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Designing effective digital first learning programs

Blog posts | 07.04.2020


Shaping the future of learning

The demand for digital learning continues to grow but now it is needed more than ever. The impact of coronavirus on training has been extensive and the biggest impact of all has been on face-to-face training. Most organizations have simply cleared their face-to-face training plans for the next 3 months and are now busy converting their critical courses and programs into a digital format. 

This may feel like a major task but fear not, help is on hand. So, if you've started thinking of designing a digital program, we wanted to provide you with some helpful tips on how to get started.

Rather watch than read? View our video here:

1) Define the audience – create a learner profile

One of the most important steps of your design is to understand your audience. Knowing who the employee is will determine what type of experience will work best.

  • What are their roles, goals, and aspirations?
  • What experience do they have?
  • What environment do they usually work in? What hours do they work? 
  • What access to technology does this audience have and how do would they usually consume learning content?
  • What are the pain points (or barriers) they have?
  • Are there any constraints on their time e.g. Do they work in shifts and so on?
  • How do they prefer to learn?

Top tip: Use a persona template to help you capture this information.


2) Define the design parameters

Before you start to design any program, you need to understand some key elements which will help you define an approach that not only meets the learner’s objectives, but also meets the overall business objectives. You must think carefully about the way in which you deliver the learning, and whether it is right for your audience.

Here are some design parameters you should be thinking about:

  • What business objectives does this learning support, and why?
  • What is the level of competency you are expecting from a learner that has completed this program?
  • How much time each week does the learner have to complete the learning?
  • Can the learner be supported through the learner journey and by who?
  • What are the working patterns of this audience and how might this affect the delivery of the program?
  • What supporting learning technology is available?
  • What is the role of the assessment in this program?
  • What learning initiatives have worked well in the past, and what approaches have not historically been successful with this audience?


3) Define the learning journey

Learner journey or experience mapping is about moving the focus of training, from an instructional design to an experiential perspective – for the learner. It maps learner experiences through various stages of progression, from building awareness of learning needs, to consuming learning and applying it on the job.

The first element to consider is whether there are any specific ‘Paths’ that need to be catered for:

  • Does the journey need to be split into learning paths e.g. levels of experience?
  • Does the journey need to recognize their career progression e.g. First Level Manager to Senior Manager?
  • How does the content change to meet these different pathways?

Tip: Think basic, intermediate to advanced to help guide you.

Here are some typical steps for you to consider for the main journey or program outline: 


  • How will you onboard the learner? 
  • What do they need to know to get started?
  • What experience do they already have?
  • How can you personalize the learner journey?
  • Who can support them through the journey?
  • Where do they go to get started?

Tip: Think about what a learner needs, help them understand what is expected, what they will get out of the program and how much commitment is needed and why.

Core learning

  • What is the best way to structure the learning e.g. sequentially, task or process based?
  • What experiences or challenges will help to deepen knowledge or change behavior?
  • What is the realistic timeline around how the employee will progress through the journey?
  • What type of learning opportunities and resources will be presented to the learner?
  • What opportunities will be given for practice e.g. assignments, tools, simulations, scenarios?
  • How will you support the learner e.g. coaching, virtual facilitation, prompts or nudges?
  • What modes of communication or interaction will you use? For instance, touch points could be via emails, social media interactions, in-class sessions, virtual or via Chat Rooms.

Tip: Think about experiential design, the experience itself should be built around a learning and business goal: This captures the point of the experience and defines how learners’ behavior should change as a result of the learning.

Graduation or certification

Learners need to have specific goals and to feel recognized for their achievement. Having a specific celebration like a graduation or reaching a certification point helps to build motivation. Programs that offer this tend to enjoy increased engagement, improved satisfaction for both individuals and for the organization.


This phase of the program focuses on continuing the learning process once the core learning has been completed. They key question here is how to enable and embed continued learning and development.

  • Is there an existing Community of Practice that can support continued learning?
  • Can coaching be put in place and who can provide ongoing support?
  • Can the program or resources within be used for just-time-learning for reference in the future?
  • Are their tools and guides that can be provided to embed the learning as part of the role?
  • Would follow up seminars encourage sustained learning and impact?

Example digital first programs

There’s no silver bullet, or pre-fabricated set of templates that ‘just work’. Each situation requires a custom design approach. However, to illustrate by example, view the programs we have worked on within the film at the top of this article. These will give you a sense of how we and our clients have approached challenges with creating programs from a digital first approach.


In summary

Here’s an analogy that’s worth bearing in mind: Implementing a design without a well-considered plan is like building a house without the design mapped out by an architect. It's inherently flawed.

Before you can start to design the content for your program, it’s important to gather, gauge and understand the expectations of the stakeholders and identify what learners need and what might work for them. 

Using that insight, you can then identify potential pain points and solutions that overcome them.


Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.