Absorb, Do, Connect – A simple scaffold for designing e-learning

Absorb (sponge), Do (trainer shoe), Connect (plug connector)

Absorb, Do, Connect – A simple scaffold for designing e-learning

Developing e-learning courses that aren’t simply click-next page-turners isn’t straightforward (that’s why us learning designers are still able to make a meagre living). It takes a lot of experience both of learning design and learning technologies to create engaging online learning experiences. However, there are some simple approaches you can follow to help ensure that your e-learning is more than just a boring page-turner.

In this post I describe a really simple approach that I first came across in ‘E-Learning by Design’ by William Horton and which I use as a core part of my ‘Instructional Design for e-Learning’ course. It’s called the ‘Absorb, Do, Connect (ADC)’ approach.

The idea is that for each topic or learning outcome in your e-learning course you create three elements:

An absorb element where you introduce the topic and provide a knowledge primer. In this phase the learner is absorbing new knowledge (or possibly refreshing existing knowledge). The absorb elements could be following a presentation, reading text, watching video, or exploring a diagram for example.

A do element where the learner then applies that knowledge – usually in an activity. The activity may also require the learner to apply pre-existing knowledge or even to fill in the gaps in what they were given in the absorb activity. This is the practice phase and usually involves answering formative questions or participating in a scenario or maybe a simulation.

Finally the connect element links what they have done with their own real world situation. This could be an example from their own organisation or a practical exercise or assignment that links back into the workplace. A  job aid could also be used as a connect activity. This element is particularly important for adult learners since they want to know the purpose of learning something new.

When to use Absorb, Do and Connect Activities

Not all topics will require all elements. Simple topics may just need an ‘absorb’ element, others an ‘absorb’ and a ‘do’, and some  might skip the ‘absorb’ and drop learners straight into a ‘do’ or even a ‘connect’. It’s also possible to swap the order – a ‘do’ followed by an ‘absorb’ (this follows the age old principle of dropping learners in at the deep end and then following up with feedback).

That’s it. Simple but actually quite effective. And it works whether you are developing conventional SCORM e-learning packages or more flexible learning pathways delivered via an LMS/LXP or a VLE like Moodle or Docebo.

Here are some example screens from e-learning courses:

Absorb example


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