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Designing engaging and effective learning experiences 

A group of people learning from an instructor.

For nonprofit organizations, which often have to meet urgent needs with limited resources, the importance of well-designed learning materials cannot be overstated. Whether you’re trying to equip your team with the latest fundraising techniques or preparing volunteers to tackle new challenges, the quality of your training materials will impact your organization’s effectiveness.  

In this article, I’ll explore how nonprofits can utilize Instructional Design principles to develop training that engages, empowers, and educates both colleagues and external stakeholders. 

What is Instructional Design?

As defined by the Association for Talent Development, Instructional Design is “the practice of creating learning experiences to support long-term learning.” This process involves a thorough analysis of learners’ needs, development of clear learning objectives, and the design of instructional materials tailored to meet those objectives.  

In the nonprofit context, Instructional Design helps you ensure that the educational materials you create are not just informative but also closely aligned with your organizational goals and the specific challenges you and your stakeholders face.  

Leverage existing resources

Developing learning materials from scratch can take a lot of time and money, so it’s worth exploring whether there are existing materials that can be reused or adapted. For example, Candid Learning provides an array of free training resources, including webinars, a library of eBooks and audiobooks, and on-demand courses on topics ranging from fundraising to grantwriting. 

You can also conduct a training inventory to identify existing resources that can be repurposed. Start by examining previous training materials, reports, and presentations that align with your current learning objectives. Engage colleagues who have developed training content to help uncover any hidden gems.  

If you’re still coming up empty handed, then you’ll need to create tailored content.  

Design engaging and relevant learning experiences 

Identify learning needs. Start by identifying your audience and their needs. Completing a learner analysis to understand who the learners are, what challenges they face in their roles, what skills they need to improve, and how they prefer to learn is a key step in creating material that your stakeholders—internal or external—can use effectively.  

For example, if your organization is focused on environmental conservation, knowing whether your volunteers have a scientific background or are community advocates can help you tailor the learning content, including more technical data for scientists and more community engagement strategies for advocates. Based on your audience, you can set SMART objectives; then you’re ready to start designing your learning materials.  

Use digital storytelling techniques. The power of storytelling lies in its ability to resonate with audiences on an emotional level, which can make learning materials more impactful. Digital storytelling, which combines narrative techniques with digital media such as video or images, can be particularly productive. For example, if you’re trying to onboard volunteers, you could create a YouTube series featuring short videos that follow a volunteer’s journey from application to active service. Our self-paced course on digital storytelling can help you learn how to craft compelling narratives that captivate and motivate stakeholders.  

This approach not only keeps learners engaged but also helps them visualize real-life applications of their new skills. Consider incorporating stories of past successes or challenges to illustrate key points and make abstract concepts concrete. 

Embrace microlearning. For organizations with limited resources, microlearning—delivering short, focused pieces of content—provides flexibility and efficiency and allows people to learn on their own schedules. Candid uses TikTok and YouTube, delivering short videos on key concepts and skills. Incorporating microlearning as a supplement to longer training content can also reinforce critical points, which reduces the impact of the “forgetting curve” and promotes better retention.  

Evaluate and iterate on learning experiences. Effective learning experiences are dynamic and should evolve based on ongoing assessment and feedback. Ask staff and external stakeholders to test drive your content. Use their feedback to iterate the original draft ahead of release. Once the content is live, collect feedback from participants through surveys, interviews, or data such as participation rates and feedback scores to understand how the training materials are being received. What’s resonating? What needs adjustment?   

By applying these principles, you can create impactful learning experiences and foster a culture of continuous improvement and engagement. Whether developing internal capabilities or extending training to the wider community, you can create effective learning experiences that significantly amplify your impact.  

Photo credit: AJ_Watt via Getty Images


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