5 Instructional Design Best Practices

January 29, 2010 by Dennis Rea in IT Courseware

Wadeware instructional designers have created dozens of courses for high-profile customers using a variety of instructional design modalities and methodologies ranging from traditional instructor-based classroom training to self-paced eLearning. While your choice of an instructional design strategy will depend in part on which modality you choose for presenting information, experience has taught us that a number of highly recommended best practices are applicable in all cases.

1. Don’t try to cover too much information

A common mistake in courseware design is to try to cram more material into a learning session than a student can realistically be expected to absorb. Take “data fatigue” into account when planning what to cover, as well as physical factors such as eyestrain and the need for periodic breaks. Pare down the course material to what is truly essential and avoid veering off into minutiae. Consider incorporating links to more detailed information sources wherever possible so that learners can study nonessential particulars at their own pace and convenience; for example, through the use of “For More Information” callouts.

2. Break information up into easily digestible portions

Adopt a “chunking” strategy when presenting information so that learners can clearly identify key points and concepts without having to “dig.” This is especially important in cases where information is presented onscreen (e.g., eLearning) and excessive scrolling is a concern. Offset key sections through judicious use of informative nested headings and other separators. Use lists to drive home important points. Chunking also facilitates reuse and reordering of relevant materials in future courseware products.

3. Enhance flow by including a variety of content types/media

Nothing impedes the learning process more than page after page of dry, unrelieved technical data. Look for ways to “spice up” your training with non-textual elements and activities, such as graphics, video, games, and instructor demonstrations.

4. Relate the content to your learners’ specific needs

Even the best-designed training materials are mere words unless the information addresses real-life scenarios that the learner is likely to encounter in his or her own job role. Carefully anticipate your audience’s practical needs when planning your courseware design. “Bring it home” by consulting representative target learners early in the design process to find out what subject areas they feel will provide the greatest value.

5. Incorporate hands-on activities whenever possible

Countless studies have concluded that students learn best when doing, rather than passively taking in information. If appropriate for the material being covered, include exercises so that students can gain hands-on experience using the techniques and technologies under discussion. Verify that the learners have successfully completed the exercises before moving on to the next subject area.


In summary, the manner in which you present information to learners is as important as the information itself. Be responsive to your learners’ practical needs, and recognize that there are limits on how much factual information a learner can reasonably assimilate. While many other factors should also be taken into account when designing and developing effective courseware, we believe that the above practices are the bedrock of our successful training solutions.