Learner-centered design thinking – how to create the perfect online course

The secret of effective online education is not only in the substantive development of materials. E-learning training courses must be well-designed to make learning more pleasant, help in remembering new concepts, and accelerate knowledge acquisition. Here’s how to approach it.

Today, we are seeing an abundance of online training. At the same time, a growing interest in this way of acquiring new skills. It is enough to mention the popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) run by universities and institutes via the Coursera platform in recent years. In 2016, 21 million students registered for online courses of this educational company, which has increased annually by about 7 million over the next two years. As a result of the pandemic outbreak, and the transition to remote work, the number of new registrations has tripled to 71 million in 2020 and 92 million in 2021.

People are increasingly eager to broaden their horizons and acquire new skills online. No wonder many companies that want to reckon with the market try to share knowledge with potential customers and people hungry for new knowledge. In addition, organizations are increasingly educating their employees online, enabling them to update their knowledge, upskill or reskill.

The organizational learning strategy – the great renewal

In the era of constant changes caused by progressive digitization and automation, learning new things is imperative, which is why the learning strategy becomes the most significant pillar of the organization. Almost every second organization intends to prioritize creating and implementing learning strategies to keep up with the changing environment.

It requires changing the way of thinking and designing students’ experiences in a thoughtful, holistic method based on discoveries in the field of psychoeducation. The renewed learning strategy will make continuous development part of the organization’s mission and add value to employees who will feel valued and ready for tomorrow’s challenges.

The growing interest in online learning is conducive to the re-evaluation of traditional teaching methods and the search for better ways for effective education. Companies encourage employees to develop professionally and acquire competencies for the future. One of the easiest and more convenient ways to obtain them is to participate in online courses. Although there is no shortage of online courses on the market, it is not so easy to find one that is well-designed and allows one not only to acquire new skills but also to consolidate them. In the box below, we present a list of selected educational platforms that offer good-quality courses. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that only 11 percent of the organizations surveyed ranked learning design as their top priority, while nearly 44 percent* of organizations ranked it as one of their top two priorities.

Educational platforms where it is worth looking for inspiration

Before you start designing an online course, it is worth getting acquainted with the available educational offer. Here is a curated list of educational platforms which are famous for their good quality courses and can be used as a source of inspiration to improve your training offer.

  •  Codecademy • Self-Paced Learning Platform for Technical Skills
  •  Flux Academy • Web Design Education Platform
  • The School of Life • Online Education Organization and Marketplace
  • Egghead • Software Engineering Education
  • FreeCodeCamp • Non-Profit Software Engineering Platform
  • Khan Academy • Non-Profit Education Platform
  • Buildspace • Learn to Build on Ethereum with Solidity and Smart Contracts
  • Replit • Collaborative, In-Browser IDE for Software Development
  • Earn Your Leisure • Sports, Entertainment & Business Education
  • Stoa School • MBA Alternative in India
  • OnDeck • Online Career and Learning Community
  • Kaggle • Machine Learning/Data Science Community
  • Data Camp • Learn Data Science and Analytics

Traditional learning experiences

When creating an online course it pays to be meticulous in designing the student experience. Traditionally, they were designed in a static and universal way, which made the training schematic, devoid of interactive elements, and aimed at a mass audience. People usually took individual modules out of a sense of duty rather than for pleasure. Today, however, organizations realize that it is a non-standard and personalized approach to learning design that guarantees the best results and above-average involvement of participants.

Unfortunately, many e-learning projects leave much to be desired. Meanwhile, taking into account the preferences and habits of online learners, a high level of learning interactivity should be ensured. Already 62 percent of leaders managing Learning and Development (L&D) teams that create and implement employee training and development strategies daily admitted that creating more interactive content is becoming a priority for them. Therefore, online courses enrich with live sessions led by moderators, simulations, games, quizzes, and panel discussions. In modern online training, there are many more variations of this type compared to the conventional approach.

To stand out from average educational initiatives, you should not only know what to pass on to online course participants but also how to increase their involvement in the implementation of subsequent modules to make the new information stick in the participants’ memory for a long time.

