How to Design for Effective Learning

Leading expert in learning design, Mike Taylor, shares tips on creating engaging educational content.

Designing for Learning with Mike Taylor

How can you design content that will help people learn?

You don’t have to be a teacher in the traditional sense to teach others. You might find yourself faced with a teaching role that you didn’t expect. Perhaps you need to give a presentation, create an educational video, or even host an online course?

Whatever the case may be, you must design your educational content for learning.

Sharing your knowledge with others and creating an effective learning experience for your ‘students’ (whoever they happen to be) doesn’t have to be difficult. There are ways that you can design for learning and in this post, Mike Taylor shares the best tips and advice he has accumulated throughout his two decades of industry experience with training development.

[You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…]

The crucial roles of curiosity and empathy

You cannot design something that’s actually going to help someone learn without injecting curiosity and empathy.

Mike stressed the importance of empathy and having empathy for your students (i.e., the people consuming your content to learn). Who are the people you are speaking to? Who are you trying to help with your content? Think about the person behind the screen or behind the page of text and put yourself in their shoes.

Curiosity is important too. It’s easy to ‘revert to default’ and focus solely on getting the training done without considering alternative options or opportunities to improve and create an even better learning experience.

If you’re creating a training video, course, presentation and so on, make sure that empathy and curiosity have a seat at the table.

How to connect with your audience

Always keep your audience at the forefront of your mind when designing for learning. Mike shared a great story that reflects just how important it is to keep your audience in mind during the creation process.

For a long time, I used to work at a power company… one of those big coal-fired power plants that you’ve probably driven by, and a lot of the training that got pushed out was from corporate offices in a big city with fast connections. People would build these courses, and they’d be fine courses, but they would be these really high bandwidth, really rich multimedia stuff. And, those people have never been to actual power plants, which are typically out in the middle of nowhere. There might be an entire power plant that’s sharing a single 64 k connection for everyone. When you try to run that media-rich stuff, it flat out doesn’t work.”

This is a good example of a time when knowing and understanding your audience is crucial. Before you start designing for learning, remember who you’re trying to teach. Mike also advises that you give your audience a way or method to communicate with you regarding the training or course, etc.

Enabling feedback from people who are actually trying to learn from your content is a great way to connect with your audience and discover new ways to improve the learning experience.

What you can learn about designing for learning from marketers

Many people underestimate just how vital marketers can be in the designing process of creating educational content. Marketers collect tons of data because that’s their job. They know things that you might not be aware of such as whether a user is visiting a website on a smartphone or Chrome browser, etc.

Beyond that, marketers can help you create an ideal persona or representation of the people you wish to target. They know essential information about your ideal audience, and you can learn a lot about them with help from the marketers within your team.

More importantly, marketers help humanize your audience. Marketers and those designing educational content have a lot more in common than you might think…

If you think about training and marketers, we really have a couple of common challenges. We’re both trying to get people’s attention. Then, hopefully once we’ve got that attention, we’re trying to help them think and do something in a different way. I think if you, as a whole, put training versus marketing, you would see two pretty significantly different approaches.”

How to keep your audience focused on learning

Designing for Learning with Mike Taylor

Naturally, when you’re designing for learning, you want to provide as much information about the subject matter as possible. However, overloading someone with an infinite amount of information can be overwhelming and even off-putting.

You need to filter the information and narrow it down so that you can give them what they need without bombarding them with too much. Mike shared some pearls of wisdom on how to best approach this common issue:

Give them the hook up front. It’s amazing what people will do when they are hooked and motivated.

But how can you keep people focused if the topic is a little… boring?

Injecting some personality is a great way to make even the most boring, sleep-inducing tops a little more entertaining and fun. Embrace the fact that yes, the topic is a little boring, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide your personality.

How to engage with your audience

If you have created educational content for an online audience, seize any opportunity that you can to interact with them. Mike suggests choosing a tool that enables back and forth conversation. Perhaps a Zoom call would suffice and since you can see their faces, it makes it much easier to converse and interact with other people.

Mike also recommends having a helping hand. You could ask somebody to join the Zoom call for the purpose of pointing out people who have questions or comments they want to discuss with you. This is useful because when you’re in the ‘teaching head zone,’ it can be difficult to keep on top of what’s going on in the comment section and so on because you’re busy doing the lecture or workshop, etc.

Engagement in an online learning environment usually means that people are having conversations around the topic and the training. You can use various metrics to measure engagement too and see how much engagement you’re actually getting.

Design and development tips

Whether you’re working on a workshop, workbook, a training video, or a handout, etc., you’ve got to consider the design and development aspect of that content.

Mike had some great tips on this and emphasized the importance of being as helpful as humanly possible. He recommends that you ask yourself this question: What is the least I can do to effectively help them get the job done the right way?

In other words, how can you be helpful in the most efficient way possible? If you can do something in five minutes, do it in five minutes. Don’t take 20 minutes if you don’t need every minute of that time. If you can capture the same efficiency of messaging that marketers demonstrate, you will be able to transfer that skill and use it to create the best learning experience possible.

The efficiency of your message is so important:

Some people are uncomfortable with cutting things too small or too Finally, but I think if you if you make your content so that it can move and can be shared…and then finds its way into conversations… I think those things all go together to make really valuable stuff.”

Design your educational content for learning

Mike’s last words of advice for designing for learning is to always be curious. Don’t follow the status quo all the time and don’t be afraid to ask the ultimate question…what if?

What if you did something different?

What if it works and you stumble across an even better way to design for learning that nobody else has thought of yet?

There are so many possibilities to explore but the key takeaway to keep in mind when designing for learning is your audience. You need to know your audience and you need to know how you are helping them.

Learn more about designing and creating images and videos for Learning from the TechSmith Academy.

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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