woman working on the computer

Instructional Design Basics for Course Creators

I love online courses! You can tell how much I love them by the number of courses I’ve bought in the past.

These courses allow experts to share their knowledge and experience with a much wider audience than they’ve ever been able to before. And there’s no indication that it’s going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, forecasts in 2019 expected that online education markets would reach $350 billion by 2025. Due to significant growth during the pandemic, that number will probably end up being even higher.

But not all online courses are created equally. While many experts know all the things about their topics, not everyone understands instructional design basics.

That’s where I can help you out!

After almost 20 years in education and a MEd in Instructional Design, I know a thing or two about the topic.

Gif of cowboy saying he's an expert

That’s why I’m sharing all about instructional design. I’m focusing on:

  • What instructional design is
  • The instructional design basics that you can use in your course creation
  • The three things you should consider in each area of instructional design

In 10-15 minutes, you’ll have a solid understanding of the instructional design basics.

What is Instructional Design?

A formal definition of instructional design is “the process by which learning products and experiences are designed, developed, and delivered.”

Basically, instructional design is used to make sure that your course is created in a way that people actually learn.

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) knows all about the content of the course, or the “what” of the course. This is where course creators traditionally shine. They know everything there is to know about the topic of the course.

But an instructional designer focuses more on the “how” of the course—how it’s structured, how it’s presented, and how learning is assessed. There’s an understanding of how to develop and deliver trainings that includes brain research, educational philosophy and psychology, and engaging curricula.

All the knowledge and practices that were needed in my years as an educator.

Now, I get to use those same skills to help course creators make their amazing courses even better.

You might be wondering whether you need to change your course according to instructional design best practices.

The answer’s “Yes.”

Because when your course isn’t set up in a way that effectively helps people learn, they’re less likely to finish the course. And those people not finishing your course can slow your business growth in unexpected ways.

You definitely don’t want that!

Instructional Design Basics You Need

When I’m working with clients on their courses, there are 5 basics that I focus on. Those are:

  • Course Objectives
  • Course Structure
  • Course Sequence
  • Course Pacing
  • Course Delivery
Instructional Design Basics web

Because I want you to be able to successfully implement the instructional design basics for your course, I’ve created a workbook to go with this post. All you have to do is complete the form below to subscribe to my email list!

The workbook will be delivered to your email address within a few minutes. You can start implementing the instructional design components right away.

Let’s look at what each of these instructional design components is and how to make sure that you’re including them in your course creation.

Course Objectives

Course creators usually know what they want to teach in their course and what they want their course takers to do. However, they might not lay them out as clearly as their course takers need. The main objectives of the course should be explicitly stated in the course materials.

While I used to have to follow a very specific format when writing lesson plans that involved “The Learner Will….” for every activity we did in class, I don’t recommend being that formal in your course. A simple bullet list of what they’ll be able to accomplish after completing the course is enough.

Besides having objectives for the entire course, it’s also important to have objectives for each module or lesson. These will be more specific than the general objectives and should focus on what they’ll learn and do in that lesson.

Keeping the course objectives in mind as you’re creating your course can help you be confident that your course delivers on the promise of your course.

Course Structure

The next of the instructional design basics to consider is the structure of the course. By this, I mean how you choose to set up the course.

The possible course structures are endless.

Is it an in-person course, online course, or a combination of the two? Will you run it live, in cohorts, or as an evergreen, self-paced course? Do you plan to use text only, video only, worksheets, or some variation of all of these? Will you focus on theory or practice or both? How long will the course be?

Answering all of these questions will help you create your course.

Course Sequence

While you’ll probably only consider the structure at the beginning of the course creation process, the course sequence is one of the instructional design basics that needs to be continually evaluated.

You want to make sure that your course follows a logical sequence that can help your course takers learn. It’s helpful to start your course takers where they are currently and build on their learning to get to where they need to be.

After you’ve created your course, it’s helpful to look back over the sequencing and check for holes. If content is missing, your course takers might struggle to move from one step to another.

That’s why this is one area of the instructional design basics I focus on in the Course SUCCESS Audits I provide to my clients.

Course Pacing

Course pacing is how your course flows over time. You want a course that moves forward at a consistent pace. It’s important to have a natural flow that doesn’t overwhelm your learners with too much information all at once or drag significantly to the point that they lose interest.

While there might be some variation between how long course takers spending learning one lesson, it’s essential that there be consistency in the expectations between your course lessons.

For example, let’s say you have a course that has 5 modules. Perhaps the first 2 modules take about 30 minutes a piece. Module 3 might be a little longer and takes 45 minutes. That’s a pretty comparable amount of time. What you don’t want is for your module 3 to take 5 hours to complete and then have modules 4 and 5 go back to 40 minutes each.

I can almost guarantee that a significant portion of your course takers will quit in the middle of module 3 and never finish your course.

If you notice that one module or lesson is significantly longer than the others, you might need to make some adjustments to the course sequence. It might be helpful to break the module into multiple modules to keep a consistent learning pace in the course.

Course Delivery

The last component of instructional design basics that I focus on is the course delivery. While this is how the course is presented (similar to the course structure), I also include any instructional materials.

Does the course provide all the materials that a course taker needs to be successful? Are they organized in a way that makes sense and fit with the course?

The nice thing about this is there aren’t any right or wrong ways to deliver your course materials. You might include lectures, videos, e-books, workbooks, graphics, swipe files, tutorials, links to outside resources, quizzes, or anything else you can imagine.

But each part of the delivery should focus on helping the course taker achieve the desired result.

You’re now ready to implement instructional design basics for your course.

3 things to consider

As you’re working through the components of the instructional design, there are 3 areas that you should consider. Those areas are the purpose of your course, your target audience, and your preferences.

You want to be sure that the choices that you make for each component matches with the needs of each area.

For example, your objectives need to closely match with the purpose of the course. Each objective needs to help move the course taker closer to the main objective.

The objectives should also fit with the target audience—where they are currently in their learning of your topic, their age, understanding, and their skills. The language used in objectives should be clear and understandable to the target audience.

The objectives also needs to align with your personal preferences. It is your course, so you want to make sure that you create it in a way that you want your course to run.

For each of the instructional design basics, you should analyze how the choices you make match in the three areas.

While there’s a lot more involved in instructional design, I hope you now have a better understanding of instructional design basics.

If you didn’t sign up above to get the workbook, you can use the form below to subscribe now.

Mockup for Instructional Design Basics workbook