At its core, Instructional Design is about helping people and organizations achieve their goals through learning. Simply put, it's your job to create training that helps people to gain knowledge and skills to improve their performance and change their behavior.
What problems will you solve?
You're going to help solve business problems.
"Business problems are current or long term challenges and issues faced by a business. These may prevent a business from executing strategy and achieving goals." Simplicable.com
Notice I said "help solve". An intricacy of the Instructional Design process is identifying when training is the answer to a problem and when it isn't. More on that later.
Example problems include:
You are the learning expert, not the [insert topic] expert
You will work with other team members and experts at your organization to get the content you need to develop your learning activities. These individuals are called Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).
For example, if you're working on developing software training you'll be paired with a subject matter expert (SME) on the application. If it's a new application, this might be someone who is actively developing it. For existing applications, you'll be paired with a SME who's an expert at using it. You will meet with them to gather screenshots, step by step instructions, and any details necessary for you to create your training.
As an Instructional Designer you are the resident learning expert at your organization. When you design training you will combine empathy, advocacy, science, technology, and design to create engaging, effective, and efficient learning experiences. These experiences can come in the form of videos, reference materials, interactive self-paced courses, instructor led training (virtual or in person), and more.
How does that work?
To start you must have empathy for your learner. It's necessary to understand their feelings and needs so you can create a learning experience that works for them. You will identify their needs by shadowing, interviewing, surveying, and running working sessions with them to understand their point of view.
It's not enough to just identify the feelings and needs of your learner. Advocacy is required in order to incorporate these needs into your learning experiences. You will combine their needs along with adult learning theory, Instructional Design methodology, and the neuroscience of learning best practices to create learning experiences that provide value for your organization and your learner. The application of this knowledge helps to ensure the effectiveness of your work and sets you apart from other employees that may develop training at your organization.
You will develop and implement the experiences you design using a combination of learning technology and tools. Examples of this technology include elearning authoring tools (Storyline, Captivate, Camtasia, etc.), graphic design applications, Learning Management Systems (LMS), social media, survey applications, and good old Microsoft Word, Excel, and Power Point.
Even the best technology can't make up for a lack of good design principals. That's why it's helpful for Instructional Designers to have a basic understanding of graphic and web design. This knowledge will help you to create materials that are engaging, easy to use, and understand.
When do you use learning technology?
Think of applications like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Photoshop as tools in your Instructional Designer toolkit. You use them to help you create your learning activities. Each of them has strengths and weakness that you'll need to learn so that you can use them at the right time. Just like a carpenter knows when to use a hammer, sledge hammer, or nail gun to complete a task.
Let's continue the software training example from above. You have decided that the training should consist of a demonstration of someone using the program and a job aid for reference as they apply this new skill on the job. You might use Articulate Storyline to record the demo and then a combination of Microsoft Word and a screen capture tool like Snagit to create the job aid. Word would be used to create the document and Snagit would be used for any application screenshots you included in it.
Sample tools and technology
The following authoring and video editing tools are examples of the technology that you'll use to create training. Many offer free trials that you can use to build your skills.
Learning Management and Experience Systems:
Organizations need a place to store, assign, and report out on all of the training available to their employees. The following list includes links to some of the more well known Learning Management Systems as well as some of the newer Learning Experience Systems.
Are you a Graphic Designer?
No, however the training you develop will be more effective if you apply design principles when creating it. There are plenty of books and online resources to help you learn the basics. For example, when writing this blog post I made deliberate decisions to bold and increase the font size of section headers, left align my text, and remove borders from any images.
You'll make similar decisions when creating your own materials. Don't worry, many organizations have a brand guide to help you understand the types of fonts, colors, and imagery to use in your training. If they don't, that's an awesome opportunity for you to help create one!
What about the science and theory?
Earlier I mentioned the neuroscience fo learning, adult learning theory, and Instructional Design methodology. These terms can sound pretty intimidating but in reality they're just more tools in your ID toolbox to help you create great learning experiences. Let's look at each of them and how they apply to your ID work.
