The Art of Learning Design

30 January 2024 by Anna Bishop

Learning design is the key to effective learning and skill development. 

Whether your learners are joining you in a classroom or working through their course using your eLearning system, a well-crafted training program ensures that learners engage with content in a structured and interesting way; and that they are able to retain the information and apply their learning in real life situations. 

Training shouldn’t be designed with only the content you want to cover in mind.  By focusing on the learner, you can make sure that they don’t view their learning as a tick box exercise, and instead make meeting their learning objectives an enjoyable experience.

In this blog, we will look at some top tips to make sure your training is learner-centred.

1: Purpose of training

It sounds obvious but before creating a course, you need to understand what the intention behind the training is. This involves outlining what learning objectives need to be met by the training, and understanding the audience you are writing for. 

For example, if you are writing a course on project management aimed at an intermediate level, you will probably adjust your approach to take into account a higher level of foundation knowledge, you may even adjust the language you use.  You do need to be careful though, if you are designing your course for an unknown audience some of the assumptions you may make about prior understanding may not be correct, but careful course design and supportive resources can help bridge any misconceptions or assumptions.

In short, by starting with a solid understanding of the training requirements and purpose, course designers can tailor the content to meet the specific needs of learners, making the learning experience more targeted and beneficial.

2: Context and relevance

Making training feel relevant and positioning it in a context that the learner can relate to is pivotal for effective learning.

When training aligns with the learners’ roles, tasks or interests, it can increase the likelihood they will properly engage with your content.  

Making training relevant ensures that the training addresses specific challenges and goals, making it more engaging and immediately useful. Learners are more likely to retain and apply knowledge when they see its direct impact on their work or life.

Moreover, contextualised training helps build a deeper understanding and builds confidence, enabling individuals to transfer skills from the learning environment to real-world situations, ultimately maximising the training’s impact.

3: Adaptable and accessible

In learning design, flexibility and accessibility are essential to ensuring you cater to diverse learning styles and individual needs. By embracing flexibility, learning designers can ensure that activities and resources are inclusive, fostering a positive (and effective) educational experience.

  • Identify learning needs
    Recognising that people learn differently, and have different needs, can make learning design more complex, but if you design your training well, you can make the experience positive for everyone that needs to access it.
  • Accessible resources and activities
    Where possible design your materials to be user-friendly and accessible, letting learners go at their own speed where practicable.  This can reduce frustration and anxiety, which can be a barrier to learning.
  • Variety
    Mix things up with visuals such as images, videos and audio resources. Try incorporating interactive activities where it will enhance learning.
    Note however, putting activities and resources that seem out of context into your course, just to make it interactive or visually appealing, can backfire as people can find it interrupts their progress and learning.
  • Same information,  offered in a different way
    For some types of course it can be really useful to offer learners different options for engagement.  For instance, you have probably have seen courses offering a transcript for those that don’t want to/or are unable to engage with a video.  

The idea is to make training as easy as possible to grasp for everyone, it is not an opportunity to catch people out or test their ability to decipher your content.  

This way, you create an enjoyable and inclusive learning space where everyone can access the knowledge, no matter how they like to learn. Try to keep it flexible, fun, and open for all. 

4: Fair assessment

Gone have the days where educationalists believed ‘everyone should be assessed in the same way, else its unfair‘. 

What is unfair is giving someone an unintentional advantage as they are able to demonstrate their knowledge in the way the learning designer has chosen.  Whereas someone else may have the same level of skill and knowledge but be unable to document it in the way determined by the course designer. 

The question to ask is, are we assessing their knowledge or their ability to show it in the prescribed way?


You are assessing someone on their ability to help a person having a heart attack and ask them to describe how they would recognise it was a heart attack and what they would do to help

  • Learner 1: Uses an essay type response. They are able to communicate easily in written form and meet the assessment criteria.
  • Learner 2: This learner has English as a second language and struggles to write but is much more capable at helping in this situation than learner 1.

If you have set a written assessment learner 2 would be at a disadvantage, and as the skill of helping someone with a heart attack doesn’t require them to write, it would be fairer to offer the learner an alternative way to demonstrate their understanding e.g. video submission. 

Remember to also think about how you set the assignment or assessment and make sure this is also as accessible as possible.

In summary, provide clear instructions and allow flexibility in response formats to cater to individual strengths.  By embracing versatility in assessment methods, educators can support a more inclusive learning environment that recognises and values the diversity of student strengths and preferences.

5: Feedback

Personalised constructive feedback matters to learners because it directly connects to their individual strengths and areas for improvement.

Many learning designers forget to make sure there is a mechanism in place to provide feedback, both to the learner but also to the tutor in return.

Feedback doesn’t just need to be at the end of the course, integrating opportunities for feedback throughout your training can really enhance your learners experience, build confidence and help them gain knowledge as they work through any content.

Offering feedback following interactive activities, as well as formal assessments and following assignments, will help learners improve and gain a better understanding of the course content. 

Final feedback, especially when someone has not met the required standard is essential else learners can be left feeling confused and frustrated, which may prevent them from moving forward and working to improve.

In summary, thoughtful learning design goes beyond content delivery, focusing on learner engagement, relevance, inclusivity, fair assessment practices, and timely feedback to create a positive and effective learning experience.