Leveraging instructional design trends: Making eLearning more appealing to the masses

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Savvy adult learners are always mindful of what they learn and how they learn it. Old-school and outdated learning approaches just won’t cut it anymore! For instance, if you try teaching with overhead projector slides today, or structure your learning as “click next” modules, chances are you’ll lose 100% of your audience – very quickly! 

As L&D professionals, therefore, understanding and embracing instructional design trends matter.  

Why trends matter

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes “trend” as “…a prevailing tendency or inclination”. Psychologists will tell you that these two character traits, tendencies, and inclinations, also motivate many individuals to commit to certain courses of action. And if, as trainers, you wish to influence learning outcomes, then you need to embrace trending instructional design practices.

Trends, by definition, continually evolve and change. But embracing the latest – i.e. currently prevailing – ID trends isn’t just about doing things that every other eLearning course designer is doing now.  Trends exist because they work for the masses. If they (prevailing trends) didn’t deliver, they’d soon cease being “trendy”. So, the fact that the latest trends in instructional design truly work to deliver instructional objectives, is yet another reason for ID professionals to embrace them.

What’s trending in the ID world today

Some ID trends, like “click next” training or the use of graphics and illustrations, are so passé today. Why? Because they’ve had their 60-seconds in the limelight, and learners today are looking for something more appealing. However, before animation, the trend was to use text and then voice-over to deliver high-quality training. In the text-inspired training era, those who designed using animation and voice ruled!

And, so it is today. If you want to captivate your eLearning audience today, then you need to look beyond the latest trends in instructional design and focus on those trends that’ll still be relevant for years to come. Here are four such trends to follow closely:

Insite E-Learning Instructional Design


Regardless of the learning tools and techniques, you may use today, the trend for learners to take more control of their learning is here to stay. When designing your eLearning courses, therefore, you need to keep that in mind.  

So, how do you create personalized learning?

  • Build strong learner profiles to understand who your audience is – and update the profiles frequently
  • Work closely with your learners to set individualized learning goals
  • Keep your learning goals competency-focused – make individual learner progression conditional on the individuals’ demonstrable skills 

Use these techniques to provide learners with more freedom and independence to chart out what they choose to learn, and when they prefer to learn.


While personalized learning addresses the what and when of successful eLearning, other instructional design future trends, that are here to stay for a while, address the where and “how-to” of distance learning. Mobile learning is one such trend that’s going to be around for a while.

So, how do L&D professionals make a success of mobile learning?

  • Keep your content short by organizing it into “bite-sized” modules. That’s what another popular ID trend is all about – microlearning
  • Embrace responsive design. Whether learners prefer to click, tap or swipe – responsive design will make your content “respond” automatically to the devices used to consume it, be it a smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, laptop, other portable computers or futuristic wearable devices
  • Go easy on heavy graphics and videos. Most mobile devices perform poorly when downloading or streaming heavily graphics-oriented eLearning content. Easing up on high-def graphics and video is one way to capitalize on this trend 

Finally, you can leverage mobile learning by developing optional text and voice learning versions of your courses. When on the road, learners can use these lighter and quicker-downloadable options to catch-up on their learning. 


Embracing trends #1 and #2 are great ways for learners to take control of their learning destinies. However, some instructional design trends, like the use of adaptive technologies, empower learners and trainers to make data-driven decisions when charting those destinies.

What are some ways to imbibe adaptive learning into your eLearning design?

  • Use Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven learning management systems (LMSs) to deliver real-time data on your learners’ performance
  • Design assessments, practice content and skills testing based on data-driven evaluation of competency criteria 
  • Instead of using generic assessments, create tailored remedial lessons that, based on AI feedback, address specific learner shortcomings

The use of adaptive technologies, as part of your overall course design, ensures that all learners meet the same learning objectives. However, the process of achieving those goals is adapted to each learners’ skills and accomplishments. 


Because today’s learner isn’t a typical captive classroom student, and because they don’t learn in regulated settings, it’s easier for them to get distracted.  One of the prevailing trends in instructional design, to keep adult learners engaged for longer, is gamification.

Here are some gamification best practices that’ll help make your eLearning appeal to a broader audience:

  • Use personalized avatars – preferably personal photographs, but not necessarily – to identify each learner
  • Award badges and points for tasks completed or skills demonstrated 
  • Implement leader boards as part of your course construct. When learners see others ranking high on the board (because of better assessment scores, more punctual submission of assignments, etc.), it’ll motivate them to do better too
  • Build case studies and assignments around story lines, each of which builds upon a previous one. This keeps learners engaged by playing on their psychology of “what’s next”  

To make games work, eLearning designers must layout, before the games begin, very precise criteria of what the objectives of the game are, and what constitutes a win or a loss. Absent such criteria, learners may feel the games unfairly punish some while rewarding others – a sure recipe for learner disengagement!

Pulling in reinforcement

No one knows what tomorrow’s next “big trend’ in ID will be. However, as you start planning your eLearning course today, you could make content more appealing to the masses by leveraging other instructional design future trends, including Virtual Reality (VR), Simulations, interactive videos, and immersive learning. Embracing these trends will not only help reinforce learner engagement, but it will also make your courses appeal to a broader segment of your target audience.



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