How to Stick to Instructional Design Principles in Challenging Training Situations

tackling incompetence through training solutions

As any instructional designer or learning professional will tell you, instructional design principles are at the heart of all impactful learning experiences. But sticking resolutely to instructional design best practices can sometimes be at odds with organizational needs.

In times of great change, the onus is on L&D to pick up speed and meet the demand for business-critical training. But, while speed is all well and good, there is little point in deploying subpar training experiences. Especially if the organization is depending on them.

So how can you force speed and quality to meet in the middle when it comes to instructional design? 

What Makes Good Instructional Design

An entire book could be written here about what makes for good instructional design. Of course, much of it comes down to the correct application of best practices in learning theory. But there are other core principles that need to be present in order for training teams to execute on those best practices and create truly valuable learning experiences, including

  • Close and productive collaboration amongst the training team
  • Maintaining a learner-centric approach to learning design
  • Continually seeking and incorporating feedback
  • Moving with the times as best practices evolve
instructional design principles for remote learning
Source: NC State University

But what really makes for excellent instructional design is sticking to it, no matter what is thrown at you. Quantity should never lead to compromises on quality where learning is concerned.

Of course, that’s often far easier said than done.

Check out this on-demand webinar to hear a Master Virtual Trainer provide tips on delivering exceptional virtual learning experiences!

When Instructional Design Suffers

We all want to produce exceptional training for our learners. Unfortunately, circumstances beyond our control can sometimes lead to training output that falls short of our expectations and ambitions.

Here are some of the usual culprits that often leave instructional designers struggling to stick to their high standards:


If recent events have taught us anything, it’s that everything can change almost in an instant. L&D have the opportunity to lead from the front when it comes to quickly providing business critical training that has a direct impact on how well the organization responds to unexpected pivots in the market. 

However, doing things fast and doing things right don’t always go hand in hand. 

When speed is of the essence, perhaps you spend less time collaborating over course development or individual pieces of content. Or maybe you don’t get the opportunity to test new learning experiences in the way you would like. 

When L&D are under pressure to produce training quickly, compromises are inevitable when it comes to instructional design best practices.


Like it or not, your training team has its limits. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many people on your team. So, short of a massive overnight budget increase and tripling the size of the department, L&D must learn how to take on just the right amount of work at any given time. 

When the training team is overloaded with work and new training projects are being proposed all the time, it’s natural that quality starts to take a back seat to simply getting through it. 

Not only that, but speed and volume regularly go hand in hand. This increases the pressure on learning teams to produce training without providing the time necessary to take the most thorough approach to course development.


No team is an island, and L&D are working increasingly closely with stakeholders from across the organization to produce training. While subject matter experts (SMEs) have always been in the mix, they are being handed more and more responsibility when it comes to course development as training teams face higher volumes and tighter deadlines.

But all this cross-functional collaboration can lead to important instructional design principles slipping through the cracks. Often, L&D struggles to maintain full oversight and control over the learning development process. 

Finding working with SMEs a challenge? You just need the right tools. Try this handy (free) toolkit!


In LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, 37% of training teams said they expected their budgets to increase this year. This was down slightly from the previous year’s number of 43%, but the trend has been towards a steady increase in budget and buy-in for L&D over the past decade.

That being said, nothing will slow down a team like a lack of resources. That can be budgetary, of course, but also dealing with subpar tools, outdated software, and a lack of the skills needed to keep up with the latest trends in learning development.

So, how can you overcome these challenges and maintain superb instructional design principles in any learning development scenario?

agile quiz

How to Stick to Your Instructional Design Guns

No matter how skilled your team, the scenarios above will lead to times when “good enough” is the mantra for getting new training experiences out the door, at least occasionally. But that’s not to say that L&D should simply accept their fate and leave instructional design principles to the wind. 

Take a no-frills approach (for now)

Technology has blasted onto the scene and forever changed the way we create and deliver learning experiences. In fact, the global elearning industry is predicted to be worth $325 billion by 2025.

However, while things like AI and virtual reality certainly have an exciting role to play in elearning development, there are some frills that are merely “nice to haves” when your team is under enormous pressure to deliver quality training under tight deadlines.

In those instances, instructional designers need to get back to basics. Elaborate digital content should come secondary to a well-structured course. Focus on well written learning objectives, content that aligns with that objective, and assessments that go a little further than mere tick-the-box exercises. 

If you spend your time on these elements rather than agonizing over the graphic design of individual pieces of content, you’re far more likely to hit the mark, even if it’s not quite as pretty as you would like.

Besides, simple content and a strong learning objective are often far more impactful. Whereas complex learning experiences, without strong instructional design, merely serve to confuse your learners.

Get ahead of yourself

Time is one of our most precious resources, but it’s also the one that seems in increasingly short supply. Although there are realities to how long course development can take, L&D has plenty of opportunities to save time at numerous points in their processes.

1. Training Intake

Project kick-off can be a very unsteady moment in the course development lifecycle. If you don’t have the training project requirements, deadlines, and plan of action down to a tee, some nasty surprises may be awaiting you further down the line. And no one likes a missed deadline or going over budget.

During the training intake phase, there are a lot of tactics L&D can take to ensure this won’t happen, including:

  • Developing standardized training request forms to capture requirements early on
  • Centralizing training intake documentation using tools or software to ensure nothing slips between the cracks in email chains and various spreadsheet versions
  • Creating a prioritization system for training requests to ensure the training team’s time is spent on business critical learning solutions
training intake process flow chart

While this brief summary can get you started, you can learn about the role of training intake in more depth in this free ebook.

2. Content Repositories

If you already have a piece of content that can be quickly adapted for various scenarios – great! But where are you storing this piece of content? Is it easily accessible to the whole training team who might also find it useful? And are there other pieces of content floating around out there that could be used in a similar manner?

Content repositories are essential for instructional designers who are continuously updating their courses or have some content staples that are used repeatedly for various courses and learning experiences. 

Having all your content in one place is great, but it also needs to be easily searchable. Establishing a naming convention for files and adding tags to your online filing system means content can be found at the click of a button rather than trawling through entire courses to find that one video clip or infographic.

Plus, even if you find a piece of content that isn’t quite in the right format, at least you have a starting point rather than beginning from scratch.

3. Course Templates

Course templates are a great way to cut down course development time without cutting any instructional design corners. They’re especially useful when it becomes necessary to hand off a lot of the course development to SMEs.

Furthermore, they don’t need to be anything fancy. If you can hand your SME a document that outlines how to choose a learning objective, how to keep content short, and where it might be appropriate to add an assessment or an interactive content piece like a Youtube video, you’ll spend a lot less time consulting and more time quickly checking over what they have provided.

Don’t be afraid to change tack

different types of instructional design models
Source: XLPro

They say a change can be better than a rest. So, if your training team is burnt out from trying to maintain instructional design standards while producing training at increasing speed, it may be time to consider a complete overhaul of your processes and frameworks. 

Agile Learning, for example, is one way to combat the need for speed with high quality training. We could write a book on the benefits of Agile Learning and how to implement it (oh wait, we have!) but the core message is that Agile:

  • Allows training teams to produce and deploy training faster
  • Enables more efficient and productive collaboration
  • Makes for learner-centric (and, therefore, more successful) training experiences

Regardless of whether Agile Learning appeals to you or not, process improvement is at the core of empowering your team to respond quickly and efficiently to high demand.

Now, more than ever, training is needed at speed without compromising on quality. Check out this webinar to hear the experts take on how L&D can find opportunity in change and uncertainty.

You might also like

Article Details

Collaborate & Grow:
Discover the

How to Stick to Instructional Design Principles in Challenging Training Situations