High Impact eLearning: Learning Design vs Instructional Design

June 10, 2022
Smart Cities and IoT

High impact learning is achieved through the marriage of Learning Design and Instructional Design. Let’s explore the difference between these two disciplines and how they work together to help create great eLearning programs.

Have you ever: 

  • Seen a movie in which an actor performed exceptionally well but the movie was disappointing? 
  • Read a book in which the story was appealing but the characters didn’t seem to fit?
  • Listened to a song with a great tune but the lyrics didn’t connect with you?

These are examples of individual success stories within an overall product that failed to hit the mark.

Similar issues can arise in learning. A course can use effective strategies to present independent pieces of content, but overall, it may fail to meet the desired learning outcome because of poor holistic design. The opposite can also occur. A course may have good overall structure but fail to explain key concepts. The solution to such problems is the effective marriage of learning design and instructional design.

But what exactly is the difference between learning design and instructional design? Let us understand the difference with the help of an example.

Let us assume that you are designing a two-part course, of which Part 1 is theoretical, and Part 2 is focused on the practical application of the theory. To achieve high impact learning, you would approach each part in different ways:

Part 1 would be designed to achieve knowledge, comprehension, and retention. This part would be designed to explain key concepts and would use techniques like periodic and strategically placed knowledge checks, and end of module quizzes to reinforce learning and assess the learning effectiveness.

Part 2 would be designed to focus on the application of that knowledge. This part would use strategies that enable learners to apply what they have learned and practice decision-making. The decision points themselves would serve as opportunities to assess how effectively learners apply the knowledge. 

These are all examples of learning design decisions. 

Now let us take this one step further. For each of the above decisions, you would need to decide on specific strategies for content delivery. 

For Part 1, you might choose to explain and teach the content through instructional strategies such as text, infographics, animations, case studies, and image presentations etc. 

For Part 2, you would want to focus on techniques that enable the application of that content using strategies such as role play activities and scenario-based questions. 

These are examples of instructional design decisions. 

Learning designers study learners, define the learning objectives and monitor the impact of the overall learning. Instructional designers understand the learning goals, design for instruction and monitor efficacy of individual learning techniques. 

A sound knowledge of learning design helps answer questions such as the following: 

  • Are learner goals clearly defined and are objectives measurable?
  • Who is the target audience, how do they learn, and how best will the course facilitate the learning? 
  • What solution and modality would help meet the defined learner goals?
  • Can the defined learning architecture be applied easily and consistently to the training and is the recommendation scalable?
  • How will learners progress? Which methods will measure progress and achievement?
  • Is the content and supporting media well-balanced? Do they complement each other to reduce extraneous cognitive load?

Instructional design on the other hand, helps answer questions like: 

  • What instructional strategy will suit the delivery of the content?
  • Does the content align with the defined learning objectives?
  • Is the storyboard well planned, have clear instructions, and detailed enough to guide the production process?
  • Do the assessments align with the learning objectives, and do they follow assessment writing best practices?

Collectively, learning, and instructional design strategies work together to produce high impact learning by:

  •  1. Improving learning efficacy
  •  2. Creating intuitive interfaces
  •  3. Reducing cognitive load
  •  4. Increasing learner interaction and engagement
  •  5. Improving learning outcomes

In summary, learning design provides a strong basis for planning the project, and instructional design takes these recommendations and implements them at a granular level. 

At Trigyn, our digital learning team has institutionalized this two-pronged approach to designing digital learning products. Our large team of learning professionals apply learning and instructional design strategies to every project. Our learning and instructional designers have over 15 years of experience and have applied this approach to more than 40 eLearning projects to date. Trigyn's learning and instructional design team works closely with Trigyn’s technology professionals and clients to deliver high impact learning solutions tailored to meet our clients’ unique learning needs.