It took me a long time to figure out what I “wanted to be when I grew up” in college. It wasn’t until I took a Learning & Development course that the Hallelujah chorus rang out and I knew I had found my calling. It was a perfect blend of being creative, understanding the business, and bringing people together to become better, which all spoke to who I was as a person. You may be thinking, what does this have to do with instructional design? Well, I’ll tell you – without instructional design “pulling the story together”, the learning won’t be as effective, leaving business results unrealized, and missing the opportunity for people to transfer learning to meaningful on-the-job experiences. Let’s explore what makes instructional design the bedrock of successful learning experiences.
1. Identify and address business needs
Before you start to think about all of the creative learning opportunities you want to integrate into your course, it is important to think about the learning challenge you are solving. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the learning challenge is, what the business goals are for the challenge, and you have created a learning goal that is aligned with the business. If you miss the point of the training by misunderstanding what you are solving for, the rest won’t matter, and your learning will not be viewed as successful.
2. Know the audience
Every audience is different. Truly knowing who your audience is plays a key role in ensuring your content will meet them where they learn. Often, IDs have to design learning courses for multiple learning audiences. In situations like these, think about how you can creatively use course branching to ensure your content is tailored by audience, or conduct a learner persona exercise to determine who your primary learning audience should be. Here is a helpful past post on creating learner personas, including a Learner Persona template.
3. Be creative but relevant
The fun stuff of being an instructional designer involves thinking of new and creative ways to introduce our content to our learners. We want it to be a meaningful and memorable learning experience. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when being creative.
- Bring the learning to life through storytelling. Make sure you have examples of real-life situations that you can use to build stories into your learning design. Utilizing real-life situations helps bring the content to life in ways the learners will recognize and lend credibility to the learning experience.
- As learning and development professionals, we have amazing technologies that can be leveraged to help create engaging learning. However, it is important to utilize the right technology solution for the job. Make sure that the technology you are selecting supports the learning experience and does not distract from it.
- Remember to keep the learner at the center of what you are creating. Don’t become so focused on the engagement aspect that you lose sight of intuitive navigation (if designing for an eLearning) and the learner’s ability to easily identify key learning moments.
4. Trust but validate
Congratulations! The course is amazing! The instructional designer has used all of their skills, SMEs, and business partners to launch an excellent learning program, but the instructional designer should still validate that the program made a difference for the learner. In some cases, this may mean an end of program assessment, which can easily validate that the learner has built new skills and capabilities and is ready to use them back on-the-job.
However, if there is not a formal assessment component, I highly recommend you add a learner feedback option. Collecting learner feedback on their immediate learning experience, in conjunction with asking the learner how the course addressed their learning needs after they have been using their new skills and capabilities over a period of time, can create a clear path for future course revisions.
5. Engage process partners
A great way to engage process partners in the learning and development process and ensure that you as the ID and the business are on the same page before you begin formal development is to create a design document and conduct a design document review session. The design document review session allows the ID to share their vision for the development and discuss how learning needs will be met, while allowing the business an opportunity to tweak direction prior to design actually taking place. Formal approvals can also help guarantee that everyone feels included and on the same page prior to the start of development. If you are looking for suggestions on how to create a design document, this template may help.