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Create a detailed design

“What is a detailed design?”

“What do detailed designs include?”

“What are performance goals, learning goals and objectives?”

“How do I sequence content and instruction?”

Learning designers generally have the flexibility to follow their own creative processes for ideating learning experiences; however, they are also commonly asked to document their design decisions for stakeholders and subject matter experts to review and approve.

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to create a basic detailed design that identifies learning objectives, topics, content, and instructional methods.

What is a detailed design?

Simply put, a detailed design is a blueprint for a learning experience. Learning project teams use it to come to an agreement on learning goals and objectives as well as how the experience should be structured to support them.

In some cases, organizations provide detailed design templates to learning designers–often in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, Google docs, or similar tools. However, designers may also be asked to provide their own.

What do detailed designs include?

While the formatting may vary from designer to designer, detailed designs often include the following elements:

  • Purpose: What is the purpose of this learning experience? What are the intended outcomes from an organizational and learner perspective?

  • Instructional strategy: What techniques will be used during the experience?

  • Audience: Who will complete the experience, and how will it be delivered?

  • Duration: What is the estimated duration of the learning experience overall, and its individual parts (e.g. module, activity)?

  • Prerequisites: What should learners complete prior to this learning experience?

  • Source content: How will the source content be obtained? Are updates required?

  • Media: What media will be used, and where is it coming from? (e.g. existing, new development)

  • Deliverables: What deliverables will be included? (e.g. facilitator guide, participant guide, job aids, eLearning modules)

  • Learning objectives: What measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities should learners be able to do by the end of the experience?

  • Content outline: What are the topics and primary messages for this learning experience? How will they be sequenced?

  • Assessment strategy: How will learning objectives be assessed for this learning experience? What level of proficiency is desired?

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. Detailed designs can include more or less than the elements listed here, based on the needs of the organization and project.

Please scroll through the carousel below to view some design document template examples.

What are performance goals, learning goals, and objectives?

Learning experiences should be designed in a way to support goals that boost organizational and learner performance. Performance goals are high-level outcomes desired by an organization, such as “Reduce consumer waste in the city landfill by 25% during the next fiscal year.” They are typically provided by project stakeholders (e.g. business leaders).

Learning goals and objectives outline specific and measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that learners need to achieve to support performance goals. The difference between learning goals and objectives is that learning goals define high-level, overarching KSA needs for a learning product or program. Learning objectives, on the other hand, are more detailed and related to specific learning components (e.g. course, module).

For instance, a healthcare organization that wants to boost breast cancer screenings might choose to conduct free educational outreach about this topic. The overarching learning goal for this program could be to "promote breast cancer awareness in the community to increase screenings by 10% by June of next year." If the program were to include a free Webinar, the course-specific learning objectives may include the following:

  • Recognize symptoms of breast cancer.

  • Identify risk factors for breast cancer and methods for lowering risk.

  • Schedule a breast exam with a medical professional.

How should learning goals be written?

Like performance goals (which are generally provided by project stakeholders), learning goals should be written in a way that enables leaders to assess the success of a learning experience, as well as to help learning designers craft learning objectives to support those goals. Consider writing learning goals following the SMART criteria:

  • Specific: What specific changes are needed as a result of this learning experience?

  • Measurable: How will you know if you are successful? What data can be collected to support this claim, and how?

  • Achievable: Can the goal be achieved given available time, budget, and resources?

  • Relevant: How does this goal relate to broader organizational goals and initiatives?

  • Time-bound: By what time does the goal need to be met, and why?

Examples of SMART learning goals include the following:

  • Conduct educational outreach throughout Peak County to reduce aggressive wild animal encounters by 20% by June of next year.

  • Develop mid-level managerial skills to improve employee engagement scores by 20% over the next three years.

How should learning objectives be written?

Learning designers typically turn to Bloom’s taxonomy when writing learning objectives. Originally created in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues, this popular framework was updated by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001, so please make sure you are referencing the updated version when approaching this task.

The revised Bloom’s taxonomy presents six levels of cognition, starting with the most basic (Remember) at the bottom. As learners progress up the pyramid, they increase their proficiency level for a given topic, skill or ability. As a learning designer, it is your responsibility to identify the desired level of proficiency for the learning audience.

For instance, an organization may ask you to develop a 20-minute eLearning module for managers about emotional intelligence–but what should those managers be able to do upon completion of that course? What proficiency level is desired? If the purpose of the course is to achieve a general awareness about the topic, then objectives that support the “Remember” and “Understand” domains may suffice. However, if managers need to apply emotional intelligence in any way, the objectives need to support higher levels on the taxonomy.

Objectives start with a measurable verb that relates to a level on the taxonomy. For instance, managers who need to put emotional intelligence into practice may need to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Differentiate between intellectual and emotional intelligence.

  • Recognize the impact of emotional intelligence on workplace collaboration and performance.

  • Identify methods for enhancing emotional intelligence in the workplace.

  • Create an action plan to develop the emotional intelligence of your team members.

Review the graphic below of Bloom’s Taxonomy to learn more about the different levels of learning and some action verbs you can use in your objectives.

How do I sequence content and instruction?

In 1965, psychologist Robert Gagne created a model that can guide you as you create learning experiences. His theory, Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, is based on how humans process information, and it is structured to maximize learning outcomes. Incorporating these events into your learning designs is proven to help set up learners for success. While you don’t have to incorporate all events into every learning experience, it is a useful guideline to follow.

View the infographic below to learn more about Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction and some ideas how to incorporate them.

There is no single correct way to sequence all types of content; instead, use a method to ensure the type of content you’re working with is easy for the learning audience to follow. Following are a few methods to consider:

  • Simple to complex: Start with baseline concepts and skills and then move to more advanced and abstract concepts and more complex tasks.

  • Sequential or task-based: Offer step-by-step instruction in the order the learning will be used or in the sequence the tasks will be performed.

  • Comparative: Begin with familiar topics to form a learning connection and boost confidence, and then move into unfamiliar territory.

  • Relationship between objectives: Organize topics through dependent or supportive relationships.

  • Categorical: Arrange information or tasks by topic or category.

  • Whole to parts/parts to whole: Present the big picture and then break down each part (or vice versa).

Summary and next steps

Learning designers use detailed designs to document design choices and submit them to stakeholders and subject matter experts for review and approval. While the format of detailed designs vary, they typically include key information–like learning goals, objectives, and sequenced content–that serve as a blueprint for development. This lesson provides baseline information for creating detailed designs.

Now that you are familiar with creating a detailed design, continue to the next lesson in LXD Factory’s Learn the basics series: Write for learning audiences.


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