Neuroscience of Learning:
"The science of learning is an interdisciplinary field of study that examines how people learn and how the learning and development (L&D) field can improve talent management, performance improvement, organizational learning, training, and instructional design." - td.org
Knowing how the brain learns and retains information can help you to create better training. It's a simple as that. You can use this information to understand how to space your training activities to promote recollection and the value of adding time for learners to reflect on what they've learned.
Adult Learning Theory:
"Developed by Malcolm Knowles in 1968, Adult Learning Theory or andragogy is the concept or study of how adults learn and how it differs from children...Over the years, the theory has been added to and adapted." Learnupon.com
It's important for you to understand how adults learn. Typically they want to know why they're investing their valuable time to take your training and the value it will provide them. Here's a relevant example, you're probably reading this article because you want to see if a career in Instructional Design is right for you, not because your teacher assigned it.
This is the model that you'll use to develop your training. For the purposes of this article we'll focus on the ADDIE model. This is the standard model that many organizations use.
ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. By completing each step in the process you can create training that helps to solve a business problem.
Let's walk through each step and then we'll break down how it works as part of a typical project.
Analysis: During the analysis phase you'll collect information to gain insights into how things are done today, the results generated from these efforts, and how training can help change these results. This is accomplished by reviewing existing processes, data, attitudes of employees, the work environment, etc. You can gather this data by shadowing employees, running focus groups, interviewing high and low performers, creating and sending surveys, and gathering existing employee and performance data.
Sometimes after reviewing all of this information you may find that training is only part of the solution to the problem. Maybe the technology is inefficient, the process to complete a task is cumbersome, or the environment isn't conducive to achieving expectations. You can use this opportunity to advocate to change these roadblocks, increasing the effectiveness of any learning experience you develop.
Design: During this phase you'll use the insights gained from your analysis to develop the high level flow and strategy for your learning experience. As part of this process you'll need to write down measurable performance objectives that serve as foundation for the training. This is where you get to combine your knowledge of learner needs, adult learning theory, and neuroscience of learning best practices to create an amazing learning experience.
Most of this work will be done using MS Office tools (Word, PPT, Excel). For example, your design presentation might be a 10 slide PPT deck that includes the goal, your analysis results, performance objectives to achieve the goal, high level overview of the activities necessary to achieve your goal, a short breakdown of each activity, a timeline, communication plan, and status.
The goal is to get as much feedback and input as possible so that when you start development of your training materials, everyone is on board with your proposed experience. It's much easier and cheaper to edit a PPT or word document than it is to re-design your learning materials.
Development: Once you've received approval of your design, it's time to develop the activities and materials. This is where your authoring systems such as Articulate Storyline 360, Adobe Captivate, & Camtasia come into play. You'll spend most of your time as an Instructional Designer in this phase.
As you create your materials they'll typically need to be reviewed and approved. This may take a few rounds as you incorporate their feedback (if it helps to achieve the goal of the program), update your materials, and then send it back for approval. If you're short on time, one round of review may be all that's needed.
Implementation: Now it's time to launch your program! This can be complex process that includes scheduling webinars and/or classroom sessions, setting up a registration site, prepping facilitators (or prepping to facilitate the session yourself), and organizing guest speakers. Or it might be as simple as sending out a communication about your training and assigning a series of micro-learnings through your Learning Management System. It depends on the program that you've designed.
Evaluation: Once you've launched your program, it's time to start evaluating your outcomes to see If your training has achieved its intended impact. You can collect this data via test scores, surveys, observation, focus groups, and any data available (performance data, customer satisfaction, NPS, etc.).
A sample project
Let's take everything we've learned so far and break it down as part of a sample project using ADDIE. As the Instructional Designer assigned to the project you'll be expected to navigate the project team through the process of implementing the learning experience.
Training request: Your organization is adding a new process to their software platform. They want you to create training to support the implementation.
Analysis: Meeting with your stakeholder you first identify the business need for the training. Remember, you solve business problems! If there isn't a business problem there probably isn't a need for training.
