How to Build Engaging eLearning Courses

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This article is for those who want to design engaging eLearning courses. We shared 5 instructional design tips to consider for creating effective eLearning courses. This article summarizes 5 other fundamental instructional design elements that you can use when designing your own eLearning courses. As learning leaders, we need to create and deliver content that encourages learner engagement.

How to Build Engaging eLearning Courses

1. Be intuitive, accessible and user friendly

Learners will not complete an eLearning course if they can’t figure out how to navigate through it. They should be able to use the application running the course with little or no instruction. Designers should keep design elements consistent. In other words, ‘don’t let design interfere with function’.

Learners do not have the time or patience to wait for large videos or pages to load. They want things to be intuitive and quick to use. Consider using strategies such as:

Highlighted key words

Bulleted lists


Color-specific icons

Remember, your learners are tested on the course content, not on their ability to navigate the course. Take some time before you launch to test this. Use cues like numbers or arrows indicating where a learner needs to click. Ensure everything on the screen has a purpose. If you have a link, make sure it links to something. Finally, don’t assume users know how to navigate through your course. Including detailed instructions and help functionality never hurts.

2. Variety is key

Nothing is worse than going through a series of eLearning modules and seeing the exact same thing over and over. No wonder learners are bored and unengaged. Variety doesn’t just mean varying what is seen on the screen.

Change how material is presented: use text, animation, game-based-learning, videos and audio. Include different activities and assessments: insert multiple choice questions, drag and drop questions, matching questions and hot spots. Use real-life examples and simulate the real world.

Variety ensures that your teaching strategy isn’t stagnant. It ensures that learning objectives are being approached in different ways so that you can address different learning styles. Finally, it curbs boredom.

3. ‘Bells and whistles’ aren’t always necessary

Meaningful learning does not happen when learners are distracted. We just talked about variety within your eLearning course. However, design strategies used to deliver the material need to be used wisely. If too much is happening on the screen, our brains focus on what’s going on rather than on the content.

Ensure that how you choose to deliver the content aligns with your learning objective. When designing instruction consider the following:

Only include information that is necessary. ‘Nice to know’ information depresses learning.

Use headings, highlight information and use a different voice for important concepts.

Integrate words into graphics.

Present graphics and narration simultaneously.

Present information in paced segments that the learner can control.

When possible, use graphic and narration rather than graphics and on-screen text.

Use a conversational tone whenever you can.

Narration should be done in a human voice, not by a machine.

4. Using text, audio and graphics

When we design courses that are highly interactive, courses that include text, graphics, avatars, animation, etc., we need to consider that learners process words and visual materials differently.

Learners are only able to pay attention to a few things at one time. For meaningful learning to occur, certain cognitive processes have to occur. Research shows that when you design a screen that includes audio and text, people learn more deeply when corresponding graphic and narration are presented simultaneously rather than successively. Even having the soundtrack off by 5 or 10 seconds negatively affects learning.

People learn more deeply when a narrated animation is presented in learner-paced segments than as a continuous unit.


For example, present the first step and then have learners press continue to move to the next step. Giving people control over the pacing of the presentation has a huge effect on their ability to transfer what they know into different situations. They also perform better on evaluations.

5. Remember the bigger picture

In order to keep your learners engaged, your eLearning course needs to be relevant to the real world and your audience’s learning goals. As you develop your eLearning courses, remember the bigger picture. Learners don’t want a product that is too complex. They don’t want something that is going to take them too long to complete. They just need to be able to demonstrate competency.


Implementing any or all of these 5 design elements will help you design eLearning courses that are engaging, that motivate users to learn, and that learners look forward to taking. Use these lessons to design content that is useful to learners, and make bored and unengaged learners a thing of the past.

As many learning development projects require the support of SMEs, read the article 5 Keys to Success in Working with SMEs on eLearning Content Development to learn how to learn how to build a successful working relationship with SMEs.

So what’s next? Check out our eBook and get tips to create a successful LMS implementation project plan and deliver your eLearning courses.

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Sarah Flesher

Sarah is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems and is currently completing a PhD in Educational Technology. Her research focuses on implementing competency-based learning systems in all types of organizations. When she doesn't have her nose in a book you can find her at the gym, on the ice, on the ski hill, drinking wine or in a coffee shop … with her nose in a book.

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