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Engaging Design Empowers Learners

This was originally posted on HR Zone on April 28,2017

Every instructor—from a preschool teacher to an instructional designer—has struggled at some point or another with the concept of learner autonomy. Answering the question of how involved the instructor should be in the learner’s process becomes more difficult to answer with each passing year. The only thing that we seem to know for sure is that learners tend to get the most out of a class or employee onboarding when they’re the ones in control of their learning. Giving learners the ability to take control of their learning leads to empowerment and its long list of benefits.

So, what’s the key to creating training that empowers employees? Engaging design principles that strike a balance between guiding the learner and letting them navigate on their own. For example, an employee who’s able to “pause” a course and come back later will feel more empowered than an employee who must take the entire training in one sitting.

By implementing a few design tricks and concepts, instructional designers and other educators can set themselves—and their learners—up for greater levels of success.

Let the Web be Your Guide

Think back to the last time you stumbled upon a really terrible website. Turquoise text set against a toxic yellow background with no visible rhyme or reason as to where to go next, perhaps? At this point in our web development game, websites like that are universally reviled for their utter lack of usability. On the other hand, the websites that have demonstrated sound design skills are likely the ones that keep you coming back.

The principles that guide good web designers can help you create user-friendly, beautiful web-based training courses. While web design is a complicated field, there are several resources that can overlap into the world of instructional design. Consider the unfortunately named C.R.A.P. Principles, as described by graphic designer Robin Williams. Based on her experience, good design has contrastrepetitionalignment, and proximity. She discusses these characteristics in more depth, but the basic concepts offer a great place for instructional designers to start.

Make Friends with Rich Media 

Today’s audiences are used to interacting with many types of media while navigating online. Audio, video, and text-based media have converged into a multi-faceted, interactive world that has immersed today’s learners from the day they were born. As many of your learners are accustomed to processing their information through the lens of multimedia, why not take advantage of this predilection in your own courses?

Instructionally, implementing audio, visual, graphic and text throughout a course is one of the best ways to keep a learner’s attention engaged and focused. Because today’s learners are so accustomed to receiving and digesting their information in multiple formats, their attention spans are easier to engage when we teach them using the same methods. Again, media formatting should bend to the higher powers of design principles—a mishmash of audio/video clips isn’t going to get the job done if there’s not a plan behind it.

Value your Learners’ Time

One commonly neglected piece of creating a training course is the fact that whatever benefit that the course will have on the learner, it requires a portion of their time to complete. Good design principles help the learner stay engaged by showing them that their time is valued—when they interact with something that trusts them to take control, their engagement levels increase considerably. The trick is to get your learners to want to spend their time with you course. Once you’ve achieved this, the course ceases to be work and begins to be fun.

It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but the best place to start is to design your course with your learners’ time in mind. It’s safe to assume that your learners see their time as precious, so the best thing that a designer can do is to utilize design concepts like microlearning or asynchronous learning to either prioritize course content for learners or allow them to complete courses on their own timeline. Learners’ engagement with the course design tends to increase when they know that you value their time and trust them to use it effectively.

We all know that technology has evolved over the years, and that means your design principles should be evolving, too. While it may be tempting to resist change, doing so would be a disservice to you and your employees. Besides empowering your employees, embracing engaging design principles also provides you with new instructional design opportunities, like the ability to be more creative. By embracing engaging design principles, you’re giving the power back to employees and putting them in control of their own learning experience.