Business problem: They are adding a process to their customer relationship management application to track offers of an existing service. The tracking is expected to improve reporting on sales of the service. Additionally you identify the audience that needs to be trained on this new process, the timing of the rollout, who your SMEs are, and when the new content will be available for you to review.
Design: Taking everything that you've learned so far you decide the technology process is simple enough that it only requires a video and job aid for reference. However, per your analysis the expectations are not clear to leaders or employees on when and how the offer should be made to a customer. You feel that a script, clear guidance within the system, QA review, and coaching from leadership will improve the success of the project.
You put this into a PPT presentation that includes the following information:
Note that you may have to go back and forth a few times with edits before achieving final approval. That doesn't mean you stop all work until sign off. Typically you'll move forward with approved portions of the content as you work with your project team to finalize any remaining details.
Development: Once your design is approved by your stakeholder, you start development.
In this case you'll use Articulate Storyline to create the demonstration and knowledge check. MS Office to write a script for the leader who will endorse the training. You'll ask the leader to record a video of themself using Zoom (virtual conferencing tool) and will edit it with Camtasia. Microsoft Office and Snagit will be used to create the job aid and coaching guide.
Your stakeholder and SME(s) will provide feedback and review and approve each of these items as you develop them. After two rounds of review you are ready to go! The course is uploaded to your LMS and the job aid is posted to the knowledge bank.
Implementation: With your work complete (or almost complete) it's time to start implementing the program.
Evaluation: Two - three weeks after assignment you review your test scores and the survey to see how you did. One month later you check the performance data to understand if learners are correctly completing the new process. You use this information to generate a report that you share with your team, leader, and stakeholders. This way you can see how you did but also if additional training or support is needed.
Typically you will manage your own project timelines and have a decent amount of dedicated time to focus on getting your work done.
You might be working on two or three smaller projects, like the one above, at the same time. Each of them will go through the ADDIE phases at their own pace. For example, you might have one project in the analysis phase while another is in development or evaluation. As you get into the development phase your time dedicated to each project will increase.
If you are working on a larger more complex project, like a multi-week onboarding program, then that might be the only project in your pipeline.
What happens after you complete a project?
If it's a one time project, like our software example, you might wrap it up and move on to the next one. If this is a program that's meant to be run continuously, then you'll more than likely spend time reviewing your evaluation data and using it to make improvements.
For example, you might find that some of your test questions need to be updated. Maybe an activity didn't run as planned so you want edit or replace it. This is typically where you can also find efficiencies in terms of changes that can shorten the overall timeline of your program or reduce the amount of resources necessary to achieve it.
You can do this
When I started my career in L&D I'm what you would have called an incidental Instructional Designer. I had zero experience in the L&D field.
I had my first taste of Instructional Design when I was asked to create and facilitate training for new customers off the side of my desk. I wrote a few scripts and ran those virtual sessions multiple times per day, five days a week, for months. The same content over and over again. The process quickly became stale. I knew there had to be a better way.
That's when I learned about Instructional design and technology. Working together with my leader, we created and populated a learning university site. Filling it with short video clips (the term micro-learning wasn't a thing at the time) based off of my original scripts and articles to support new customers. Our customers loved it and I freed myself from the daily dreaded webinar.
That process ignited my passion for Instructional Design. I consumed every resource that I could get my hands on. My research, and continued work on the site, eventually resulted in landing a job as an Instructional Designer. I distinctly remember sitting in the lobby of GMAC Mortgage preparing for my interview by memorizing the ADDIE model. Eventually I went back to school and obtained my Masters degree in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University.
If you have a growth mindset, put in the time and effort it takes to learn about Instructional design, and apply what you learn, you can be successful.
Just in case you're wondering, the average salary (per payscale.com) in 2020 for an Instructional Designer in the United States is:
Hopefully after all of this you are just as interested, if not more, about becoming an Instructional Designer. It's a career that offers the ability to solve tough challenges, be innovative, and add value to the lives of those you train and the business you support. If you are still interested in Instructional Design, here are four resources to help you continue down that path.
