4 Instructional Design Mistakes You Should Never Make
Looking for ways to improve your course? Keep an eye out for these instructional design mistakes.
Instructional design is a large field, and there’s a lot to learn. Along the way, it can become easy to feel as though you’ll never be ready to launch because your course will never be good enough. However, the more you hold of on launching your course, the longer it will take you to gather the feedback you need to make it better. It’s unlikely your course will ever be fully finished, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ready to launch.
On the other hand, there are some significant instructional mistakes you can avoid before you launch that will ensure your course succeeds. While your course doesn’t need to be perfect, you can make sure you avoid these four instructional design mistakes before you launch.
1. Forgetting the learner: jargon, missed steps, and talking over the learners’ heads.
Once you know a subject well, it can become all too easy to forget that your learners are far less versed in the ins and outs of your subject matter. What’s obvious to you is completely new to your learners, and while you may feel like you’re explaining the obvious, you can rest assured some portion of your learners are hanging on every word.
Of course, not every learner will be at the same knowledge level, and some may indeed be acquainted with the material you’re covering. In this case, you run a real risk of disengaging a portion of your audience. Because of this, it’s important to specify the course level, so that learners can sign up for whatever most matches their needs.
If you advertise a course as being for beginners, then you will need to keep it at beginner level. But, if you brand your course as an advanced “master class,” then you can use more complicated terminology, although providing a glossary of terms is still a good idea.
2. Information overload: teaching too much, too quickly.
Like the previous point, information overload often happens when instructors get carried away with their material. However, unlike the previous issue, this one stems not from explaining too little, but from explaining too much. Or rather, of explaining everything all at once.
After all, it’s not so much a content issue as an organizational one. It may be that everything you have to say deserves its place in the course. But if you have too much on one slide—or in one lecture—it’s likely your learners won’t be able to absorb it all at once.
Instead, structure each lesson around one key point, and save the rest for something else. If that means you have twenty lessons instead of five, so be it. One of the advantages of online learning is that you don’t have a set number of hour-length lectures to give. It may even work to your benefit (and that of your learners) to deliver more lectures in shorter formats.
3. Non-sequiturs: mismatched imagery and content.
Online courses often suffer from a lack of imagery, and to compensate, many instructors begin adding stock photos simply to have something on the page. If those images relate to the material, that’s well enough. But there’s only so many generic images of smiling, corporate settings a learner can take before they become an irritation.
Instead, plan some of your time and development budget to creating custom images—including infographics. And think carefully about what images accompany which slides. It may be your choice in visuals is fine; it’s simply the placement that’s at fault.
Finally, consider the context for the learner. Mismatched content can be just as frustrating as mismatched imagery. If you’re developing a course for adult freelancers, give them scenarios that match their work environment. On the other hand, if you’re writing for corporate leaders, your choice of examples will be quite different. People connect with material more when the context is relevant to their own life situation.
4. Same old same old: repetitious content and no variation.
Many of us design courses based on a template—and that’s no bad thing. When there’s a certain structure to your content and its presentation, it helps learners find their place in the lesson and prepare for what’s next.
However, too much repetition can become self-defeating. Instead of tracking their progress through the lesson, learners begin to zone out. After clicking through twenty slides all with the same format, they begin to forget how far they’ve come—and how far they have to go.
The same can be said of your overall course. Too much repetition can become monotonous, so find ways to strategically introduce different lesson formats. Maybe you have three or four lessons in a normal format, and then have the fifth lesson be a more involved scenario-based design. Within your lessons, you could include a short quiz at the halfway point, and alternate the conclusion between a video and a class-based assignment.
Either way, focus on ways to mix up your content so that the lessons don’t blend together.
There’s always room for improvement.
Ask any teacher, lecturer, or professor worth their salt and they’ll tell you that their course changes every year. New information from their field causes them to update a set of examples, or an exciting new discovery means they have to add a new module entirely. And even if they work in a relatively stable field, their own experience working with students gives them new contexts for how to deliver an effective lesson.
Online education is no different. While it can be tempting to view your course content as permanent, the reality is you can—and should—update it regularly with new information based on your growing experience. Because of this, there’s no reason to hold back. If you’re confident your course isn’t committing any major instructional design mistakes, it’s time to put it in front of learners. And if you recognize some of these errors in a course you’ve already launched, there’s nothing stopping you from making updates.