Instructional design guide for new virtual designers

lightbulb on a chalkboard with ideas forming around it for virtual designers

Stepping into the world of virtual instructional design can be a pretty steep learning curve. There are clients to meet, theories to learn, materials to create and objectives to deliver. When this is a whole new world for you, it can be difficult to know where to start!

At The virtual training team, we work with instructional designers at all different stages in their careers — from those taking their first steps into learning & development to those who have been living and breathing virtual training for years.

We asked around and have put together an instructional design guide for new virtual designers. If you’re looking for some handy tips on how to be an instructional designer, or how to impress your clients (and your boss!) no matter your previous experience, we’ve got you covered!

1. Get to know your client

When you’re getting started on a new project, it can be tempting to dive right into design. After all, you’re an instructional designer, right? Yes, but making time to get to know your client and identify their needs and objectives can make your job a whole lot easier.

If it’s possible for you to sit in on client meetings, do! If not, speak to the people who are responsible for this. It’s important to get a sense of what your client wants to achieve and the style of delivery they prefer before you can get started on your training course design.

2. Know your learning outcomes

Once you’ve got a grip on who your client is and what they’re looking to achieve, it’s time to get down to specific learning outcomes. Ask yourself “What do the learners need to get out of this?”.

Every single piece of information you include in your materials should relate to these learning outcomes. Keep them in mind as you research, design and finalise every step of the project.

Remember, as an instructional designer, a workshop is not about you or the information you want to deliver. It’s all about the learner and the outcomes they need to achieve.

Find out more about VTT’s 6 Principles for virtual design.

3. Plan ahead — everything takes longer

If you’re taking the step from designing face-to-face training to virtual training, you may think you already have a handle on project timelines. Think again.

Designing for virtual delivery typically takes longer than designing for in-person training. You need to consider how activities will work in a virtual environment, how you will keep learners’ attention and build in contingencies for the multitude of issues that can arise in virtual learning.

When planning a new project, make sure you build in more time than you think you’ll need. You’ll thank yourself for it later!

4. Get to know the basics

When stepping into the world of instructional design, there’s a lot of learning on the job. As you move through projects, you’ll discover planning and delivery methods that will naturally become a part of your design process.

However, familiarising yourself with the fundamentals of instructional design will really help you to hit the ground running! There are plenty of instructional design courses and training materials available online to introduce you to key design approaches.

One of our personal favourites? An adaptation of the ADDIE model called LLAMA- read more about it here.

5. Bring your design flair

You’ve met with your client, determined objectives, planned out your schedule, done your research and considered your approach. Now, it’s time to get creative!

Keep it simple

Instructional design is all about learning transfer- not decoration. Keep your slides simple, use white space to avoid overcrowding and make sure learners’ focus is kept firmly on the content.

Consistency is key

Too many variations in font, colour, image style and even layout can increase cognitive load and distract learners from the content. Pick a theme and ensure you remain consistent throughout.


Though the days of PowerPoint slides that whizzed, banged and bounced their way onto our screens are (largely and thankfully!) behind us, that doesn’t mean you can’t use animation to enhance learning transfer. Consider revealing information point by point to reduce cognitive load or using a slide transition that makes the relation between two objects clear. Animation can be a powerful tool in keeping learners engaged and focused on the content in front of them.

Make it relevant

In your quest for creativity, make sure you keep it relevant! Consider the colours you’re using, take time to find appropriate images and infographics that enhance your content and don’t be afraid to simplify rather than decorate. It’s important to consider the aesthetic appeal of your slides, but the focus should always be on appropriate, relevant materials that help learners to achieve their outcomes.

For more tips, check out our blog post on 5 best practices for virtual workshop design.

6. Draw on your existing skills

Moving into a new career can be daunting, but tapping into your existing skills can ease the transition. Even if you’re totally new to instructional design, you may find you already know more than you think.

If you’ve ever helped your siblings out with their homework or explained a complex topic to a colleague, you probably have some understanding of what it takes to deliver learning transfer. Those skills in understanding your audience, structuring an explanation and careful consideration of language are all relevant!

Think about your experiences, professional or personal, that led you to virtual learning design. You’ll probably find more than a few transferable skills!

So there you have it — an instructional design guide to get you started on your way to virtual greatness!

If you’re interested in learning more about virtual learning design, check out our Train the trainer programme which includes a 3 hour design masterclass!

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