Without instructional design strategies, most corporate training efforts are costly and ineffective.

According to a 2019 Research and Markets report, the global corporate training market was valued at $367.6 billion in 2018. With global spending on enterprise software eclipsing $459 billion in 2020, a good portion of corporate training has to focus on preparing employees to make the most of new digital tools.

Despite these investments, very few people believe on-the-job training improves their work performance.

For enterprise organizations that might have thousands of employees, poorly designed learning experiences—and the lack of engagement that usually follows—make it exceedingly challenging to accelerate user adoption.

To unlock the full value of their chosen software applications, enterprise organizations must design learning content that overcomes any barriers to drive user engagement at scale.

To help, this article highlights six instructional design strategies that increase user engagement along with tactical tips on how to apply these strategies.

1. Guided Learning

Guided learning is an instructional design strategy that differs from traditional training sessions. In traditional training sessions, a learner tries to absorb various pieces of information without context. Guided learning, on the other hand, embeds instructional material directly into an application.

Instructional material might include things like interactive pop-ups, instructional videos, or feature walkthroughs, which make guided learning especially well-suited to improving engagement and adoption.

When users encounter stumbling blocks in the software, their path to getting an answer is often anything but efficient. They may have to email someone internally for help, wade through technical documentation on a provider’s website, or worse—spend time going back and forth with their customer service team.

Implementing new software can present even greater difficulties. For an enterprise organization with a large global workforce, getting hundreds of employees up to speed on a new platform often requires manual, human-powered actions across time zones that don’t scale.

Guided learning eliminates these bottlenecks. By providing users with contextualized, interactive guidance while they work, guided learning meets people where they are with relevant, in-the-moment assistance. It also helps organizations ensure product training is consistently delivered—something instructor-led training can’t guarantee.

Tips for using guided learning to drive user engagement

One way to deploy guided learning for your employees is to use an in-app guidance tool to walk them through training steps in real time.

Take basic Salesforce user onboarding as an example. Instead of giving new users a slide deck with static instructions, you can guide them through page navigation and help them learn new workflows.

Here are a few tips to make this kind of guided learning work for your organization.

  • Use relatable characters and avatars: During the research phase, leverage the expertise of subject matter experts to create avatars users can relate to.
  • Merge process training with software training: Whenever it’s appropriate, use guided learning to provide additional context around software training.
  • Make the experience interactive: Offer interactive in-app guidance to enhance learning while learners are already in the flow of work.

2. Microlearning

Whether it manifests as micro-courses, periodic emails, or interactive walkthroughs, microlearning breaks relevant learning objectives into small, discrete, and on-demand chunks.

Today’s knowledge worker faces many hurdles to learning on the job. Between working towards deadlines and dealing with ongoing distractions, it’s often difficult—and sometimes impossible—for someone to devote hours at a time to participate in a training.

This is where microlearning comes in. By limiting the amount of information a learner must consume, this instructional design strategy limits their cognitive load and increases their ability to absorb, recall, and retain information. It also encourages users to engage with manageable, bite-sized chunks of learning content at their own pace.

This bite-sized microlearning content makes it easier for employees to learn while doing, which can help people retain up to 75% of knowledge compared to just 10% when reading standalone instructions, according to the learning pyramid.

Tips for using microlearning to drive user engagement

One key to implementing microlearning is to ensure employees can apply lessons as quickly as possible. It’s why Google decided to train its managers on safe team culture with a series of emails link instead of a traditional seminar-based approach. These emails gave managers gentle, timely reminders to apply a particular lesson.

You can use Whatfix to embrace the same microlearning concept. By creating a library of on-demand training content and prompting users to take advantage of it when appropriate, you ensure that employees always have the right level of support exactly when they need it.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of a microlearning strategy.

  • Supplement larger lessons: Use microlearning to reinforce or supplement such things as in-person training, a conference, or a workshop.
  • Drive one key takeaway at a time: Whether your strategy calls on interactive video or role-specific checklists, limit each session to a max of seven minutes for each key concept.
  • Influence small behavioral changes: Google implemented microlearning through its creation of “whisper courses,” a series of emails each containing a simple suggestion for managers to experiment with during team meetings.

3. Personalization

While a one-size-fits-all approach might make sense with select company-wide initiatives, personalization enables an organization to create learning paths that surface the most relevant content based on an employee’s role.

For example, someone in sales will use Salesforce very differently than someone in marketing or operations. With a personalized approach to learning and development, the guidance each individual receives aligns with their specific use case.

