Implementing a Human-centred Approach to Instructional Design

The idea of placing the learner at the centre of the design process sounds simple but has immense potential for meeting learners’ specific needs. In practice, this approach melds the roles of design and research to create products and services perfectly suited to learners’ needs, habits, and struggles. 

A human-centred approach begins with the people in your organisation. Getting to know your learners on a deeper level is key to finding the perfect learning strategy to help them grow within your organisation. Use empathy when fact finding so you are open to all the needs of your learners. What does the average workday of your learner look like? What do learners find most challenging in their role? Which platforms do learners interact with every day?

The answers to these questions will grant you the key to creating a learning strategy ideally suited to your learners’ needs. Rather than pushing out courses in a one-size-fits-all template, human-centred design allows you to cater to everyone’s needs and preferences. By meeting your learners’ needs with the exact content, format and schedule that suits them, you’ll receive higher learning engagement and better performance results. It also allows you deliver just-in-time learning where learners require it most. Under this ideology, learning starts with a specific user in mind and is tailored for them.

Here are some top tips to use human-centred instructional design to create more meaningful e-learning experiences.

Observation and research: The human-centred approach begins by observing learners. Focus on getting to know each group of learners separately, as your new hires in need of onboarding look quite different from your senior management in need of leadership training. Observe each learning group’s typical workday. Get to know their objectives, stressors, and roadblocks.

After observation, take the time to ask your learners some questions. If you know most of your learning content will be training focused, ask your learners what they are feeling underprepared for. If you’re looking to restructure current content to better suit learners’ needs, ask about how L&D (learning & development) currently fits into their work routine. Allow your learners to guide the conversation and take thorough notes: this feedback should guide every design choice going forward.

People have different bodies and brains – and your learning designs need to provide them all with rich, welcoming experiences. That’s why accessibility needs to have a place in every learner audience analysis. Human-centred design considers the needs of every learner by considering the following: size, contrast, and legibility of all fonts and images; screen reader technology; closed captioning and transcripts; and keyboard navigation. (Learn more about accessibility and digital inclusion here)

Develop a framework: Using the information you’ve gathered, sit with your team and brainstorm ideas. Figure out the best way to put your e-learning course together. For example, does the target industry require a lot of field work? That means online training materials should be portable, so make them compatible with smartphones and tablets so that deskless workers will stay engaged no matter where they are. It will also require offline access for remote workers without Wi-Fi.

Is the organisation global? Assess the nationalities/vernaculars represented and make sure translations are available in preferred languages. Think about the people you’ve interviewed. They may have hinted at or stated their preferred mode of learning. Human-centred instructional design stands for incorporating that into your template.

Implement: Once you have all your concepts and outlines in place, the execution should be simpler. Remember that this is a user-facing process so get them involved. They can come and try out your e-learning course at various stages, creating a consistent e-learning feedback loop.  Even after you launch your e-learning course, you should gather continual user feedback. Conduct surveys and evaluate your learning management system metrics to look for gaps and areas for improvement. An integral component of human-centred instructional design is measuring progress and making necessary adjustments.

Keep the learner front and centre: The human-centred approach doesn’t end once you have a course in hand. As your learners grow, change, and adapt to new challenges in their roles, your L&D strategy should do the same. Provide open communication channels for constant learning feedback on each course, and occasionally circle back to the initial step of observation.

When you put learners at the heart of the instructional design process, you ensure their unique needs will be met and that no one is left behind or excluded. By crafting courses that are as empathetic and flexible as the people taking them, you’ll exceed learning outcomes more than ever before.


Written by Rob Ewart


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