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Can Instructional Design Really Help Engagement?

Jason Bacaj | 4 min read

The Principles of Instructional Design

When you’re creating learning material, it’s natural to focus on the content. Getting that part right is obviously essential.

But as you trudge through the day-to-day of creating learning content, it’s important not to forget that the way content is presented affects whether learners will actually absorb the content you spent so long crafting.

This is where instructional design comes in. Generally speaking, instructional design deals with how people learn. Those who study it tend to accumulate expertise in educational psychology. In other words, the different ways people learn, and the most effective materials and methods to help them learn.

The traditional method used by instructional designers is called the ADDIE model. It’s an acronym that stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.


The starting point is where you outline goals and objectives. Figure out who your learners are, the different tools and methods available to reach them. Settle on what your learners need to know and why they need to know it. Hammer out essential details such as the project timeline and metrics of success.


The second step deals with figuring out how to best present the material. Does it make more sense as a series of minute-long microlearning videos? Maybe it’s more sensible to split into online and in-person components. Or, if your target audience consists of nerdy engineers, maybe the right method is through a no-frills, just-the-facts text block. Storyboarding can help if you’re unsure.


Here’s where you get into the classic content creation. Once you have the approach and layout dialed, it’s time to script some videos or get your course authoring tool fired up. It helps here to get some folks to preview the content so you can work out any kinks as they arise.


The fourth phase is when you get to roll out the material to your learners. We recommend an internal marketing push—feel free to glean inspiration from Phase 4 in Urban Plates’ seven-step rebranding case study—ahead of a big rollout. People can’t engage with learning material if they don’t know it exists or what to expect from it.


Once enough people have worked through the learning material, it’s time for a post-mortem. Solicit feedback from those who went through the course. Check out the available metrics, like course completions, test results, or whatever takes a fair measure of what you were looking for. Ideally, you’ll have pinned this down in the initial step. The important thing here is to review how the process went, note what went well, and what didn’t go so well.

Instructional Design in Practice

All of that sounds great but we understand if you’re hesitant to revamp your content development process based on a quick review of a long-studied concept. We searched around and found some facts and figures that show the efficacy of instructional design.

First is the simple fact that design drives engagement. A redesigned LMS can increase the number of active users by more than five times. Think about it: a website designed to look like a page from 1998 is a fun novelty, but how many people really want to use a site like that? No one does, not really.

A formal study on the impact of instructional design found that, when applying these principles, they nearly tripled expected course completion rates. The authors of the study found a few elements that were if not essential, then at least positively correlated with boosting learner engagement.

One is good communication. This includes both the internal marketing efforts to simply let people know new learning material is on the way, and informing those people about expectations around the material, like if it’s required.

Another is ease of use. This is somewhat broad, but encompasses key concepts like accessibility. If you created a video, make sure there are captions. And a simple, intuitive design to the course goes a very long way. People in professional settings need to be able to access information in the flow of their work. If they can’t, it’ll be a minor production each time they have to reach for the device to access information and they won’t go back to material as needed, only when it’s absolutely necessary.

Take a shot at applying this thought-scaffolding to your next course creation project and let us know how it goes!

Wisetail LMS content creator, Jason Bacaj.


Jason is a content creator with Wisetail. Through research and interviews, he works to help L&D pros grow the breadth of their knowledge. He’s a recovering journalist fascinated with learning.