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What is learning design and why is it so important for your online course?

What’s wrong with online courses?

The online course market has seen extraordinary growth in the last few years. Online courses are increasingly common in service-based industries, with many experts, leaders, coaches and consultants including them as part of their existing offering. As a result, the online course marketplace is becoming increasingly saturated, however, few of these courses are created with learning design principles in mind. 

Learning design has gained momentum in the academic domain, and is the foundation for online course creation in more traditional academic institutions like universities, as well as in the corporate learning and development space. It is becoming increasingly recognised as a key factor to a course’s success and driver of a successful learner experience. So what is it and why is it not being used by course creators in other industries?

In this post, I’ll define learning design and explain why it’s so important to the integrity of your online course.

What is learning design ?

Learning design is an approach to designing the learning experience with the learner in mind. It’s about starting with the key learning outcomes, and creating learning experiences that support and reinforce them. It includes making decisions around structure, sequence, flow, content, timing, delivery, engagement, teaching and learning strategies, and opportunities for active learning. 

It’s about being purposeful about your course creation and putting the learners first. Who are they? What are their motivations? What do they want to achieve? What will engage them? What might be their barriers to learning? Then it’s about designing your course with the answers to these questions in mind.

Learning design is intentional design. It shifts the focus from the educator, or person imparting the knowledge, to the learner, or person receiving and integrating the knowledge. Meaning, rather than providing and presenting content that you want to deliver, it’s about asking ‘what does my audience need to learn, and what is the best way for them to learn it?’ 

Why is learning design important?

Online courses have become one of the most powerful and popular ways to bring content to a large audience.

“The Global E-Learning market is expected to reach $336.98 billion by 2026 growing at a CAGR of 9.1% during 2018 to 2026.” – (Syngene Research LLP, 2019).

Good learning design is important for your online course to cut through and stand out. It will help increase your course engagement, retention and impact. These three outcomes feed into each other. Let’s break them down:

1. Engagement

“On average, online courses completion rates range from 5-15%.” (Glass, 2020).

One of the main reasons for low online course retention rate is engagement. Engagement is about the way content is delivered and the way learners interact with that content. Strong learning design allows for learner engagement through active learning that is relevant and meaningful. It also allows for learners to engage with their instructor and with their peers in a way that supports a sense of belonging to a learning community. Designing with engagement in mind will help you increase learner motivation. 

2. Retention

The more engaged learners are, the more likely they are to see the course through to the end. If you are looking to keep your learners in your course until the end, and go on to upgrade to your next course, then designing our course for retention is key. Good learning design keeps in mind the whole learner journey, from beginning to end, continuously providing learners with goals and milestones and opportunities to celebrate their successes. Designing with retention in mind will add value to the learning experience and bring them back for more.  

3. Impact

If you want your learners to walk away from your online course in some way transformed, then you first need to engage and retain them. But to truly make an impact, your course needs to be designed in a way that provides integrity-based content, purpose-driven learning and actionable outcomes. Strong learning design inspires learners to integrate new knowledge and skills and apply them in real life. It can be the differentiating factor that supports transformative learning in your audience.

For a deeper dive into how to translate your knowledge into online learning experiences of impact, Download the 5Qs of Knowledge Alchemy eBook.

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