners, and to analyze the best way to manage the flow of information to learners. All nine elements of Robert M. Gagne’s framework for instructional design have merit. Of these nine, I found these six principles to be a must when authoring e-learning content.

1. Gain the Learner’s Attention

Did you know that there are more than 220 million learners enrolled in Massive Open Online courses (MOOC) in 2022? Trends show that the number of learners interested in e-learning opportunities will continue to grow. Your goal is to arouse the interest of your learner in your topic by identifying the subject, and showing why your listeners should be interested in it. You may use a question, statement, real-life experience, a story, or a news item to peak their interest. Gaining the learner’s attention is a deliberate effort to ensure reception. In fact, according to Bersin by Deloitte’s Meet the Modern Learner infographic, you have between five and ten seconds to capture your learner’s attention. So, in an e-learning environment, every second counts. So make every effort to create engaging and compelling content for your learners from the beginning of your course. 

2. Stimulate Recall of Prior Learning (Retrieval)

In language acquisition, prior learning is referred to as background knowledge, and we all have it. Based on your own experiences in life and learning, you have gained knowledge about the world and things that go on around you, both formally and informally. Thus, when authoring e-learning content, you will consider who your learners are, what experiences they may have had that relate to your topic, as this information in mind, develop content that will help your learners to make connections to topics introduced to them. Your goal is to stimulate recall of prior learning experiences and bridge the gap between what they may already know and what it is you want them to learn.

3. Clearly State the Learning Objective (Expectancy)

Clearly stating learning objectives serves three purposes for course authors.

  • – Articulating learning objectives helps course authors select and organize course content. 
  • – Articulating learning objectives helps course authors determine assessment creation and methods to use.
  • – Articulating learning objectives helps course authors practice good course design.

How? First, you can identify the kinds of materials and topics that will be more suitable to the learning outcomes you created for the course, and organize when to introduce them into the curriculum. Second, you can create assessments that focus on and align with the core learning components of your course, as this will minimize student frustration. And, third, by establishing clear learning objectives, you have a guide by which to assess whether your design of instructional strategies and learning activities meet their intended objectives. It is important to remember that learning objectives are written in learner-centered language, and are specific and measurable. 

When you provide your learners with clear and concise course objectives,  you are preparing them to gain the most from the process of learning in your course. This is an instructional strategy which helps you to design a solid course, and prepares your students to focus on gaining the most from taking your course. 

4. Present Information (Selective Perception)

Now it’s time to teach content and present this new information to your learners. This instructional design principle of presenting information calls for creative thinking. How can I present new information without overwhelming my learner? Avoid cognitive overload and minimize content dumping in your e-learning courses by implementing micro-learning sessions. In fact, many learning professionals are implementing micro-learning, or bite- size sessions, into their courses as this method makes learning 17% more effective.  Why? A good micro-learning lesson will contain one key takeaway , and will be no more than five to seven minutes long. 


Another challenge facing course authors is to provide alternative forms of content in order to meet the varied needs of learners. Yes, learners must read content, yet you can explore alternative approaches to sequence and deliver your content so that learners can absorb the information progressively. 


There are many approaches that can be adopted here. When selecting activities or content to include in your course, keep your learners in mind. Learners may be audio-visual learners, perhaps incorporate relevant infographics, tables, images, videos and other visual aids into your course as this will help the learner to visualize each concept presented. Some learners are multisensory, so they may respond better to role-plays, storytelling, and interactive videos. The goal is to present new information in more than one way, so as to increase the learners exposure to the new material to be learned and encourage retention. Granted, the methods you apply should align with the key learning objectives and desired outcomes you established for your course. 


Also, consider which e-learning authoring tools will work best for your learners.

5. Assess Performance

As a course author, you will want to ensure that the course assessments align with the core learning objectives of your course. If you discover that your learner did not grasp the new concept as desired, review your course materials and content to see if there is a different way to present it. If so, you can modify the course for future learners. And if time permits, share new materials with your current learners. 


From the learners perspective, you can encourage them to think about the information they have covered in your course. Ask for their feedback. Make your assessments interactive and engaging, by incorporating a variety of activities such as learning games and word puzzles, and mix and match interactions. You can also consider providing your learners with two attempts to complete an assessment, if appropriate and in alignment with the learning objectives.

Assess Performance

6.Give and Receive Feedback

Provide effective feedback to your learners. Providing an explanation or clarifying a concept that they may not have understood correctly will help reinforce learning objectives. Provide a rubric for your learners, as this tool will help you to communicate expectations for each assignment and can be used to facilitate effective feedback for learning. Giving feedback on a learner’s performance is a must. 


Equally important is receiving feedback from your learners. When you ask for feedback, you will learn more about the effectiveness of the materials presented in the course, whether the rubric was useful to communicate expectations. Perhaps the learner has ideas on how to further explain some of the concepts they struggled to learn. By implementing good feedback  practices in your e-learning course, you will be able to ensure that you are authoring e-learning content that regularly meets your learners’ needs. 


As we have explored in this article, authoring e-learning content can be challenging. Yet, by proactively implementing instructional design principles when developing your courses, you can create engaging learning experiences for your learner. Whether you are authoring your first e-learning course or revising an existing course, these six principles will help you develop content that is relevant, interactive, collaborative and engaging, and focused on improving knowledge retention.

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