February 5th, 2018 Instructional Design

Make sure you are reinforcing the key concepts at multiple points in the course to maximize learning retention.

Many of us have taken an online course at some point. Do you remember the content from that course? Perhaps you do for some but certainly not all of them. While there could be a variety of reasons why this is the case, likely part of the blame lies in the course itself.

A good course has a “reinforcement plan”. At strategic points in the content the key concepts are brought up again. It could be in a checkpoint, tooltip, summary, or exercise. The fact of the matter is that we are more likely to remember something if we are exposed to the message multiple times.

Think about a language course. If you are learning the verb “to have”, then you are presented with a slew of exercises and material centered around that core concept. Audio clips, images, fill-in-the-blank questions, and more. Sure it’s repetitive but that’s the point. The more you are exposed to that verb in a variety of contexts the more likely you will store it to your long term memory.

How to reinforce course content.

Just like the language course you need to be reinforcing the key objectives in your own course at strategic points. In order to do this though you must first identify your key concepts. It seems basic but it is a step that most people ignore. They think that the point of their course is to teach “x”, but that is a subject, not an objective.

Your objectives need to be defined from the learner’s perspective. Specifically, what is it that they will be able to do after taking the course, and how are you going measure it?

Step 1: Select an “Action”

Your objectives are meant to communicate the intent of the course. Select a verb to dexcribe the required behavior of the objective (i.e. explain, discuss, draw, diagram, describe, identify, recall, list, etc.).

Step 2: Define three main dimensions

Your objectives should define three dimensions that communicate the intent of the course. They should always state what a learner is expected to do after taking the course and under which condition that the learner will be able to preform this task.

Step 3: Reinforce

As you build out your course you should be asking yourself: “Is this what I want my learners to be able to do after the course?”

Every activity you create, assessment, and piece of content should be connected to the objectives that you define. This step is where the learning occurs.

Effective courses have well-thought out objectives.

Whether you are creating a course or you already have one, assess whether the content in the course supports your main objectives. If it does not, scrap that content for something else as it is only serving as a distraction.

The best courses out there have clearly defined and measurable objectives. They reinforce these objectives at different points of the course and in different ways. Every single part of the course can be traced back to these objectives.

Justin Ferriman photo

About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter


3 responses

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Great post! Thanks for sharing.

As I read more and more of these posts about the concepts of teaching through an online platform, it’s clear that your knowledge goes well beyond just the learning platform itself. I’m wondering what someone who is completely new to the e-learning space can do to get feedback from someone who understands the “meta” behind just paraphrasing a textbook and sharing it online? I’m assuming it’s beyond the scope of your product support to offer feedback on the content of courses.

Hi Brad-

Thanks for the note – glad you enjoyed the article. You’re correct in that our product support is generally functional based but we also do field instructional design questions now and again. They are best when formatted for a specific item (i.e. “does the course content make more sense as many lessons or as some lessons with topics breaking it up?”), as opposed to general inquiries (i.e. “do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my course?”).

Hi, Justin,

Any recommendation of tooltip tools compatible with Learndash?

Avatar Thiago

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