Solving Tough eLearning Problems

As instructional designers, we’re often asked to solve a variety of problems. From finding ways to help the transfer of knowledge to developing training or learning resources, sometimes the solution is much more complicated than what our subject matter expert or client realizes. As we juggle many projects and find ways to deliver solutions on a deadline, it can become frustrating for everyone involved when they just want us to “put it in the learning management system.”

When you need to provide solutions for a tough problem, keep these tips in mind.

Get everyone in the room

When you’re assigned a project, it’s tempting to start right away. But just diving in without gathering the stakeholders together is a bad idea.

While stakeholders have a solution in mind, often they haven’t considered the logistics of how to make it happen. A meeting helps you understand their expectations, deadlines, and any technical barriers to the solution. And don’t make this just a one-and-done meeting. It’s critical to keep communication flowing through the entire problem-solving process.

Make sure you understand the problem and scope

Keep in mind—training isn’t always the answer (see Cathy Moore’s action mapping resources). You cannot solve a problem without understanding the needs of your stakeholders (and learners). While you’re in the meeting with your stakeholders, ask the questions to understand the problem you’re solving as well as the expected scope of the project. If you’re lucky, a quick activity or a job aid might suffice. Or maybe it’s a larger problem that requires a cultural shift within your organization. Your next steps will look vastly different.

Put the learner first

While the stakeholders request for a solution drives your project, you should be guided by your learner’s needs. Place yourself in your learner’s shoes. Don’t overly complicate the final product to impress the stakeholder; often, a simple solution is the best solution. When in doubt, remember this cardinal rule: Stakeholders know what they want, but they don’t always know what the learner needs. (Yes, you can tweet that).

Use a systematic, iterative approach

As you pick a solution to tackle, lean into systematic strategies such as ADDIE, SAM, Agile, design-thinking, etc. Analyze the problem and identify any gaps. Don’t rush into the first solution you think of—it probably won’t be the correct one. Take time to test the different options. And perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to abandon dead end ideas if they’re not working quite right.

Stay in contact and communicate your progress

It’s important to stay in active communication with your stakeholders and learners. Periodically pause and ask for feedback. Let them know what type of feedback you need and define any terms that might cause confusion. Don’t assume you’re on the right track—you’ll waste time and effort having to go back and re-do things later.

Pull on the experiences of your coworkers and professional networks

If you work in an eLearning ecosystem, you’ll find a variety of skills and experiences on your team to help you.

If you’re a team of one or freelancing, you might not have a coworker’s experience to draw on. Find an outside source of experience on Twitter or Reddit (r/elearning or r/instructionaldesign). Or, join a Slack group (I particularly like the community found in TLDC’s Slack channel).

Deliver a quality solution

Remember, the point isn’t to slap something together just to finish—it’s to deliver a quality solution. While creativity is important, don’t forget to think about sustainability and other ways to provide value.

Solving a tough eLearning problem doesn’t need to be arduous. What’s some ways you make sure to provide the right solution?

Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at

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