With COVID-19 disrupting the economy, I thought it would be helpful to provide a list of resources that fellow learning professionals can use to build, maintain, and enhance their skills while on furlough, looking for work, or if you have extra time. The following lists provides access to application free trials, recommended books that have helped me with my own career growth and development, links to some blog posts that you may find helpful, and other resources.
I'll update this post as I find more resources to share.
Please note, I'm not an affiliate reseller so I'm not making any money off of the following.
Free Application Trials and Tutorials
The following authoring and video editing tools offer free trials that you can use to build, maintain, and enhance your skills.
Free Courses and Programs
Some great content has been made available recently. I'll keep updating as I find them.
Suggested Reading List
Here are some books that have improved my capabilities as a leader and learning professional. They're not all directly learning related but I've read each of them and found them to be great resources that I go back to time and time again.
Here are a few blog posts I've written that you may find helpful to develop your skills, read up on learning industry trends, achieve better training outcomes, and connect with other professionals in the learning and talent development field.
I've found the following sites to be useful in terms of providing me with consistent, quality, information pertaining to the learning and talent development field.
I hope that you find some value in these resources. If you have questions or want to connect, I'm happy to do so. Drop me a line!
"I need an elearning created on our latest products that starts in three weeks. This is essential for our Sales Reps (SRs) to achieve their quarterly sales goals. I have approval from senior leadership to make this happen. "
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a request like the above? It checks a number of the boxes for a typical training project request, with some added urgency thrown in for good measure. The requestor knows the basics; audience (SRs), timeline (three weeks), why they think training is needed (Essential to SR goals), and how they want it trained (elearning).
It's tempting to start working on a project like this immediately and figure out the rest later. It is "essential", senior leadership seems to be onboard, and the timeline doesn't leave you with room for much more than getting the work done. What you may not realize is that you've just entered a negotiation. The results of this negotiation can determine whether this program is a failure or success.
This post is inspired by the book "Never Split the Difference - Negotiating as if your life depended on it" by Chris Voss with Tahl Roz. Using a series of tactics such as mirroring, labeling, and calibrated questions Chris is able to identify the underlying motivations of his counterparts to negotiate a favorable outcome.
What we're going to focus on in this article are what Chris calls "calibrated questions." These are open-ended questions that help you understand what's motivating your counterpart in a negotiation. In this case, you want to know the motivation and business reason behind the request so that you'll be better equipped to develop a training program that can meet or exceed expected outcomes. However, in order to do that you need to know more than who, what, where and when. You need to know the why so that you can collaborate with them to determine the best way to solve for how, not just what they're telling you to do.
By asking questions starting with "How" or "What" you get your counterpart to start working with you to solve the challenge.
"...the calibrated open-ended question takes the aggression out of a confrontational statement or close-ended request that might otherwise anger your counterpart. What makes them work is that they are subject to interpretation by your counterpart instead of being rigidly defined. They allow you to introduce ideas and requests without sounding overbearing or pushy." - Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It, by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz, Rh Business Books, 2017, pp. 152
Here are four calibrated questions to help you decipher the need for and outcomes of your next project request.
1. What's the problem we're trying to solve? Use this question to get to the business need behind the request. We know that SRs need help to achieve their sales goals, but what specifically is the gap we're trying to close?
2. After training is complete, how will we know that an employee has been successfully trained? This question helps you get an understanding of what success looks like to the Stakeholder. In the example above, the request is to train all SRs using an elearning course. How can you know if an elearning course is the right strategy if you don't know what the stakeholder wants their SRs to be able to do after training is complete? This question also helps you understand your counterparts vision.
3. What are the targeted outcomes? If you don't know the target(s), how can you know whether your training program will help to achieve them? In fact, there may be multiple outcomes that need to be achieved. Achieving these targets may require more time and attention than your stakeholder might think.
If you haven't asked question one at this point, this is a great opportunity to use it as follow-up to this question. This will help you to determine how big of a gap you're helping to fill. If they're expecting a big lift, an elearning course alone may not get them there.
