From Info-Dumps to Authentic Learning: Shifting the E-Learning Paradigm

A group of learners using a whiteboard together to plan their project

The case for authentic learning

In the world of instructional design, authentic learning experiences stand out as invaluable. These experiences immerse learners in active, real-world situations, moving beyond mere absorption of content to genuine application and deep engagement.

Finding myself in the e-learning maze

My personal journey in instructional design revealed a pervasive challenge: the temptation to let tools dictate the learning journey. While crafting courses within Moodle, I felt the tool’s confines nudging me and the clients towards content-heavy modules capped off with standard multiple-choice quizzes. It’s an all-too-common pitfall, but there are ways to break free and design with authenticity at the forefront, even within the e-learning sphere.

Crafting authentic learning experiences

In an ideal world:

  1. Scenario-Based Learning: Immerse learners in real-life situations relevant to their job roles, challenging them to apply their knowledge.
  2. Project-Based Assignments: Instead of tests, assign projects that mirror actual tasks they might encounter in their jobs, emphasizing application over rote learning.
  3. Collaborative Learning: Create opportunities for learners to collaborate on challenges, fostering teamwork and shared problem-solving.

Within e-learning constraints:

  1. Interactive Simulations: Even within Moodle, you can design interactive scenarios where learners make decisions and see real-world consequences.
  2. Short Video Vignettes: Use contextual videos to depict common challenges and ask learners how they’d respond.
  3. Discussion Forums: Facilitate online discussions around real-world problems, encouraging learners to brainstorm solutions and share experiences.
  4. Contextual Questioning & Authentic Feedback: Instead of generic quiz questions, frame them within real-world situations. For instance, instead of asking “Which of these is a safety hazard?”, present a scenario: “You’re supervising a site, and you notice a worker without safety gear. What do you do?”. Paired with this, provide feedback that goes beyond “Correct” or “Incorrect.” Offer insights into why an answer choice aligns with best practices or where it falls short, helping learners understand the context and rationale behind the responses.

Provide feedback that goes beyond “Correct” or “Incorrect.”

Rising above limitations

While tools and platforms come with their constraints, they need not define our approach. Our focus should always be the learner. In both expansive and restricted environments, it’s possible to craft authentic, impactful learning experiences.


In conclusion, the art of instructional design is about more than content delivery. It’s about creating resonant, engaging, and transformative experiences. As we navigate the landscape, our compass should always point towards authentic, learner-centric solutions.