E-Learning Design for Non-Designers

Content Strategies

SAM vs. ADDIE

Most instructional designers or are familiar with the ADDIE process (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) but from a private industry standpoint – it has its drawbacks. ADDIE can be rigid, systematic, time consuming and costly. As such, many organizations have shifted to favor a more agile and flexible approach – enter the SAM (Successive Approximation Model). SAM is designed for rapid development environments where e-learning products are delivered in a matter of weeks. With SAM, storyboards are replaced with working prototypes, which serve as an approximation of the final product. From here, project stakeholders provide feedback which drive more refined versions (Alpha, Beta and Gold). In a nutshell, SAM is a “progress over perfection” framework where iterative design gets working products in front of the stakeholders as soon as possible.

Action Mapping

Action Mapping is a method developed by Cathy Moore in 2008 that helps designers build training centered on performance goals versus information. This framework is incredibly effective when working with challenging SMEs or stakeholders who want *everything* included in their training. Say goodbye to the dreaded information dump! Action mapping includes the following steps:

  1. Identify the business goal or performance goal
  2. Identify the behaviors people need to do to reach that goal.
  3. Design activities that help people practice each behavior.
  4. Identify the minimum information people need to complete each activity.


Below is an example of an action map I created for a corporate e-learning project where the overarching business goal was to increase customer satisfaction ratings from both email and phone call interactions. The center bubble is the identified business goal, the corresponding gray bubbles are identified supporting behaviors, and the offshoots are the information needed to perform the behaviors.

E-Learning action map diagram. Long description follows image.

E-Learning action map diagram with a primary business objected of improving customer feedback ratings and associated behaviors including practicing empathy, following up, active listening, focusing on the goal instead of the word no, and addressing all concerns.

Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction

Gagne's '9 Events of Instruction' is another set of principles that can be used to improve the quality of your learning experiences. These steps correlate to and address the nine events that are proven to enhance student learning. These events serve as a helpful blueprint for designing e-learning, in-person learning, lesson plans, etc.

Infographic of Gagne's 9 Events.

Mayer's Principles of Multimedia Learning

I keep a copy of Mayer's Multimedia Learning Principles tacked to the wall at my desk - that's how often I reference it! If you are someone who is regularly tasked with rapidly developing e-learning, these principles are a great way to ensure the outcome is both engaging and effective. These principles are backed by extensive research; you can read more about them in Mayer's book Multimedia Learning Link to "Multimedia Learning" textbook

Mayer's Principles of Multimedia Learning:
Principle Description
Multimedia Use words and graphics instead of words alone.
Temporal Contiguity Present words and corresponding visuals together at the same time.
Spatial Contiguity Keep related words and visuals physically close together.
Modality Don't overload the visual channel. Describe visuals with narration rather than text.
Redundancy Explain visuals with narration or on-screen text, but not both.
Coherence Avoid unnecessary information and extraneous graphics. Remove any fluff not directly aligned with learning objectives.
Personalization Keep your message simple and casual. Use a conversational style.
Embodiment Use on screen coaches or characters.
Segmenting Present information in segments or bite-size chunks rather then one long, continuous session.
Pretraining Introduce key terms and concepts beforehand.
Signaling Show the learner what to pay attention to on screen. Guide with visual cues such as highlighting, arrows, etc.

Passive vs. Active Learning