How Instructional Design Theory Can Inform Your Content Marketing

By: Chris Thompson on October 2, 2014 Categories: Content Strategy, Corporate Communications

When a content marketer thinks about how to plan content for the buyer cycle or customer journey, they might start to think about how to break up content into meaningful blocks or chunks and how to link those together.
It’s often helpful to look to other fields of endeavor, other than content marketing specifically, for inspiration on how to tackle the general problem of creating meaningful blocks of content for a progressive series of situations. Instructional design is one of those areas that can inform how to approach the planning and creation of your progressive marketing content.

Instructional Design is the planning of the structure of courses and the materials therein in a way that takes into account who the learners are, how they learn, what stage of knowledge comprehension they are currently at and how best to move them through different learning milestones to the ultimate knowledge and comprehension level goal of the overall course. This maps very well to the envisioning of buyer cycle goals and how to structure a series of content and events that guide your customers to making the decision to buy your product (the one or ones that are the best fit for them) and ultimately becoming happy, successful and loyal customers that refer you to others.

It is thus useful to examine some of the Instructional Design theories and see how they can inform the planning and creation of marketing content.

Gagne’s Types of Learning Outcomes: Robert Gagne was a pioneer in the field of instructional science and design. Among his many contributions to the fields very foundations, was the idea of Learning Outcomes. He described the types of learning outcomes in the following way:

Verbal Information: state, recite, tell, declare

Intellectual Skills

Discrimination: discriminate, distinguish, differentiate
Concrete Concept: identify, name, specify, label
Defined Concept: classify, categorize, type, sort (by definition)
Rule: demonstrate, show, solve (using one rule)
Higher Order Rule: generate, develop, solve (using two or more rules)

Cognitive Strategy: adopt, create, originate

Attitude: choose, prefer, elect, favor
Motor Skill: execute, perform, carry out

Content Marketing Takeaway: See if you can describe the “learning” outcomes of your marketing content in terms of what verbs you would like your audience / customer / prospective customer to be able to perform after having consumed it.

Backward-design: This refers to the concept of starting with the learning outcomes in mind and then working back to the curriculum necessary for bringing about those learning outcomes. It is broken down into three stages:

1. Understanding what those Learning Outcomes are.

2. Focusing on how to create assessments that will gauge whether or not those outcomes are being / have been achieved.

3. Listing the learning activities or building blocks of learning that will bring about those outcomes in a way that can be measured.

Content Marketing Takeaway: Start with the outcomes in mind that you want your audience to achieve at each stage of the buyer cycle or journey. Build in ways that you will measure whether those outcomes are being achieved. And align your content in such a way as to achieve those outcomes at the different stages of the buyer cycle for your specific audience groups and set-up a framework for deploying your content and measuring its effectiveness.

Cognitive Load Theory: From cognitive psychology, the theory of cognitive load refers to how much working memory capacity we have in our brains for completing certain activities. It is like a measure of of the RAM for our brains. It relates to learning in that depending on the learning level of the student, different styles of teaching and different content may either overload or underload the learner, thus inhibiting learning.

Content Marketing Takeaway: You should keep in mind the learning level of your target audience with respect to your content and subject matter, at different stages of the buyer cycle and set-up your content in such a way as to enable the optimal intake and processing of that information.

Hopefully this post has illustrated the importance of drawing inspiration from other fields that use similar strategic structures and frameworks for planning content that achieves objectives. To find out more information on how to set-up a framework for content marketing, check out our many posts dedicated to content marketing strategy.