3 Techniques an Instructional Designer Can Use to Deepen Learning

Incorporate previewing, chunking, and recall in e-learning courses to aid retention.

I took Coursera’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), “Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects,” to gain insights into and tips about how people learn. I thought that by understanding this, I could incorporate these tips into the e-learning courses I design. Not surprisingly, there were more than a few techniques that have helped me become a better learner. And thankfully, I learned three tips I will incorporate into my work: previewing, chunking, and recall. Each is relatively easy to implement in an e-learning course.


The idea is to scan through new material prior to starting. The benefit is that by simply scanning, you form neural connections that later are revisited and strengthened once the course begins. Those connections could be images, titles, knowledges checks, highlighted text, characters or scenarios. Those initial viewings are further and more deeply learned through repetition (more on that later).

TIP: In an e-learning environment, previewing can be accomplished by displaying all slides, each for a second or two, ideally with music in the background at the start of the course. Think of it as thumbing through chapters in a textbook—just enough preview to get a sense of the chapter and material. The e-learning preview could be as brief as a minute or two—a fast-paced slide show of new information.


Although a foundation of instructional design, arranging content in logical, “bite-sized” portions (otherwise known as chunking) is only a good start to learning. Deeper learning happens when information moves from short- to long-term memory, where it can be accessed later and on demand, presumably when needed, e.g., on the job or in practice.

TIP: For chunking to be more effective, it needs to be transformed into a memorable idea and revisited. For the instructional designer, that means repeating ideas throughout a course and in a memorable form. One way to implement this is to create a scenario that contains multiple ideas, and refer back to those ideas throughout the course. Ask Liz Learner: Remember the steps needed to complete the process? What were they? In the scenario, what were the patients’ concerns? How might you address those concerns? The more often an idea is remembered, the easier it is to recall, which was a revelation to me.


According to researcher Jeffrey D. Karpicke, recall or retrieval practice is the most effective learning technique, better than re-reading text or concept mapping. By asking a learner to recall information, he or she becomes responsible for learning. And that learning is deeper than mere memorization because the learner constructs the connections to recall information.

TIP: In the e-learning environment, recall can be as straightforward as asking ungraded, short essay questions. Ask Sam Student: What do you remember about XYZ process? What three things do you need to check before proceeding? What is the most important information you need to get from the customer? You can assist the learner by providing a “review” button or remediation feature by which you return the learner to the original material. The point isn’t to simply test retention; it is to deepen learning.

These three simple learning techniques, easily incorporated into your instructional design, can ensure a deeper learning experience. What were those three techniques again? Just checking. Good luck and good learning.

Walter Murphy is a Training Specialist III, Emergent Technologies. For more information, visit www.linkedin.com/in/waltermurphy