Instructional Design for e-Learning

Instructional Design for e-Learning

Some might argue that instructional design techniques and principles are all the same, regardless of whether you are designing for instructor-led training, online courses, or blended learning. To a point, that is correct. There are, however, a few useful differences that should be pointed out.

Instructional Design for e-Learning

Learning Objectives

Objectives are the core of any instructional design effort. They guide all stages of design and development. They tell instructional designs what to include, and what to leave out. They should always be drafted first, before any design takes place.

What’s different for e-Learning is the nature and scope of those learning objectives. When taking learning online, the content needs to be even more tightly focused than in an instructor-led training course, where the facilitator has some ability to adapt and adjust on the fly. That’s not usually the case in e-Learning courses (with the possible exception of live webinars).

When selecting objectives for e-Learning courses, be careful to list specific, measurable outcomes that can be assessed in a virtual setting. Also, attention spans are very short, especially for online courses, so don’t overload the amount of material you intent to cover.


While you can use a storyboard for traditional instructor-led training, instructional designers typically go from learning goals and objectives directly to creating course materials. This would be a mistake for e-Learning design.

Using storyboard helps the instructional designers organize content, while visually displaying how the pieces of the course fit together. It helps create a narration for how the lesson will flow, and how each piece of content will build on the next. It will also help the instructional designer avoid overloading the course with too many concepts.


One of the beautiful things about e-Learning is the ability of the learner to branch out and drill down on topics they want to know more about. This can’t really be done in a face-to-face setting. Instructional designers need to keep this in mind as they create e-Learning courses.

Start by creating a list of topic and sub-topics. The main “road” through the e-Learning course should include all of the “must know” topics – things that are crucial to achieving the objectives. It should also include “should know” content that learners will need to understand in order to complete the course. In an e-Learning setting, it’s possible to allow learners to skip forward over any concepts they already have mastered in the “should know” area. Designers need to include this functionality in their courses, or they will quickly bore the more advanced learners.

Finally, there is the category of “nice to know” information. Any traditional course will likely leave this content out of the course, or offer it as supplemental handouts. In an e-Learning course, this “nice to know” information can have links for interested learners to follow. This technique also allows the learner to be in charge of their own experience. That’s a win-win for designers.

There’s More

There’s much more to know about instructional design for e-Learning courses. This brief primer has introduced some of the more basic, and important points. Also, e-Learning is changing and expanding all the time, so keep reading!