We Compiled Data From Over Decade of Course Design: Here's What We Learned

Instructional designers weigh in on intelligent course flow

When the eLearning industry was still young, many learning & development professionals struggled to find ways to adapt their knowledge to a virtual format that was engaging and effective. Several decades in, we have developed a range of best practices to keep things moving, measurable and fun. There’s no need to reinvent instructional design protocol every time you start a new training program. 

Still, building effective workplace training courses requires creative thinking rooted in solid instructional design theory. Every designer and team brings their own innovation and flair to their content. But starting entirely from scratch is time-consuming, costly, and it can be challenging for less experienced course authors to know where to begin building out the desired course flow in an eLearning authoring tool. 

This push and pull between creative freedom and instructional design theory was top of mind as the Product team at eLearning Brothers set out to reimagine the popular eLearning authoring tool, Lectora. To learn how to meet that challenge, we asked instructional designers to participate in focus groups. We analyzed years of user customer support data to determine how to make course development faster, repeatable, consistent, and scalable. Patterns quickly emerged––and what we learned about the logic of course building can help instructional designers everywhere, no matter their skill level. 

Analyzing real-world use cases and talking with workplace and custom eLearning designers gave us hard evidence proving what we intuitively suspected: most workplace eLearning courses typically start with one of three standard logical flows. Don’t worry; we won’t leave you hanging. Odds are that one of these 3 course flows, with a few variations, will work for your next eLearning course. 

  • Linear Course Flow

When you consider that many eLearning courses still start in life as classroom training, it’s no wonder a straightforward Linear course flow is still the most common course structure used today. Linear courses lead the learner along a single path through the information they need. This is an easy-to-understand way of organizing content along a one-way track to ensure that learners experience all course content in the same order. The logical flow of a linear course will be pretty straightforward, with navigational buttons leading from one page or topic to the next. 

A linear course flow makes sense for legal, safety, or other compliance courses where the organization must prove all learners received required training. A short linear course is also the best choice for microlearning when the goal is to provide a quick, single objective learning module. 

While the navigation is simplified, the material itself doesn’t have to be. The paired down navigation model of a linear course lends itself well to multimedia and interactive elements such as videos, scenarios, questions, and even short games. Straightforward navigational and assessment limits complexity and potential support issues, and frees the course designer to focus on meeting learning objectives through solid learning strategy. 


  • Pre-Test Course Flow

Many times, training is designed to help workers upskill or adjust to something new. In other scenarios, compliance training is a periodic requirement. Annual refresher courses are just one example where using a pre-test course flow makes perfect sense. 

Using an adaptive learning model, workers have the opportunity to demonstrate prior knowledge in an assessment and then skip associated portions of the material. A pre-test course is also a way to collect valuable data about what learners needed to learn, and demonstrate how taking the course led to a better post-assessment—that is, a measurable gain in knowledge. 

Instead of skipping modules altogether, a Pre-Test course flow can direct learners to targeted or leveled material. Personalized learning challenges learners and offers greater return on the time they invest in the program. 


  • Branching Course Flow

Branching is one of the most highly valued course logic flows used in eLearning, and for good reason. Branching provides learners with choices, which has been proven to be more engaging and effective than passive learning. Workers can choose what order to review information, return to sections they liked or need more practice in, or wander where their interests take them. A well-designed branched course encourages analysis, evaluation and application. Branching exercises allow learners to retain information better and apply what they learned to real-life situations. 

While there are many advantages to branching courses, they are undoubtedly more complex to build. This doesn’t mean you need to shy away from designing a branching course––starting with a course flow template can save a lot of time and make this option more accessible to beginning designers. 

Because of the way branching courses flow, they are ideal for scenarios, game-based learning and other innovative approaches. The possibilities are nearly endless.


The best eLearning courses are tailor-made for the needs of the learners and organizations they serve. Instructional designers are challenged to bring fresh ideas and engaging elements into the content they create.

When designing course logic and flow, today’s instructional designers are fortunate to have data to inform what works and what doesn’t. Having a tried-and-true library of course frameworks to choose from doesn’t restrict creativity––it provides space for it to flourish within a model that is proven to work. 

Whether you start from a linear, adaptive or branching course design, your learners will benefit as you build on the solid foundation refined by a full generation of eLearning rockstars.