801.796.BROS (2767)


The Periodic Table of Elements gives scientific scholars a way to contextualize and organize the many elements they work with. Inspired by that, we created a Periodic Table of Instructional Design. Two of our instructional designers, Jenn and Misty, presented the Periodic Table of Instructional Design at eLBX and it was an incredibly popular session. Because the session generated so much discussion there, we decided to share it with everyone over a 2-part webinar series.


In the first webinar, we covered 5 out of 10 instructional design elements that we think make the biggest difference in your project success. The first 5 are:

  • Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
    • Utilize your SMEs wisely by preparing to embed their stories, reasoning, common mistakes, and best practices in your course design.
  • Simplify
    • Effective training makes concepts, information, and practice as simplified and digestible as possible. Don’t just regurgitate content from your SME—design it!
  • Efficiency
    • Be efficient in your process and product. Your project needs to be within budget, timeline, scope, and length. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make the “Sistine Chapel” of instructional design—not every slide needs to feature the most beautiful artwork and interactivity. Pick the slides that are the most important.
  • Plan
    • Whether it’s an outline, blueprint, or storyboard—you need a plan. Then, you need to refine and perfect it before building. This is where blueprinting comes in.
  • Choices
    • Use your SMEs to discover common performance mistakes and build them into the course via robust choices, distractors, and meaningful feedback.

Watch the video below for more detailed explanations of each of these 5 instructional design elements. Then, take a look at some additional questions Jenn answered for us offline. Plus, get your digital download of the Periodic Table of Instructional Design here.



There were more questions than we had time for in the webinar, but Jenn graciously took some time and answered them for us here on the blog. She’s a rockstar, that one.

Q – Do you believe there is a difference between an Instructional Designer and a Learning Experience Designer?
A – I’ve had both titles during my career and truth be told, the responsibilities and tasks for both were nearly identical. That being said, at its core, I believe there is a difference between the two titles and roles.

  • The LX Designer has a primary focus on the learner’s actual experience and design principles: “What will make sense for the learner? How should the UI be arranged to be most efficient? Will the graphics be better suited in a line in the middle or along the right side of the screen?”
  • The ID is focused on identifying the right material, activities, and approach to meet the objectives of the course. Their goal is the objectives and how to get the learner to meet them, not necessarily the learner’s experience.

As the field continues to evolve, the learner is being placed at the center more often. What will make a good experience for him/her while still enabling the course objectives to be met? IDs are starting to incorporate LX and design principles because they do help to facilitate an effective learning experience. Don Norman has written several great books that are applicable for IDs who want to start incorporating design principles: “The Design of Everyday Things,” “Emotional Design,” and “Things that Make us Smart.”


Q – I’m not hearing anything related to budget considerations in the blueprint process.
A – The budget is always critical when starting on any project. It’s what helps you identify and set the parameters of what it is that you’re going to blueprint. The bigger the budget you have, the more likely it is that one will have time to spend resources on media, themes, narration, etc. That will also likely mean there needs to be more time spent on the blueprint process to account for a larger budget and more complex course. If the project isn’t as “mission critical” or is less complex with fewer moving pieces, an outline with detailed notes may be sufficient.


Q – I do a blend of planning out media along with course planning, but sometimes my design organically moves in a different direction, and then this can lead to rework. Do you think that it is important to plan this out for the entire build or just build a general pool?
A – In my experience, doing a blueprint for the entire plan before moving forward can help you minimize courses moving in a different direction because you’ve already planned for how to address all of your content. As you think through the process of what you want to do with each section, try to think of contingencies and/or roadblocks that may limit or prevent your idea from working. If you plan for those contingencies ahead of time, you’ll have a backup plan if/when they happen. An alternate of planning out the whole thing would be to at least identify the key activities and theme that you’re going to use to meet the course objectives and plan for those. Take care of solving for your “big rocks” and put a plan in place for those. That should help to minimize large amounts of rework.


