5 Steps for Developing eLearning Programs

Shauna Carson

"So, just what is an Instructional Designer?" is a question I hear a lot. My answer is that an instructional designer is where eLearning starts. That person creates the content and describes how it is going to be presented online.

Where do we start? At the beginning of course!

The ADDIE model perhaps best demonstrates how the process works. What's ADDIE? It stands for

  • Analyze - what learning needs are to be addressed
  • Design - who is the target audience and how are they best reached?
  • Develop - create the eLearning
  • Implement - present the eLearning in a meaningful and engaging manner
  • Evaluate - test to see if the eLearning was effective

Analyze - what are we teaching?

Let's say that you have a problem with employees keeping track of their billable hours. What is the issue? Is it that they don't understand how to use your tracking software? Is it that they just don't care?

If it's the first one, it's a training issue. If it's the second one, your employees need an attitude adjustment.

The key in the Analyze stage is to determine what issue of issues the training needs to address. A thorough needs assessment is critical at this stage and often uncovers issues that you may not have known existed. It helps break the issue down so that all of the contributing factors and be examined and prioritized.

Design - who are we teaching?

How do you reach the people you are trying to teach? This is where design becomes important. How will your learners best learn? Do you use video? Should the content be in a game format? Do you need audio? How do I test for knowledge retention?

There is a LOT to consider when you are designing your eLearning. But, eLearning also offers a LOT of options. Good eLearning is:

  • Rich in experience for the learner. It captures the learners' attention and engages their minds.
  • Relevant to the learner. It is framed in context that is in line with the learners' needs and goals.
  • Ready and available to use, anytime and anyplace.

Good eLearning challenges the learner with problems to solve, media that adds to the learning experience and allows learners to use their knowledge as they learn in a way that is meaningful.

Develop - create the eLearning

eLearning begins with a storyboard. This document captures your content and your design ideas on paper. Many instructional designers use Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to create storyboards. Some use authoring tools that allow you to create the storyboard do the online authoring at the same time.

You will want to create storyboard templates or use some of the many that are available online. Here are some sites to check out:

TEMPLATE.NET Storyboard Templates

eLearning Industry - free Storyboard Templates

A few things to keep in mind when developing your content include:

  • Inject a bit of humour into your content if it's appropriate - but only a bit. Too much humour is distracting and takes away from what is being taught.
  • Use real examples or case studies to help bring the lesson home.
  • Use relevant photos and other visual media to enhance the learning experience.
  • Add online links to relevant websites when possible.
  • Ask questions that check the learners' knowledge at regular intervals.
  • Parcel the content into manageable bits rather than having one great big lesson.

After the storyboard is written, it's time for one of the scarier moments in instructional design - the client review. Clients will be tough and thorough regarding the content and an instructional designer needs to develop a thick skin. Remember, this is NOT YOUR CONTENT. It belongs to the client and they have to be happy with it.

After the reviews and a couple of drafts (documents, not beers), and the client has approved the storyboard, it's time to move the content into production. Here is where the magic happens and the storyboard becomes eLearning.

Implement - present the eLearning in a meaningful and engaging manner

How your eLearning is presented depends on your (or your team's) creativity and the authoring tool you use. Don't get confused! We're not talking about a word processing program here -- it has nothing to do with being an "author".

An authoring tool is a type of software that allows users to use all sorts of media to create professional, engaging and interactive eLearning. You can find a variety of authoring tools on the Internet. Many of them offer free trials. One place to start is this website:

eLearning Industry - HTML5 eLearning Authoring Tools

After your eLearning has been produced, it's time for another scary moment. That's right, it's client review time once again. Clients should review the eLearning content BEFORE it goes online to make certain that the content is correct and that is correctly presented.

Evaluate - is the eLearning effective?

Most clients will also insist on a course pilot. Think of this as an eLearning test drive. A group of select learners will go through the course with critical eyes. They'll tell you what they liked and what worked for them. More importantly, they'll tell you what they didn't like and what didn't work. Based on that feedback, changes may have to be made before the eLearning goes live on line.

Evaluation is an ongoing process. A good LMS will provide clients with reports on exam questions (most passed, most failed) and learner progress. A survey at the end of a course will allow learners to evaluate the effectiveness of the course and provide feedback on how it can be improved.


As you can see, creating eLearning is a process. You will know that you've got it right when it all "ADDIEs" up!

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Shauna Carson

Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.