Top 10 Instructional Design Challenges in eLearning

By Christopher Pappas from eLearning Industry

An instructional designer’s job is multidimensional; in order to balance different role requirements, instructional designers may face a variety of challenges. In this article, I will share the top 10 instructional design challenges that eLearning professionals face when dealing with instructional design, and most importantly, how to overcome them.

Instructional Design Challenges

What do you do, exactly?” is a question that virtually all instructional designers are required to answer multiple times throughout their career, whether the question is coming from random acquaintances or subject matter experts. The reason why it’s difficult to explain what this job is all about is that it’s really complex and multidimensional. High-skilled instructional designers need to be not only knowledgeable and talented in their field, but also experts in interpersonal communication and capable of dealing with high level problem solving and critical thinking. They are required to meet the demanding expectations of their learners by applying professional knowledge and identifying key issues in the best possible way, in order to develop the most appropriate eLearning solutions. In this article, I’ll share 10 top instructional design challenges in eLearning and I’ll discuss effective ways to overcome them, so that you can develop the most powerful eLearning experiences.

  1. Designing and developing powerful eLearning courses. 
    One of the biggest instructional design challenges is, of course, to design and develop an eLearning course that is really effective. In order to do this, you need, first and foremost, to set clear eLearning objectives. Writing them down will help you not only get a clear idea of where to start and what outline to follow, but also not to lose focus with respect to your goals throughout the design and development phase. Then, you need to make sure that your eLearning course has a logical structure and includes comprehensible graphics and analogies, as well as appropriate methods and procedures to evaluate the progress of your learners. An effective navigationdesign is also a must, as you don’t want to confuse your audience and waste their time by having them trying to figure out how to navigate within the eLearning course. Finally, putting together the appropriate educational technologies, eLearning authoring tools, LMSs, and of course instructional design theories will help you overcome a critical instructional design challenge: offering your learners eLearning content that will keep them focused on the right things. Apart from making sure that your eLearning content is well-written and comprehensible, remember that your job is to help your learners apply the knowledge they have gained to their personal or professional lives; otherwise, this knowledge will be useless to them. For this reason, always use examples, case studies and scenarios that offer real world benefits, so that your audience will be able to easily relate to what they are learning.
  2. Identifying key issues. 
    Analytical skills and the ability to synthesize information are both essential instructional designer skills. Your job requires to deal with large amounts of information and to find the right way to present it to your learners. At the same time, you need to keep your learners focused and engaged. In order to accomplish this, you need to be highly analytical and capable of identifying critical issues in complex topics, which are probably too long to be engaging. A way to effectively condense information is to divide it into smaller modules; or, in other words, to apply micro eLearning techniques into your eLearning courseConsider dividing eLearning content into smaller chunks, which are ideal in every aspect, as they can easily be shared, they offer your learners flexibility, and sharpen their focus. Furthermore, if need to design a longer and more detailed eLearning course later, you can make use of these eLearning “bites”. This way, you will keep learners focused on key issues and you will avoid cognitive overload.
  3. Choosing the right instructional design model. 
    Choosing the most appropriate instructional design model for your eLearning course is not an easy task. As Martin Ryder has aptly put it, “An instructional design model gives structure and meaning to an instructional design problem … A model should be judged by how it mediates the designer’s intention, how well it can share a work load, and how effectively it shifts focus away from itself toward the object of the design activity”. When considering the instructional design models and theories available, keep in mind to evaluate not only their immediate implementation in design and development, but also check if the model you will eventually choose is adaptable to possible future changes in the eLearning content, if you plan to designeLearning courses with long shelf life.
  4. Managing the eLearning project. 
    Managing your eLearning project could be a stressful process. After all, you are required to not only design and develop an excellent eLearning deliverable, but also to deliver it on time and within budget. To successfully overcome this instructional design challenge, you need to schedule effective time management allotment, by monitoring critical tasks, prioritizing, andaccurately estimating development time. Then, you need to focus on establishing good communication between all parties involved, such as clients and subject matter experts,  and of course within your eLearning team.

  5. Crafting the art of communication. 
    Another challenge that all instructional designers face is the challenge of effectively communicating their message both verbally and visually. In order to successfully “speak” to your learners through the written and visual elements you have chosen, you need to clearly define your target audience. Then, by analyzing your audience you will be able to collect all necessary data to create engaging eLearning courses that effectively communicate your instructional design strategies.
  6. Dealing with people. 
    Speaking of communication, as an instructional designer you are required to effectively communicate with other professionals, such as partners, clients, and subject matter experts. From persistent clients who expect from you to present them the eLearning material while you are still working on it, to HR leaders who insist on altering your instructional design strategy, you may face some challenging communication crisis. To avoid misapprehensions and wasting time, always make crystal clear what you are doing and why, what kind of feedback your clients should expect and when, as well as what you expect from the client. Furthermore, consider communicating in real time, and preferably in person. When this is not feasible, consider using free web conferencing tools, which are convenient, easy to use, and above all free.
  7. Resolving problems effectively. 
    Being adaptable to changes is another critical instructional design challenge. In order to overcome problems, you need to not only be able to predict consequences, but also to be prepared for unexpected obstacles. Being provident is an important skill that instructional designers must have. A way to improve your adaptation and efficiency skills, is to consider staying close to the eLearning community. Devoting time to connect with other eLearning professionals can especially benefit your career, as you will be able to share concerns, talk about issues and get several ideas on how to deal with troublesome situations. So, why not reach out toeLearning professionals on LinkedIn, or join eLearning Facebook groups to engage and connect with other like-minded professionals?
  8. Overcoming mistakes. 
    You should have in mind that no matter how qualified, experienced, and well prepared you are, you will eventually make mistakes during the development of your eLearning course. The instructional design challenge here is to overcome these mistakes and keep walking. Just like learners can actually benefit from mistake-driven learning, so can you. As a creative eLearning professional, realize that the creative process often involves trial and error, and sometimes it’s impossible to innovate, unless you fail first. Mistakes increase creativity and boost progress; and, most importantly, mistakes and failures encourage learning, which serves the next instructional design challenge in this article, the one that you should never forget: Always keep learning.
  9. Always keep learning.
    Continuous learning and constant expansion of knowledge is something you should never neglect doing. As long as you want to keep working as an instructional designer, you will never reach a point where you can say “I know enough”. Whether you have an instructional design degree or not, you will find that you will always need to keep reading instructional design and other eLearning textbooks, visit relevant blogs, and participate in eLearning events, in order to always be familiar with new jargon, eLearning trends and practices. Overall, a true passion for learning is a requirement for becoming a good instructional designer.
  10. Staying current with technology.
    Obviously, the sooner you adopt effective instructional design tools the better. In order to ensure that you always create an innovative and fresh eLearning course design, you need to be sure that the eLearning software and the tools you use are up-to-date. Always try to keep up with latest technology trends and never stop visiting instructional design forums and blogs in order to exchange opinions with other eLearning professionals about latest tendencies in eLearning course development, as well as new eLearning authoring tools and updates recently launched in the market.

Now, that you know how to overcome common instructional design challenges, you can focus on how to land more jobs. Having a carefully crafted instructional design online portfolio can put you at a significant advantage when it comes to leaving a lasting impression on potential employers and clients. Read the article 5 Tips To Build An Instructional Design Portfolio where I share some helpful tips on building an instructional design online portfolio that effectively showcases your expertise and talents.

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