4. How will we measure the success of the program? It's impossible to make adjustments if you don't have a way to see results over time. If the team requesting the training does not have a way to track results, now is as good a time as any to figure that out.
Selfishly, how can you and your team show the impact of your training program if you can't see the results? If part of the solution doesn't include a plan to measure the outcomes, this is an opportunity to get that work started.
Avoid asking "why"
Asking why, can cause your counterpart to become defensive. They already think there's a need for training, asking why just calls their judgement, or their leader's judgement, into question.
Regardless of what language the word "why" is translated into, it's accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage. - Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It, by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz, Rh Business Books, 2017, pp. 153
Asking how or what, forces them to think about the reason they believe training is going to solve the problem. Using the above example, instead of saying "Why, do we need training in three weeks on this process?" ask "How do you think an elearning course will help achieve quarterly sales goals?".
If you are concerned that the requestor doesn't have approval for the request or the necessary backing, you can always ask leadership after the meeting.
Be proactive, create a project request form
The way that Chris suggests preparing for a negotiation is to create a one sheet or document that can be used to guide the negotiation process to a favorable outcome. Taking this advice, I suggest that you create a project request form and use the questions above as well as the standard items (Audience, timeline, stakeholder & subject matter experts, etc.) to define the program requirements. Keep this form handy for in the moment and planned discussions.
Keep your cool
Having a project request form, with these questions listed, will also give you something to rely on in the heat of the moment. This is especially beneficial when you have a counterpart who is stressed and just wants you to build the training, in the way they want, when they want it, without any questions.
Remember, this is not about you, this is just business. The ability of your team to do their job effectively relies on your ability to get them the information they need. Taking a moment to slow down and get your questions answered will save you the time of having to go back and ask them again later.
If you feel yourself becoming upset, take a moment and breathe or walk around. Having a physical form to fill out can anchor you to your physical environment and stay in control of your emotions. Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review
Summarize your discussion
At the end of your discussion make sure to summarize the outcome. According to Chris, you're not looking for a "yes" at the end of the summary. You're looking to have your counterpart say "that's right". That's how you'll know that you're on the same page.
People say "yes" all of the time even if they mean "no", it's a false positive meant to make you both feel good in the moment. Getting a "that's right" or the equivalent means that you've correctly summarized their position.
A summary of the above request could sound something like this. "Hitting our quarterly sales target is really important. I'm glad we can work on achieving this goal together. Based on our discussion today, our SRs need to increase their conversion rate by 10% in order to achieve quarterly goals. You believe this is because they are unfamiliar with our newest products and they aren't comfortable selling something that they don't feel is beneficial to our customers. You also want training to start in three weeks because leadership has guaranteed an improvement in the next six weeks.
In order to achieve this, after training is complete all SRs should be able to explain the value of our newest products, to our customers, and be confident offering them. We'll measure the trend on a weekly basis and can adjust the program as necessary based off of the results.
Is that correct? "
Granted, the above summary doesn't go into whether elearning is the right or only solution for the job but I think you get the idea. From here, you can work with your counterpart to create a program that will meet or exceed the results you both want to achieve.
Want to learn more?
The easiest way to learn more is to buy the book "Never Split the Difference - Negotiating as if your life depended on it" by Chris Voss with Tahl Roz. Chris and his family also offer training and free resources on their website https://www.blackswanltd.com/.
It's been tough to step away from work lately. My team and I are in the process of onboarding a small company's worth of new hires within the next few months. It's exciting, challenging, and thought consuming work. These are the kinds of challenges I love, a big hairy audacious goal where we get to bend the limits of what we've been able to achieve in the past.
I did however, get the opportunity to step away for a moment to see Celeste Headlee speak at the 2019 Pennsylvania Conference for Women. She kicked off the Workplace Summit with a great keynote entitled "We Need to Talk: How to Have Better Conversations". Her presentation was inspiring and based off of her insight, I've been practicing a few of her tips. My daily interactions with friends, family, and co-workers have improved.
