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5 Questions You Need to Consider for High-Impact Learning

The standard accepted methodology for designing instruction, including e-learning, is still centered solidly on the ADDIE process…a time-honored methodology composed of five steps--Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  I’m a strong proponent of the idea that the inherent linearity of this process creates huge obstacles to coming up with highly engaging interactivity in e-learning. 

It isn’t that these tasks are necessarily wrong; rather, it’s that design for e-learning needs to be more exploratory and experimental in approach instead of prescriptive.  At Allen Interactions, we design using an iterative, rapid-prototyping approach to creating effective instruction.  Many training groups are beginning to modify ADDIE to include some flexibility, but generally it doesn’t seem to me that it’s far enough to effectively design engaging interactions. 


But whether you are using ADDIE or Rapid Prototyping, the success of a project will often rest on the kind of analysis activities carried out.  When I ask students about some of the weaknesses or failures they’ve experienced in implementing ADDIE in creating e-learning, a very common response is that too little emphasis is placed on analysis—or that sometimes analysis is effectively skipped altogether.  Often, the subject matter has been pre-screened through the eyes of a subject matter expert, or worse yet, the content already exists in PowerPoint displays for an instructor-led course, and the belief is that Analysis is already complete. 

Unfortunately, analysis carried out by dedicated SMEs often is completely content-bound.  The focus is entirely on content knowledge goals without addressing aspects of how the knowledge is applied.  Analysis done for ILT usually didn’t have the particular strengths of e-learning—individualization, user control, and judgment-free activity—in mind when investigating the content.

You’ll still probably need to do some of the standard analysis questions to filter and organize the scope effectively. Still, regardless of what else is asked in the analysis, I propose these 5 questions as those most critical for making effective e-learning even possible.

The 5 Most Important Analysis Questions You’ll Ever Ask

1. What Should Learners be Able to Do After This Learning?

Don’t listen to “They need to know this, and they need to know this, and they need to know this, blah, blah, blah”  talk.  (Well, you probably have to listen to it, but don’t pay much attention.)  This approach usually represents somewhat thoughtless thinking, and if it were true, likely, e-learning isn’t even your best option for dealing with it.  Be precise about specific performance outcomes and relentless in pruning content that doesn’t directly support those desired behaviors.

2. What is the Consequence of Learners Failing to Master These Skills? 

Oftentimes, initial analysis identifies the consequences of failure for the organization.,  While these are certainly important and might be the justification for funding the project, don’t assume that the same drivers have equal significance for the learner.  This information will be critical in setting the Context for every interaction and often can be an inspiration for elements of risk (and Challenge) for bringing the interaction to life.

3. Can We See an Active Demonstration, Simulation, or Observation of the Desired Performance?

Until you can see the intended performance executed in the real environment, it is easy to overlook some critical complexities that are masked by the logical structuring of content.  We were recently working with a client to create a course on driver safety.  The content was a straightforward six-step process, and each step was completely understandable and seemingly easy (e.g., “slow down,” “look both ways,” etc.)  Reviewing that orderly content failed to capture the difficulty of the challenge.  It wasn’t until we rigorously put that plan into play in a real situation and analyzed the errors that we were able to grasp that the real difficulty wasn’t in knowing the steps, but in making the learners so fluent and prepared that they could execute the steps flawlessly almost simultaneously without any question or delay.

4. Where are Your Learner's Pitfalls?

This question is essential for designing the right challenge and the right actions in your interactions.  Learners mainly learn from the mistakes they make;  if they can’t make during training the kind of mistakes they tend to make on the job, e-learning is unlikely to have any effect on the problems that your organization is probably suffering from most.  Again, this information is essential for deciding on Actions and corresponding Feedback incorporated into your design.

5. What Tools Do Successful Performers Utilize to Complete These Tasks?

Often a training task is made more difficult than necessary because the learning environment is made more difficult than even the performance environment simply because in a frenzy to “test” the learner, the design withholds basic information that even the most proficient performers use regularly.  Equally as important as teaching the skills desired, is making sure the learner is aware of all the tools and resources to be used as support to make success more likely.

If you are dedicated to investigating these questions and listening to the answers, I’m certain that you will have the basic ingredients needed to begin designing true Instructional Interactivity.


Whether you are preparing to work with custom e-learning providers, off-the-shelf e-learning solutions, or designing in-house, we hope that these tips will serve you well on your question for learning that creates maximum impact. Regardless of the methodology your organization utilizes, a thorough analysis is crucial for success. This analysis should focus on specific performance outcomes, the consequences of failing to master the skills, active demonstrations of desired performance, learner's pitfalls, and the tools successful performers utilize. By investigating these questions and listening to the answers, instructional designers can create truly interactive and impactful e-learning experiences that are Meaningful, Memorable, Motivational - and ultimately, maximize your ROI. 

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About Author

Ethan Edwards
Ethan Edwards

Ethan Edwards draws from more than 30 years of industry experience as an elearning instructional designer and developer. He is responsible for the delivery of the internal and external training and communications that reflect Allen Interactions’ unique perspective on creating Meaningful, Memorable, and Motivational learning solutions backed by the best instructional design and latest technologies.

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