The Rapid Elearning Blog


Inevitably you have to provide instructions on how to do something in the course. The question is when to provide them and at what level of detail. In this post we’ll explore three ways to guide the instruction process.

Provide Instructions Upfront

The most common way to provide instructions is to do it all up front. This is what I see in most of the courses I review. Generally you share what needs to happen and when. Depending on the complexity, you may provide some details and screen shots. The point though is that all of the instructions come up front and then the person continues through the course.

  • Pros: this is probably the easiest thing to do; the gate screen concept works for this approach. Some people add instructions and help reminders to the player for quick access.
  • Cons: they’re all up front and sometimes people aren’t quite clear on expectations until they’ve had some experience with the course or have made a few mistakes. They probably need more context before they even know what to do with the instructions.

Provide Instructions at the Point of Need

Get what you need as you need it. Why burden them with instructions at the front end of the course when they will most likely forget them anyway? It makes sense to delay instructions until the person needs them.

For example, you provide some context upfront and then have them go through the procedure. Walk them through it. You can also delay the instructions and if no action is taken, then provide instructions after it’s determined they’ve not acted (or possibly done something incorrectly).

  • Pros: you’re not overwhelming them with content, let them build context, and get what they need at time of need
  • Cons: it takes a little more work to build the mechanism to evaluate and time instructions; may be intrusive to the process for someone who gets it. Make sure to not lock the process.

Provide Instructions as Practice Activites

I like the Wii-type instructions where new tasks are presented with practice activities. This builds off of the progressive instructions in option two where the instructions are provided at time of need. However it does introduce the practice element. This allows a person to practice to a level of competence.

Here’s an example: “Address customer issues and input them into the system. Before you begin the scenarios you can practice and learn the proper input procedures. Do you want to practice? Yes or No?”

“Yes” moves them to a practice scenario with step-by-step guidance. “No” moves them into the challenge activity where they are timed and will get feedback later.

Essentially you say: “Here’s what you need to do. Do you want to practice before we get started? OK. Here is a practice opportunity. No? OK. Let’s proceed with the activity.”

  • Pros: instructions are just-in-time and in context with the course; disarms new learners and provides confidence; frees tenured learners to ignore.
  • Cons: the major con to this approach is the time it takes to build instructions that are effective and relevant. Probably requires working knowledge of variables to create an adaptive path.

So there you have it, three ways to guide your learners through the course. Which way do you prefer? What other options do you recommend?


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

3 responses to “Three Ways to Guide Learners Through Your Course”

Really useful post Tom!

In many of my projects, I might have option 1 as one screen with very basic info (e.g. contains audio and perhaps a few arrows pointing to relevant player features) that the learner can look at or skip and then I’ll have option 2 where needed throughout. For example, if the learner has to drag and drop, I might add a small text+arrow thingamebob saying ‘drag’ which is unobtrusive and disappears as soon as they’ve dragged.

I haven’t done much of option 3, but will definitely keep it in mind now!

November 29th, 2016

Excellent points Tom! Better to tell them up front than to have to answer a boatload of questions from your users after the class goes live!!

Good post, I agree with pros and it’s good that you’ve enumerated the cons as well. A part of those are not really cons of a given solution in itself, but only when it’s taken in a specific context of resource-sparing organization for instance. Therefore, at least some of them can be solved by resource management, for instance practice activities should be okay if there is enough time for onboarding scheduled.