156 Ways to Improve Your Instructional Design

September 27, 2023 Off By JR

The field of instructional design has grown more complex, requiring modern designers to have expertise in various areas, from learning theory to emerging technologies like AI and AR. To help designers keep up, the Learning Guild community compiled an eBook with 156 practical tips and tricks from fellow professionals. The eBook covers strategies for managing stakeholders and subject matter experts, creating visually appealing content with expert-recommended colour palettes, and more. Whether you’re an Instructional Designer or an L&D professional, this resource is a must-have.

The report is a collection of quotes from Learning Guild Members organized by theme. There are 13 themes in total, and there is a little something for instructional designers across contexts and types of organizations. As I read through the first time, the following are just samples of eye-catching quotes.

I encourage you to check out the full report, which you can find on the learning guild’s website.

Begin With an Analysis

This sentiment is echoed in quite a few comments, including my own!

"Don’t short-change your efforts by ignoring analysis activities. That analysis should be guiding your efforts throughout, especially if a root cause analysis reveals that the problem isn’t one to be solved by training."

– Mark L. Sheppard, Principal Consultant

The Planning Process

I find some IDs begin with the following, while others begin with tables. I go back and forth depending on the project, but I think this is a solid suggestion here.

"Start giving life to your ideas with a concept board. You can define the color palette, choose the style of imagery in your course, gather graphic elements that will highlight the experience of your learners, and even create simple mockups of the look and feel. This will help you visualize your project and avoid the ‘blank canvas’ crisis, that moment when your storyboard is ready but you don’t have any ideas on how to start working on your course."

– Kari Gomez, Instructional Designer

Project Management

Not quite a project management idea in the way I would have expected, but a great idea to carry forward.

"When you reach a minimal desirable product, before receiving any feedback and revisions (therefore changes), make a copy of your work

files. You will thank yourself later. Sometimes these prototypes can be a starting point for a new project of yours or your colleagues."

– Arturo Parra, Manager Instructional Designer

Keep it Simple

I saw some snarky quip on LinkedIn recently from a education leader about how IDs focus on things like navigation and consistency as if it was a bad thing. However, after a decade of working on online courses and reviewing student feedback, the theme of consistent and simple navigation comes up time and again. Learners do in fact care about it, and so yes, focusing on navigation is actually an aspect of learner-centered design.

"Don’t overcomplicate navigation."

– Susan, Marketing Manager/Instructional Designer

Visual Design Tips

There are both echoes of Multimedia Design Principles for Learning and Accessibility in the advice here.

"Keep it concise and organized: Avoid overwhelming learners with excessive information. Keep your content concise, clear, and organized. Use headings, bullet points, and visuals to improve readability and facilitate comprehension."

– Z. Gunjevic, Sr. Learning & Development Program Manager

Increasing Engagement

Cammy Bean (2011) hit the nail on the head in their article about Click-clicky Bling Bling in elearning, and respondents in this report continue to advocate for meaningful interactions of CCBB.

"When considering how to increase engagement in an eLearning course, be sure to distinguish between ‘interface interaction’ and ‘information interaction.’ Courses with a lot of clickable and moveable elements have high interface interaction. Unfortunately, if they are not thoughtfully designed, they can be prone to causing cognitive overload and increasing interaction cost. On the other hand, courses with high information interaction encourage learners to think deeply about the course content, with or without interacting with the screen. These courses typically have many opportunities for generative processing, which is an important piece of enduring learning."

– Pascale Swanson, eLearning Design Lead


Comments were split between things like knowing shortcuts to make tool use more efficient and focusing on principles than tools in this category, which is about what I’d expected.

"Don’t focus on tool proficiency over the fundamentals of instructional design. Unless your solution actually addresses a learning or performance gap, it doesn’t matter how pretty the output is. Tools come and go but the practice and discipline will always be there."

– Mark L. Sheppard, Principal Consultant

Foster Communication & Build Relationships

The work of instructional designers is build on communication and trust.

"Have a people-first mindset. Having a people-first mindset means we

collaborate well, discover needs early on, partner with others, and

communicate with stakeholders regularly. That way, all of the best

practices we know about for adult learning, instruction, and more will be accepted, understood, and adopted."

– Jordan Hopkins, Education Program Manager

Working With SMEs

The amount of ink that has been spilled about IDs and working with SMEs could fill Olympic pools. Some positive, and some negative. That said, Annie’s quote really solidified the importance of this relationship (echoing from the last theme)

"Nurture SMEs. Build good relationships, take time to ask them about themselves, and give them a small gift during the holidays if they helped

you. They will ultimately be your greatest advocate for the


– Annie Chatterjee Deffley, PhD, Instructional DesignerManag

Focus on Results

A lot of comments about measurement, training goals vs. business goals, and the like in this section. But this comment from Carolyn gets me right in the feels. How many projects have you had that just get dragged along to completion because of sheer tenacity and unwavering commitment to the original idea, regardless of whether it was the right idea?

"Don’t be afraid to blow up a design if it’s not working. Is the product/course/etc. fully supporting your intended goal and outcome? If not, blow it up and come back to the drawing board. It can be frustrating

to re-do, but it will create a better learning experience in the end."

– Carolyn Kuhne, Principal Instructional Designer

Business Concerns

I’ve recently starting using the building blocks in Google Docs (similar to quick parts in Word) and it is a game changer to storyboarding. That’s why this quote resonated with me.

"Create systems, routines, templates—you name it—then automate or standardize them wherever you can. It’s a huge time saver and allows for consistency across your work! New, generative AI features can help but there are also many free resources and tools available."

– Ian Kollar, Sr. Instructional Designer

Professional Development

I liked this idea, and would add to follow related fields blogs and message boards such as those from UX, web design, organizational development, art and design, and more.

"Find inspiration in unlikely places like billboards, magazines, commercials, and AI. Join a Facebook, LinkedIn, or Slack group

specifically for IDs. These groups provide support and invaluable resources you would otherwise not know about, and it’s also a good

place to hang out when you are looking for employment."

– Bonita Hayes, Senior elearning Design Specialist

Additional Tips

Again, you can check out the full report on the learning guild’s website.