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Human-Centered Instructional Design: 5 Essential Tips for E-Learning Professionals

You may have heard the joke about product design and marketing. Developers have an idea. Convince marketers that their product was built just for you. This is not always the case. Often the designer’s creation should meet their own requirements. Or maybe it was something they came up with during the morning commute. The proverbial ‘a-ha’ moment. Human-centered design pursues the marketing approach and embeds it in the production. Before doing anything, consult the intended goal and make sure it works for you. According to this philosophy, products and services start with a specific user and are tailored to this user. Here are 5 top tips for using human-centered instructional design to create more meaningful eLearning experiences.

How to create people-centered eLearning experiences

1. Observe and learn

The process begins with exploring the market segment. For example, let’s say you’re an eLearning course developer and want to create an online compliance training course. Book some time with a typical client and regulator. Find out what compliance requirements apply and what the regulator expects. Acknowledge the penalties for violations.

Then go to your profiled customer. Ask what kind of online training they currently have, what worked and what didn’t. Review the segmentation of your employees and their attitudes towards compliance. In another scenario, define the problem. Ask, “What are we trying to achieve and / or fix?” The key is to understand your target audience so that you can address their needs and ultimately provide a user-friendly experience.

2. Develop a framework

With the information you have gathered, sit down in your team and do a brainstorming session. Find out the best way to put your eLearning course together. For example, does the industry need a lot of field work? This means that online training materials should be portable so that they are compatible with smartphones and tablets. Offline access is also required for remote employees without WiFi.

Is the organization global? Rate the nationalities / colloquial languages ‚Äč‚Äčrepresented and ensure that translations are available in their preferred languages. Think about the people you interviewed. You may have indicated (or openly stated) their preferred method of learning. Human-Centered Instructional Design stands for the integration into your template.

3. Put it on paper (or binary)

It’s time to develop a prototype. Working with something tangible provides a point of reference. Depending on the scope of your eLearning course, your prototype can be a pen and paper sketch. It can also be a wireframe, an eLearning course overview, or a presentation deck. It doesn’t need to be polished or finished, but it should be comprehensive and cover all relevant aspects of the eLearning course.

In the compliance example, these can be case studies, legal provisions, defined penalties, etc. You can also start by identifying the skills you need and the people you want to work with.

4. Trial time

You haven’t built anything yet, but you have something to show off to your co-workers. Design a usable test for your prototype. If it’s just a basic prototype at this point, find a beta testing group and run it. Write down any questions you may have. They can draw your attention to missing steps or important content. If at any point they seem confused, this phase of the eLearning course will likely need refinement.

Be open and thick, because evaluation can be brutal. Record all the comments and go back and review them. Implement any changes you deem relevant and tweak areas that need tweaking to approach human-centered instructional design.

5. Do it

Once you have all of your concepts and designs in place, it should be easier to execute. You already have a workflow and assigned roles. So get down to the creation. Remember, this is a user-centric process. Get them involved. You can try out your eLearning course in different phases, creating a consistent eLearning feedback loop. However, work on a schedule or you could tweak your eLearning material forever.

For example, you can code in cycles of two or two weeks, depending on the scope of the project. Bring a user for assessment at the end of each cycle. Even after the start of your eLearning course, you should continuously collect eLearning feedback. Conduct surveys and evaluate your LMS metrics to look for gaps and areas for improvement. An integral part of human-centered instructional design is measuring progress and making the necessary adjustments.

Consider human-centered design criticism

While many believe that human-centered instructional design is ideal for solving today’s eLearning challenges, some criticize its ideologies. This means that it only addresses current issues instead of taking a proactive instructional design approach. Another point of contention is that there are limitations on personalization. Like niche groups within the audience. Finally, many critics note that human-centered instructional design does not make optimal use of learning technologies. It uses technology to solve current problems, but does not allow instructional designers to move the envelope and develop the next application or use.


User-driven design is another name for human-centered instructional design. Some people prefer to call it design thinking and believe fully in philosophy. The idea is to build with the user in mind by asking them what they want. Observe, engage, and interact with them to define their specific needs. Then return to your Design Center. Think about how this can be done and who should be involved in it. Create a draft, either as a sketch, presentation deck, or any other format. Not too detailed, but “ready enough to test”. Video conferencing users and conduct them to absorb their feedback. Then create the eLearning course and let the users test it again. Repeat the last three steps until your eLearning course is complete.

Interested in instructional design but not sure where to start? Are you an instructional designer looking for inspiration? Download our eBook Breaking Into the Industry: Become an Instructional Designer and Master the LXD Basics for tips on designing engaging and insightful eLearning courses, as well as the steps you should take to build your Instructional Design Finding Your Dream Job and Top Tips to Build an Amazing Instructional Design Portfolio.

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