But personalization isn’t limited to role-specific learning. When it comes to digital adoption, personalization can also mean serving the most relevant resources to users based on their current activity within a platform.

Tips for USING PERSONALIZATION TO drive user engagement

Segmentation is the critical factor in a personalized approach to instructional design strategy. The more specific you can make segments of users, the easier it will be to create scheduled alerts for learning opportunities.

A digital adoption platform (DAP) like Whatfix automatically creates segments at the user level for deep personalization of training programs.

Here are a couple of tips for building the most effective personalization strategy.

  • Don’t just push content to specific people based on roles: Use pre-screening questions to assess an individual’s specific needs and provide nuanced support based on your findings.
  • Use conditional logic to create unique and nuanced learning experiences: Give learners the opportunity to reaffirm what they already know to boost their engagement (and confidence) as they go.

4. Scenario-Based Learning

By structuring learning activities around realistic situations and events, scenario-based learning forces users to consider the context and consequences around their decision-making.

This makes scenario-based learning highly engaging. As users safely navigate their way through various work-related situations and behaviors, the immersive nature of scenario-based learning provides them with an opportunity to fine-tune their judgment and consider various sides of a problem.

If a professional chef were completing a scenario-based elearning course, for example, you might present them with a scenario that forced them to choose between food safety and customer service.

The goal is to encourage appropriate behavioral responses to nuanced or challenging situations where more than one point of view may apply. Doing so encourages learners to use reason and critical-thinking skills to inform their actions and learn from their mistakes in a series of low-risk fictional scenarios.

Tips for using scenario-based learning to drive user ENGAGEMENT

  • Ensure the scenarios are realistic: Research the most important aspects of using the product or solution and create specific, realistic end-user scenarios to maximize effectiveness.
  • Offer custom feedback after each decision: At every checkpoint, provide learners with feedback and context around their decisions—whether they’re right or wrong.

5. Storytelling

Human beings are hardwired to care about stories. According to research from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, storytelling increases a student’s ability to recall instruction.

As an instructional design strategy, story-based learning helps cut through the monotony of no-frills instruction by tapping into our innate need for narrative.

There are a few reasons for this. First, storytelling always involves a character—a relatable figure to center our focus. Second, that character usually has to overcome obstacles to achieve an objective.

If a marketing writer needed to become a Google Analytics whiz, for example, a story-based instructional design strategy might call for a story about another marketer who needs to understand how his company’s blogs perform month over month.

This simple setup predisposes an audience to become emotionally invested in both the journey and the outcome.

For learners, these elements make storytelling a compelling and powerful approach to imparting lessons that stick.

Tips for using storytelling to drive user ENGAGEMENT

  • Weave stories into preliminary research: Use storytelling to identify pain points encountered during the flow of work before thinking about how to address those obstacles.
  • Write with a conversational tone: Avoid technical jargon in favor of accessible language that hits at an emotional level.
  • Always include conflict or tension: Make sure your story-based approach is compelling by imparting realistic tension into any story-based lesson.

6. Retrieval

One of the most effective instructional design strategies may also be one of the most frequently overlooked.

Retrieval-based learning helps learners convert newly acquired knowledge into long-term memory. To achieve this, a retrieval-based learning strategy must perform two functions:

  • Use appropriate prompts to identify knowledge gaps in a learner’s memory.
  • Reinforce knowledge gaps through repetition and continued assessment.

For an instructional designer, using retrieval effectively rests on designing the right prompts and providing repeated assessments. When learners receive repeated exposure to learning objectives over a period of time, those learnings are more likely to become permanent.

Retrieval-based learning materials might be as low-tech as flashcard exercises or as complex as short, in-app narratives that ask learners to recall facts from memory.

What’s most important is that retrieval prompts learners to make newly acquired knowledge their own by forcing them to expend mental effort.

When done right, retrieval helps to crystallize learning and increases knowledge retention.

Tips for using retrieval to drive user ENGAGEMENT

  • Create a balance of questions: Alongside challenging questions, include a mix of low-stakes prompts to reinforce learnings and provide quick wins.
  • Focus on retention and recall: Retrieval is best suited for questions that boost comprehension and recall. Don’t muddy the waters with anything that invites other learning outcomes, like reflection and collaboration.

The Best Instructional Design Strategies Put Users First

In the quest to become more agile, modern companies often forget the importance of balance.

As we rapidly adopt new tools and technologies to become more efficient, we also need to make comparable investments in helping employees and customers keep pace with the rate of change.

Meeting that need starts with designing learning experiences that consider the user first and business needs second.

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