Since the advent of the internet and artificial intelligence, instructional design has emerged as a key player (I might be biased!), shaping the way we learn in the digital age. If you’re planning on doing well in this field, it’s essential to not only grasp the fundamentals of instructional design but also to stay ahead of the curve by familiarising yourself with e-learning platforms, virtual classrooms, and emerging trends that are revolutionising education.
These are what I (humbly) think the essential steps are that you’ll need to master, in order to navigate this exciting and ever-evolving realm.
Mastering E-Learning Platforms
E-learning platforms have become the cornerstone of modern education, providing flexible and accessible learning experiences. To kick start your journey into instructional design, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with popular e-learning platforms. Here are some key steps to consider:
1. Explore Diverse Platforms:
It can help to familiarise yourself with a range of e-learning platforms, and these are known as Learning Management Systems (or LMS, for short). According to the elearningindustry.com site, there are more than 1000! So, obviously learning a particular one in depth may not be that useful. However, while it’s not necessarily important to know all the ins and outs of one type, it is worth knowing the basics as they all do the same type of things.
They’re basically a platform to put your learning modules on. They will all allow you to combine each e-learning/podcast/video etc. into courses and to assign those courses to individuals or groups. They also allow you to run reports to assess who has completed which course and whether they passed (if there is a test, for example). There are different ways that that’s achieved, but all in all, if you know one, it’s not that difficult to pick up basic knowledge of a different one.
There are so many different types, and the companies you’ll be applying to work for will probably all have different ones. Just as an example, I work as a contractor (moving from company to company on a short-term basis), and the last 5 places I’ve worked have all used different LMSs.
The exception to this is that there are some industry-specific LMSs which will have different requirements. If you’re planning on concentrating on a particular industry, knowing a bit about industry-specific LMSs will empower you to tailor your instructional designs to different platforms, catering to diverse learning needs.
The most important thing to remember though when you’re starting out, is to make sure you understand the different features, functionalities and user interfaces. If you’d still like to try one for yourself, Moodle is an open-source LMS which you can download for free and mess about with. However, just getting to grips with what they do in general will be enough to start with at the beginning of your career.
2. Enrol in Online Courses:
Immerse yourself in the learner’s perspective by enrolling in online courses. (As well as learning the content, you can also use the experience objectively to enhance your own design processes.) This firsthand experience will deepen your understanding of how instructional design principles are applied in various e-learning environments.
I’m currently creating an online course for Articulate Storyline 360 – an e-learning development software – so if you’re interested, sign up to my newsletter where you’ll also get a free email course on the basics of instructional design, and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready to go.
3. Hands-On Practice:
Take advantage of trial versions and free courses offered by e-learning platforms. Practice designing modules, assessments, and interactive content to build your skills and confidence. This is particularly useful if you want to create a portfolio before you’ve had your first job. Set yourself a challenge to create something and then you can showcase it when applying for jobs.
Embracing Virtual Classrooms
As the world increasingly turns to virtual classrooms (thank you Covid!), instructional designers must adeptly navigate this digital realm. Here’s a few tips on how you can become proficient in crafting engaging and effective virtual learning experiences:
1. Understand Virtual Learning Dynamics:
Grasp the unique dynamics of virtual classrooms, where communication is all done through screens. Consider factors like participant engagement, real-time feedback, and how you would use multimedia to enhance the learning experience.
2. Experiment with Virtual Tools:
Familiarize yourself with virtual classroom tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. We’ve all become used to these tools over the last few pandemic years, and these are great for virtual classroom learning.
Pick one (or all three if you’re keen 😊) and make sure you understand how you’d communicate and engage with a class of remote learners and how real-time feedback would be processed. You can always try it out with a friend or family member to see how it would work.
Explore features like screen sharing, breakout rooms, polls, and interactive whiteboards to enhance participant interaction.
3. Design for Accessibility:
Virtual classrooms must be inclusive. Learn about designing content that accommodates diverse learning styles and ensures accessibility for all participants, including those with disabilities. (I’ve written more in depth about inclusive virtual classrooms here).
Navigating Emerging Trends in Educational Technology
Staying abreast of emerging trends is pivotal for instructional designers looking to shape the future of education. Here are some trends that are reshaping the landscape as of writing:
1. Adaptive Learning:
Explore adaptive learning technologies that personalize the learning journey based on individual progress and needs. Familiarise yourself with platforms like Knewton and Smart Sparrow that employ adaptive algorithms. If you’re not familiar with adaptive learning, I was going to explain, but to be fair, Smart Sparrow have written an excellent blog post that I couldn’t better 😊, and they should know what they’re talking about!
2. Immersive Technologies:
Dive into the world of virtual and augmented reality. Understand how these immersive technologies are transforming education by creating realistic and engaging learning experiences. Platforms like Oculus and Unity are at the forefront of this revolution. (And as an aside, I really want the new Oculus Quest VR headset, but I’m not entirely sure I could rationalise it as I’d probably never get any work done! Ah well…)
Embrace the trend of bite-sized learning modules. Understand how to design content that is concise, focused, and easily digestible, catering to the modern learner’s preference for quick and targeted information.
Basically, this is writing for the TikTok generation. Maybe just slightly longer, but bite-sized learning really is great for revision as well. Going back to exactly the 2-minute video or course that explains the precise issue the learner is struggling with, can really help with retention.
Gamify your instructional designs by incorporating game elements to enhance engagement. Platforms like Kahoot! and Classcraft offer interactive and playful approaches to learning. You may think that these are just for primary schools, but I’ve never seen an adult class as hyped up as when we’ve scheduled a Kahoot! Quiz. It brings out the competitive spirit, with the added bonus that the repetition really does cement learning.
Shaping the Future of Learning in Instructional Design
When you’re starting out in instructional design, mastering e-learning platforms, virtual classrooms, and emerging trends is a bit like wielding a versatile toolkit. By becoming proficient in these areas, you enhance your skills and you can also position yourself as a forward-thinking instructional designer, ready to shape the future of education.
As you embark on this journey, remember that continuous learning and adaptability are your greatest allies. Embrace new technologies, stay curious, and be proactive in seeking out opportunities for professional development. Instructional design is not just about creating learning experiences; it’s about creating something that resonates with the learners of tomorrow. Welcome to the future of education – go on, knock it out of the park!