Q – What I find tricky is a situation where you are working with SME to design eCourse for another SME. What advice could you provide me to navigate this effectively?
A – It depends on how this is impacting the project. I’m assuming the concern primarily comes from getting two different opinions on how to proceed with the project and the final decision really comes down to the SME who isn’t working with you. If you’re not able to meet with the SME who holds all of the answers and information you need, put together a list of questions and have the SME who has the information respond to the list of questions. That will allow you to get insight directly from him/her and hopefully get you the answers you need.


Q – How to identify the important “must learn” items versus “nice to have” content?
A – Have the SME identify the critical information that is directly tied to the course objectives. To do this, I ask them to answer this question, “If the learner walks away from this course learning nothing else, what do they need to know, do, or feel?” This answer will help you to focus on the important information versus the “nice to have” content. If there is still room for the “nice to have” content then you can still include it, but the focus will be on the critical information.


Q – Any tips for those of us that are the SMEs? I struggle with prepping too much during the project setup (so project management) and perfectionism (Sistine chapel).
A – Two suggestions come to mind. Is there anything you can do to “templatize” the prep work at the beginning to make it go more quickly and still give you the results you need? Is there anything that you are doing that isn’t necessary and just part of the process that could go away (need to have vs. nice to have)? And maybe that is different based on the project. The high-stakes, mission-critical projects may need to have all of the “bells and whistles” while less critical ones might not need as much prep work to get you going.
The second suggestion is to plan and determine where your “Sistine Chapel” slides/activities need to be and where you’ll spend the most amount of your time. Do your “non-Sistine” slides first and the rest of what is left can be used for the time-consuming slides. You could also look for ways of making the design process more efficient by creating your own templates of standard slides such as the intro, instructions, text/image slides, click to reveals, etc. If you bank some of that stuff up, either ahead of time or after you’ve created it for a specific course, over time you’ll have a library of assets that you can quickly modify or update and give yourself more time for your slides that need more time and attention.


Q – How do you manage SME suggestions when they ask for design elements that don’t align well with the content?
A – This may require you to do a little digging with your probing questions to find out why they want to use the element to understand their point of view. Depending on their reason, you may be able to find a suitable alternative or help provide context why another option would be a better learner experience. This goes back to building the relationship with the SMEs and having the same overall goal for the course—a good learning experience that meets the objectives.


Q – Would this [blueprinting] example be for a single slide?
A – In most cases, it’s a single slide. However, if an activity takes multiple slides, I usually combine all elements for that activity within a single section of the blueprint.


Q – Are templates of these blueprints available for download?
A – They are not. However, similar versions can be found by doing a web search using the term “eLearning blueprint template.”


Q – How long do you usually spend on blue-printing for a 50-slide project?
A – It depends on the complexity of a project—the more interactive it is, the longer it takes to account for the level of depth. For a standard course, a 50-slide project usually takes me a couple of days. In general, the time I spend on the blueprint at the beginning is saved on the backend when I start the storyboard process. It also allows me to save time on the back-end because there the risk for rework is mitigated when I have a plan before I start.


Q – Do you use rapid prototyping? If so, does that come after this blueprint or in place of?
A – Our standard ID process is a rapid prototyping of sorts. All of our storyboards are visual storyboards built in PPT. It’s essentially a non-functional version of the course. This allows us to catch a lot of issues, edits, and pushback at this phase when it’s easier to make changes before it goes into development in the rapid authoring tool. The visual storyboard happens after we do the blueprint. A project, depending on the time, budget or other resources may alter this process to remove a component, but this is our standard process.


Q – Where do you place the Learning Objectives in the blueprint? Is it the goals?
A – The learning objectives are normally placed in a section above the chart—similar to an executive summary—at the beginning of the document. That section also includes information about the overarching purpose of the project, audience analysis details, design considerations, and the assessment strategy. The goal section in the chart on the blueprint is the goal for the learner for that page/activity. In most cases, it’s directly linked back to one of the learning objectives. A situation where it might be different would be on a “course navigation” type of slide where the learner is given instructions on how to move around in the course, turn their audio on, etc. It’s not a goal tied to the learning objectives but is necessary for the learner to be successful in completing the course.


Enjoyed this instructional design webinar? Check out past webinar recordings or register for upcoming webinars below.

Pin It on Pinterest