Interested? Read on!
Interested in learning more? Check out Celeste's website or read her book "We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter". Quick note, this is not a referral link, I'm not making any money off of my recommendation. I just think you can learn something, I know that I did.
Quick post this week due to a well deserved vacation to the Jersey shore with my family. While walking the beach with my son, I found myself picking up some small pieces of garbage out of habit. It got me thinking about something a friend of mine passed on to me while teaching me how to fly fish. "Leave it better than you found it". In a nutshell, while you are out enjoying nature do what you can to clean up after those who have come before you.
I started thinking about how this saying applies to different aspects of my life. In the context of this blog, it touches on how I've left the various companies, roles, projects, and teams throughout my career. How have I left them better than I found them?
Some examples would be implementing Kirkpatrick's methodology for evaluating projects, creating highly rated tutorials and courses for an educational university site, successfully onboarding a new Instructional Designer, running a learning hackathon, or helping to build and support a great team of learning professionals.
Even though I was on vacation I couldn't resist checking my feeds and it was a great two weeks for articles and posts shared in the Talent Development field. If you are looking for ideas on how you can add lasting value to your organization, read on!
A few years ago I was given some feedback that I really took to heart. I was told that If I wanted
to influence change and affect or set strategy within the organization that I would need to be seen as a thought leader. At first I wasn't sure what to make of that feedback. My immediate thought was something akin to "Great, now I have to become the next Josh Bersin or Richard Branson if I want to make a real impact".
Steppping out of my fixed mindset, I did a little research to see what being a thought leader was all about. What I found is that it's not just about popularity or fame, there's much more to it than that.
"Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success." Denise Brosseau of Thought Leadership Lab
The first step in becoming a thought leader is to be informed about what's going on in the learning industry. To that end, I've compiled a list of five free reports on industry trends from 2017 to 19. Read on to get informed!
My wife planned an amazing get away to Ocean City NJ this weekend. We spent two whole days on the beach relaxing and soaking up the sun. It was a sorely needed break from our normal day to day activities with our kids, chores, house and work projects. Lucky for us, on day two we happened to set up our chairs on the beach designated for surfing. We observed class after class of new surfers learning how to surf. The instructors gave direction, then brought their students into the water to practice and apply what they learned. Every time a student caught a wave the instructors enthusiastically cheered them on.
As we watched, I told my wife that I loved watching people learn new skills. That I had a real appreciation for these students as they would fall off the board and then swim back into the surf and keep trying. It reminded me of some research that I had done on having a growth mindset and using the 70/20/10 model to craft a development plan. She reminded me that we were supposed to be on vacation. Fair point. =)
If you're not on vacation and are interested in learning how to craft a solid plan to achieve your development goals (surfing or otherwise) read on! As a bonus I'll include a development goal of my own as an example so you can see the process in action.
You've invested time in finding the right Instructional Designer (ID) for your team. Don't make the mistake of thinking they'll be able to hit the ground running without some support and direction. Taking the time to onboard a new team member to your organization can pay off in higher levels of engagement and productivity. In fact, research compiled by SHRM from clickboarding.com states that:
Leverage the power of a hackathon to inspire cross functional teams to develop some truly great learning solutions.
In 2018 I led Accolade's Talent and Development team to develop and implement our 1st learning hackathon we called the Designathon. As a result we came up with some truly inspiring solutions that impacted the bottom line. It's now a yearly event devoted to blue sky thinking, process improvement, and promoting change and innovation across our organization.
Here's how you can run your own!
Sometimes even your best efforts don't produce the targeted behavior change or business outcomes your learning solution was created to solve. Not every project will be a rousing success so it's important to know what to do when things don't go as planned.
It can be tempting to point fingers and look for reasons outside of your control as to why things went wrong. Maybe you feel that you weren't given enough time, resources, or information to do the job. However, what's needed now is a level head and a willingness to work together across business units to fix any identified issues and turn things around. A deeper analysis can always be completed afterwards.
Here's how you can turn things around:
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