“Let’s start over with a clean slate, shall we?”, says a potential client who wants to start music lessons in an online course.

This is the fourth time we are working on the course structure, she hasn’t agreed on the earlier three though it is her who is doing most of the planning with occasional inputs from me.

I know from experience that it is best to leave the course planning to the clients, because it is their baby after all, and they must feel comfortable with the flow of the lessons when the students learn them online.

My role, in most cases, is to understand the lesson types in terms of whether they will be videos, presentations, slides, PDFs, sways, etc. and whether the client has the inputs ready for creating the lessons.

Of late, there is an increasing trend to set up online course store in own education websites with WordPress, and I do help clients on these works too to make everything launch-ready.

In the present case, my client is concerned that she isn’t able to follow the instructional design steps that her educationist friend suggested to her.

For me, the suggested instructional design model is good, my client wants to go by this but that will mean at least 4 additional lessons which in turn will mean more cost to create the course.

Unfortunately, my client’s educationist friend isn’t available even for briefest consultation, and so we are left with repeating our efforts on the lookout for a breakthrough.


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Whither instructional design?

That brings me to the larger question, how important is instructional design for solo teachers?

As someone earning bread from offering consultation for development of education websites, I often head to group discussions on LinkedIn to get a feel of the latest happenings in my chosen field.

There, often, I find myself immersed in hairsplitting arguments on the how’s and why’s of instructional design. The discussions are lively and insightful, people at different levels of expertise lend voices to the problems faced by others, and overall, they give the direction of new developments in the field.

Study - How Important is Instructional Design for Solo Teachers? #eLearning Click To Tweet

This of course proves that learning and teaching online is quite popular, and getting bigger.

However, coming back to the ground where I stand and ply my trade, I can’t help thinking, do all online teachers use instructional design to create their courses?

My feeling is that they don’t, this I say after looking at hundreds of courses on Udemy and elsewhere.

Many a time I don’t, and I’m hardly a willful contrarian.

There is indeed a good amount of opinion to suggest that instructional design is an important instrument to format an eLearning course, especially in cases like ––

  • formal education as in schools and colleges, where result oriented course structure is necessary in accordance with the syllabi, and
  • professional education as in companies, military services, etc. where, again, result oriented course structure is required based on past data collated over time.

That said, shift your gaze now, you’ll see that for most of the other online courses, where one can learn say good parenting or JavaScript coding or running a marathon, it’s the ‘gradual skill enhancement’ path that rules the roost.


Gradual skill enhancement

As against instructional design, gradual skill enhancement is informal, and rooted in practicality.

A solo teacher does the course planning herself, and depending upon feedback, she is ready to make changes or corrections in the course with immediate effect.

Take a simple example.

A cooking course will start with explaining the ingredients needed to prepare a course, followed by how to make the ingredients ready, how to do the actual cooking, and finally how to serve the plate to the guests.

Clearly, there are 4 steps here (see image below). And it’ll be an utter disaster if the course were to jump straight to step 3 or 4.

Course planning for solo online teachers

The teacher knows this because she follows the same steps herself, unlike an instructional designer who may not necessarily be a teacher or a coach to understand the pain points of the learners.

As Against #InstructionalDesign, Gradual Skill Enhancement is Informal & Practical #eLearning Click To Tweet


The need and rise of informal education

Most of what we read, learn, and practice every day is informal education.

It has never been as easy as now to learn taking good photographs at popular tourist spots, or follow the comprehensive guide to treat lower back pain, or do myriad other things.

In fact, going by Ruth Louise Thomson’s experience, it is perfectly in order that you become a container gardener, a dog walker, and a cognitive psychologist through informal education.

This, you’ll agree, is a giant leap for informal education.

Not long back, those smalltime coaching was limited within a few square miles in suburban cities. The trainers couldn’t afford the high costs of running training in big cities.

But now these smalltime teachers are imparting their priceless wisdom to the discerning learners all over the world.

At times of their choice. At a price of their choice.

Do these informal educators follow instructional design?

Hell, no!

They haven’t perhaps heard the term, but that didn’t stop them from planning courses that deliver results to them and to their students.


Most skills are learned informally

Miles Kimball, a University of Michigan professor, pits skills against degrees in the days to come. He foresees a shift from credentials to certification.

He says –

In most of the current system, the emphasis is diplomas and degrees—credentials saying a student has been sitting in class so many hours, while paying enough attention and cramming enough not to do too much worse than the other students on the exams. More and more, employers are going to want to see some proof that a potential employee has actually gained particular skills. So, certificates that can credibly attest to someone’s ability to write computer code, write a decent essay, use a spreadsheet, or give a persuasive speech are going to be worth more and more.

Miles’ observation finds echo in the survey by GoodPractice which finds that 32% of employees say that 80-100% of what they learn comes from informal learning as against 6% employees who say that 80-100% of what they learn comes from formal learning.

See the infographic below, re-produced in part from the original.

Informal learning is more important

The most telling statistic is perhaps that only 6% employees spend zero time on informal learning. This means a staggering 94% are engaged in some form of informal learning each day.

For a solo unaided teacher, it’s a crucial information to earnestly dive deep into. This is one big heap of opportunity on the table to explore and profit from.

– o – o –

Let me head back to what we were discussing.


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For solo online teachers, it’s mostly 3-tier course planning.

It’s often the case, as I just mentioned above, that many solo online teachers do not need instructional design.

It’s because they don’t use it.

Mark the operative word ‘use’.

Instead, what they need and use is the time-tested plain and simple 3-tier course planning.

This is how it should look schematically for a cooking course. The meat of the course comes in tier two of the course, but both tier one tier three are essential for good reasons.

Course structuring without instructional design

This course planning is simple, objective, and laser-focused.

For a solo teacher, nothing can be more appropriate than this. There will be no more spending time than what is essential to format a course structure, especially if it is a short course.


Instructional design is important for formal learning when result-oriented course structure is necessary as in educational institutes, corporate training, military services, etc. A large chunk of online teaching is informal, which is catered to by solo teachers. And in most cases, they do not need or use instructional design.