Did you see Lady Gaga sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl on Sunday? We did, and we were pretty impressed.

But this also got us thinking about context. Isn’t it interesting that this performer, known for her crazy outfits (like a dress made out of raw meat), wild, sky-high hair, and bold statements dramatically toned down her look for the Super Bowl gig? For this performance, she stuck to a much more tame costume and let her singing abilities be the focus of attention instead.

What can we learn from this? eLearning context. It’s important to know your audience, and to respond accordingly—while still maintaining some subtle signature elements of your eLearning brand. Sometimes you need to let your overall design abilities be the focus rather than your flashy add-ons and features.

eLearning Context: Why It Matters

Every client is going to have different needs for their eLearning project. Some want a fun course with some comedy worked in, while others want a highly formalized, no-nonsense type of course. Subject matter varies. Training objectives vary.

Because there are so many different variables at stake when designing an eLearning course, it’s important to have a firm grasp on the company framework you’re building upon through initial conversations with the client—before putting hours into the design process.

Ask questions like:

What is your company’s mission statement?

Explain your company culture.

How do you envision the overall tone of this course?

What type of writing voice do you use in your internal and external communications?

Do you have company branding guidelines?

What is the look and feel you want for this course?

From here, construct a working document that keeps these themes in a single space that is easy to reference while you work. Having this information front and center while you build will help you stay on track and not to stray from the client’s vision and goals when it’s time for you to work on your own.

The last thing you want is to spend hours building a course you think is fantastic—it’s fun, engaging, has some lighthearted humor—only to find out that your client wanted something much more buttoned down. That would be like Lady Gaga showing up to sing the national anthem in a meat dress. Not the time or the place.

Communication is Ongoing

The conversations about context don’t stop once you’ve gathered a strong understanding of the client’s vision—they need to continue on throughout the design, testing, and launching phases to ensure you’re maintaining expectations along the way.

Remember to keep everyone on the same page before, during, and after the project. Don’t make it so that your client feels like he/she has to check in on you to see where things are at—be proactive about sharing updates and previews.

Maintain Your Style

If you’ve developed a signature style for your eLearning courses, you can still subtly work this into your instructional design without throwing the client’s vision off course. Tie in your signature graphic design elements and a laugh or two, but keep the course tight and consistent. Don’t go overboard.

Just remember: Sometimes you need to be Lady Gaga in a suit, not Lady Gaga wrapped in bubble wrap.