Design Is More Than Skin Deep

Consider how the learning content will look. But also consider what the learners’ experience with the content will be.

Designing learning content is more than making things “pretty.” In fact, “pretty” is only a small part of the design process. It is really crafting a strategy for how learners will interact with the content. User experience (UX) designers refer to it as the User Interface (UI). This is how we should think of the learning content design process, too. Consider how the learning content will look. But also consider what the learners’ experience with the content will be.

Here’s what goes into the design of the strategy:

  • Color palette. It might be something new and different that works with the content. Maybe it follows the stricter guidance laid out in a corporate style guide. Or it could be something in between.
  • Font(s). Likewise, the fonts might be prescribed in a corporate style guide, selected to work best with the content, or somewhere in the middle.
  • Modality used to deliver the learning content. To consider: classroom/instructor-led training (ILT), an e-learning course administered through a learning management system (LMS), virtual instructor-led training (VILT), e-learning module(s), on-the-job training (OJT), job aid or other type of performance support, video tutorial, microlearning, mobile app, simulation, or spaced practice and repetition.
  • Tool(s) to be used to craft the learning content. The list is long, varied, and largely dependent upon the modality (or modalities). Consider: Microsoft Office, one or more rapid development tools, video camera—so many possibilities!
  • The way or ways the learning will be supported back on the job. For example: a coaching guide or other type of plan to assist the supervisory staff, how completion of learning content is added to the talent development and/or talent management system, a refresher or reinforcement training plan at specified interval(s), or implementing an electronic performance support system (which may be part of the same project or an entirely separate project)—whatever the plan, the need to do this is real.
  • Evaluation plan. The results of the needs assessment and recommendations proposed in the analysis (report to key stakeholders) informs the evaluation plan. This includes when and how the phases of the evaluation plan will be implemented, how the feedback will be collected and disseminated and to whom, specifics about making necessary changes to the learning content or the work, reporting the effects the learning has had on business results—all of it. Whatever is relevant to the organization and the project.
  • Accessibility features that will be built into the learning content. The way the learners will interact with the content informs the design and decisions about accessibility. Reminder: No one is required to self-report a need for reasonable accommodation. And choosing to build more accessible content is better for everyone.
  • Design and development team communication plan. This entails creating a schedule for completion of the project and an explanation of everyone’s roles and responsibilities, including key stakeholder(s), instructional designer(s), developers, subject matter expert(s), graphic designer(s), project manager(s), training coordinator, training manager—whoever is integrally involved.

Making these decisions a part of your design will differentiate you, your work, and your value to the organization. Who doesn’t want that?

Dawn J. Mahoney, CPLP, owns Learning in The White Space LLC, a freelance talent development (“training”) and instructional design consultancy. She is passionate about developing people through better training, better instructional design, and better dialog. Mahoney asks the tough questions to ensure the training content is relevant to the work and performance expectations. She does this work because she loves to see the moment when the learning “dawns” on her learners. If you need help, get in touch with her at:



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