How to create evidence-based elearning

March 18, 2021

Do you dread being asked ‘How do you know this piece of elearning will be effective?’ In fact, do you quietly ask yourself the same thing, then push the worry to the back of your mind? You’re not the only one.

The truth is, a lot of digital learning is designed the way it is just, well, because it always has been. While the fields of psychology and behavioural science have moved on, many of the theories cited in ‘learning’ are still rooted in historical, observational research where the subjects were often children, rather than adults juggling a day job. Meanwhile, widely debunked theories such as learning styles still run wild in the elearning community.

While the gut feel that comes from years of experience shouldn't be overlooked, it’s important to balance that with evidence-based practice, especially if we want to learn ourselves, and move our industry forward..

If you’re here for that, here’s the secret to designing evidence based elearning.

Step 1: Gather data from your learners

As an HR or L&D team rooted within an organisation, you have direct access to the people who will become your users. It’s every researcher’s dream! Yet how often do you take advantage of this and gather data from them to inform your design? Many people don’t.

While you don’t want to continually pester your peers with surveys and focus groups, you absolutely can and should do an anonymous company-wide survey every couple of years or if there’s a significant change to the business. A thorough, well designed survey can give you data on your learners’:

  • Working environment
  • Desires and motivations
  • Thoughts on the development they need
  • Feedback on elearning they’ve had so far
  • and more.

The insights you gain can be applied to all elearning courses you design, making it much easier to convince your stakeholders that your designs will hit the mark. The modules really do need to be a maximum of 15 minutes long; your data shows that learners have to jump to another task after that long.

Step 2: Look to behavioural science

With knowledge of your specific audience under your belt, you can look to behavioural science for further insights. This needn’t be overwhelming. Rather than becoming an academic researcher yourself, you can read the results of studies that the pros have done and just apply the results to your work. Result!

Top tip: Don’t limit yourself to reading studies on elearning. L&D is now in the business of selling new ideas and changing behaviours; we can look to psychology, social science and neuroscience for modern, relevant studies and results.

Here are three places to start exploring behavioural science:

  • Get an introduction to the many behavioural biases that impact human behaviours and the studies that support them. We love these behavioural bias cards from The Behaviours Agency and we talk about how they can be applied to elearning on our LinkedIn feed.
  • Read some relevant non-fiction. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink are often in the non fiction bestsellers list because their books are so enjoyable as well as jam packed with research and insights about human behaviour that are just waiting to be applied to elearning.
  • Consider the role of emotion in learning design in this great article by Charlotte Hills. If you'd like to get a little deeper into the research, you may also like this review article exploring the influence emotion has on learning and memory.

Getting started with evidence based elearning

Designing evidence based elearning is about willingness to learn, test and follow the evidence yourself. And it’s doable. Why not start with your next project? Believe us, your learners and your boss will thank you for it.

If you’re new to this work and would like to be guided through the process, you’re in the right place. We love science not sorcery at Lima Delta and bring behavioural science insights into all of our client projects.

Reach out through this form letting us know that you’ve read this blog. We offer free consultations and quotes for your upcoming project; and we like a chat, too!


Let's talk

Contact us for a free consultation and quote for your next project