Everything eLearning Pros Need To Know About Human-Centered Instructional Design

Everything eLearning Pros Need To Know About Human-Centered Instructional Design
Summary: Human-centered design is considered a user-focused system of solving customer problems. How and why is this relevant in the eLearning sector? In this article, I share everything eLearning pros need to know about implementing a human-centered Instructional Design approach.

Human-Centered Instructional Design: 5 Must-Know Tips For eLearning Professionals

You may have heard the joke about product design vs marketing. Developers come up with an idea. Marketers convince you their product was built just for you. This isn’t always the case. Often the designer’s creation was intended to meet their own requirements. Or maybe it was something they come up with during the morning commute. The proverbial ‘a-ha’ moment. Human-centered design takes the marketing approach and embeds it into production. Before making anything, they consult the intended target, making sure it will work for them. Under this philosophy, products and services start with a specific user in mind and are tailored for them. Here are 5 top tips to use human-centered Instructional Design to create more meaningful eLearning experiences.

How To Create Human-Centered eLearning Experiences

1. Watch And Learn

The process begins by exploring the market segment. Say you’re an eLearning course developer and you want to create a compliance online training course. Book some time with a typical customer and a regulatory body. Find out what the compliance requirements are, and what the regulatory body expects. Confirm the penalties for non-compliance.

Then go to your profiled customer. Ask what type of online training they have at the moment, what has worked, and what hasn’t. Review their employee segmentation and their attitudes towards compliance. In another scenario, define what the problem is. Ask, ‘What are we trying to achieve and/or fix?’ The key is to understand your target audience so that you can address their needs and ultimately provide a user-friendly experience.

2. Develop A Framework

Using the information you’ve gathered, sit with your team and brainstorm. Figure out the best way to put your eLearning course together. For example, does the industry require a lot of field work? That means online training materials should be portable, so make them compatible with smartphones and tablets. It will also require offline access for remote workers without Wi-Fi.

Is the organization global? Assess the nationalities/vernaculars represented and make sure translations are available in their preferred languages. Think about the people you interviewed. They may have hinted (or overtly stated) their preferred mode of learning. Human-centered Instructional Design stands for incorporating that into your template.

3. Put It On Paper (Or Binary)

It’s time to develop a prototype. Working with something tangible offers a reference point. Depending on the scope of your eLearning course, your prototype could be a pen-and-paper sketch. It could also be a wireframe, an eLearning course outline, or a presentation deck. It doesn’t need to be polished or finished, but it should be comprehensive and cover all the relevant aspects of the eLearning course.

In the compliance example, that could include case studies, legal stipulations, defined penalties and so on. You could also begin to identify the skill sets you’ll require and the people you’d like to work with.

4. Testing Time

You haven’t actually built anything yet, but you do have something you can show your peers. Design a viable test for your prototype. If it’s just a basic working prototype at this point, find a beta testing group and walk them through it. Note any questions they may have – these can alert you to missing steps or crucial content. If they seem confused at any point, that stage of the eLearning course probably needs fine-tuning.

Keep an open mind and have a thick skin, because evaluation can be brutal. Take in all their comments then go back and review. Implement any changes you feel are relevant and tweak areas that need adjusting, to approach human-centered Instructional Design.

5. Get It Done

Once you have all your concepts and drafts in place, the execution should be simpler. You already have a workflow and assigned roles, so get to building. Remember, this is a user-facing process. Get them involved. They can come and try out your eLearning course at various stages, creating a consistent eLearning feedback loop. Work with a schedule though, or you could end up tweaking your eLearning material forever.

For example, you could code in two-day or two-week cycles, depending on the scope of the project. At the end of every cycle, bring in a user to evaluate. Even after you launch your eLearning course, you should gather continual eLearning feedback. Conduct surveys and evaluate your LMS metrics to look for gaps and areas for improvement. An integral component of human-centered Instructional Design is measuring progress and making necessary adjustments.

Human-Centered Design Critiques To Consider

While many believe that human-centered Instructional Design is ideal for solving today’s eLearning challenges, there are some who criticize its ideologies. Namely, that it only tackles current problems instead of taking a proactive Instructional Design approach. Another point of contention is that it has personalization limitations. Such as niche groups within the audience. Lastly, many critics note that human-centered Instructional Design fails to make the most of learning technologies. It utilizes tech to resolve current issues, but doesn’t allow Instructional Designers to push the envelope and come up with next applications or uses.


User-driven design is another name for human-centered Instructional Design. Some people prefer to call it design-thinking, and they fully believe in the philosophy. The idea is to build with the user in mind by asking them what they want. Observe, engage, and interact with them to define their specific needs. Then go back to your design center. Bounce around ideas on how this can be done and who should be involved. Make a draft, either as a sketch, presentation deck, or some other format. Not too detailed, but ‘finished enough to test.’ Video conference users and walk them through, absorbing their feedback. Then build the eLearning course and have the users test it again. Repeat the last three steps until your eLearning course is complete.

Are you interested in Instructional Design but don’t know where to start? Are you an Instructional Designer looking for inspiration? Download our eBook Breaking Into The Industry: Become An Instructional Designer And Master The LXD Fundamentals to discover tips on how to design engaging and enlightening eLearning courses, as well as the steps you should take to find your Instructional Design dream job, and the best tips to create an amazing Instructional Design portfolio.