The only right approach, i.e. learner-centered design thinking

The so-called learner-centered design thinking, i.e. designing courses focused on the student’s needs, comes with help. What is it all about? Harvard Business School’s Student Experience Design Center, which specializes in creating high-quality online courses, comes with a hint. From the experience of this cell, all courses, regardless of their discipline, size, or position in the curriculum, share the five foundations:

  1. a specific topic, e.g. “Organic Chemistry” or “Gender in the Modern Novel”.
  2. curated content (items such as readings, websites, videos, or objects that students should interact with, both in the classroom and in their free time).
  3. the presence of an expert (i.e. instructor) who can analyze/interpret/process selected content to make claims about the topic. (These demonstrations, which can include anything from interpreting experimental data to carefully reading a literary text, usually occur in lectures and class discussions.)
  4. monitoring the student’s progress, i.e. tools are woven into the course to verify whether the student has learned anything. These include quizzes, exams, creative tasks like article writing, discussions, and real-time polls.
  5. last but certainly not least, students. Knowledge about the participants’ preferences allows you to design their experience more precisely, which translates into their greater involvement and effectiveness of the course.

Unfortunately, it turns out that many courses are focused on the instructor, his vision of teaching, views, and individual preferences. Meanwhile, when designing any e-learning training, it would be much better to follow the principles of learner-centered design thinking. Focusing on the needs of the recipient, thinking directly from the learner’s perspective, and providing experiences tailored to their needs are the keys to creating attractive online training.

The architecture of e-learning experiences, i.e. a new learning philosophy

Student-centered learning is an approach to education designed to meet the individual student’s needs. Learner-centered design thinking focuses on end consumers rather than process, making the creator of an online course an ‘architect of experience’. About 82 percent of organizations consider this to be the most important skill for L&D teams designing training.

Christopher Harrington and Kristen DeBruler in the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute blog described the student-centered learning model, taking into account four features in it:

  • involving students in co-creating a learning plan or path,
  • flexible choice of learning modes and modules, which gives students a greater sense of influence and stimulates their involvement,
  • competence-based development is nothing more than a verification of whether new skills have been acquired at a satisfactory level,
  • continuous monitoring of data on student preferences and adapting their development paths to changing needs.

It is also worth mentioning that with the advancing digitization, we are increasingly talking about the so-called blended learning, which allows you to combine traditional face-to-face learning with online experiences that work together as an integrated experience for students.

How to design a good online course

As you have already figured out, developing an online course is a much more complicated task than it might seem at first glance. Above-average knowledge in a given field alone is not enough to provide students with a good experience. What to do?

1. Conduct regular user research.

Do not guess what the preferences of the online training target group are, just verify it through research. You can do it before designing the training, getting to know potential course users’ competence gaps, as well as their preferences regarding the online education formula. Don’t forget, however, that even after the course launches, you can improve it, with help from feedback from students. Ask them in surveys what they liked, what they would change, and why. There are many tips in such statements that will allow you to know the taste of Internet users who are hungry for knowledge.

2. Take care of the interface

You must ensure a friendly, easy, and accessible interface that includes the target group’s preferences. Depending on whether the recipients are, for example, young or elderly people who know a foreign language better or worse, experts or laymen, you will select technological solutions and source materials differently.

There are several things to consider when designing an interface

  • Cross-cultural design challenges – take into account the cultural context when choosing photos, examples, or case studies that enrich the substantive message
  • Transparent content architecture – navigating the online course should be intuitive and easy so that the student does not waste time finding important information and quickly knows where he is in the process
  • Links between course elements for easy navigation – you will make it easier to return to important content and “draw” students into the world of learning
  • Accessibility (accessibility for the deaf for video elements, transcription, subtitles, text reader friendliness for the visually impaired)

3. Experiment with new technologies and virtual reality.

Skeptics of online learning claim that it is not as effective as traditional learning while research increasingly suggests that VR simulations, educational games, social networking sites, or chatbots make it possible to acquire knowledge even faster.

Online training can be extremely effective if it is well-designed and thought out not only in terms of content but also in the experience of the participants. If you are going to develop a learning strategy in line with the business strategy, absolutely do not lose sight of users’ experience. Use tools and include learning methods that allow you to increase the effectiveness of education, such as regular revisions and summaries of the material, and feedback.



See also
How to reduce the rate of abandoned carts – strategies used in e-commerce

Almost 70% of e-commerce users abandon their carts before checking out. That’s a lot! Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon and learn how to get buyers to come back and encourage them to complete their purchases, which will […]

How to improve user experience with breadcrumbs

When shopping or navigating through an elaborate website, it is not difficult to plunge into the chaos of categories and sub-pages, and as we know: a user lost is a user out! Today we will explain how to easily indicate […]

Frequent e-commerce mistakes in building an online store

After planning a strategy for your e-commerce, comes the moment to implement your ideas and build your e-store. At this stage you need to make some very important decisions – from choosing the right e-commerce platform to the way you […]

Price your project
en pl