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  • Rikki Lee

The Best Course of Your Life

Here’s a thought exercise to see how you view your work and your job as an instructional designer.

Imagine this scenario: You’re developing the last course of your career. And how do you know it’s your last one? Perhaps you’ve just landed a new job outside of training, or you’re ready to retire, or you’ve decided to leave the workforce and become a full-time stay-at-home parent.

Whatever the situation, here are the parameters of our scenario:

  1. There’s one course you must complete before you can leave.

  2. The course structure, subject matter and delivery method (classroom, online or blended) aren’t relevant to this scenario.

  3. You have access to your current budget, team (if you have one), equipment and other resources, and you can request more resources if they're within the budget.

  4. You must complete the course by the established deadline; the exact timeframe isn’t relevant to this scenario.

  5. Someone else may revise the course after you leave, but your contribution ends when you deliver the first draft to your manager or client.

  6. You will have no accountability for your work, and you won’t hear what happened to it or even if it was used.

  7. It’s the last course you’ll ever develop.

The question is: Given the situation and these conditions, what would you do? Well, you have three options to choose from.

  • Option 1: You put in the minimum effort to complete the project as quickly as possible, not caring about its quality. You don’t mind if the content isn't accurate, if the learners won't understand it, or if the spelling and grammar are incorrect. After all, what does it matter? You'll still fulfill the conditions of the scenario.

  • Option 2: You give it your best effort, just as you’ve done for every previous course. You follow the usual routine of gathering information, talking to subject matter experts, designing learning objectives, and creating outlines, scripts, storyboards, slides, leave-behinds and so on. The first draft will be something you, your team, the company and the learners will be proud of. But you stay within your comfort zone of what to do and how to do it.

  • Option 3: You consciously attempt to exceed any previous effort, and consider using any possible multimedia or advanced interactive technique if it makes sense to do so (and without confusing learners). This might include video, animation, role-playing scenarios, gamification, follow-up learning, etc. You even use your own time and expense to train yourself on new instructional design approaches. There’s no limit except for your skills and imagination, which you continuously try to improve. (And you don’t go over the budget or past the deadline for delivering the course.) The result is an experience that every learner will remember.

It’s decision time. Take a few minutes to think about it, then pick one of the three options above. When you’re finished deciding, scroll to below the image for feedback.

  • If you chose Option 1, that’s OK. But you failed the exercise, so you must continue reading.

  • If you chose Option 2, that’s great. Even with your last course, you won’t disappoint your learners. But please continue reading.

  • If you chose Option 3, that’s awesome! You’ve left a legacy to remember, so the remainder of this post is optional for you. But we recommend you continue reading, anyway.

If you chose Option 3 as a challenge to yourself, you don’t have to wait until your last course. You should always do the best you can, and even try to do a little better with each course you develop. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

  • Start with the goal of leaving learners more than satisfied. Give them the feeling that the course was one of the best learning experiences they’ve ever had, because you took the time to make them learn, think, interact, be entertained and be willing to continue learning on their own.

  • Add to your bag of tricks. You’ll no doubt wonder whether you’ll have access to all the learning assets you need. But don’t just assume you can’t obtain additional resources; ask the right people in your organization whether you can find and use them. Chances are, if you can demonstrate that the approach you’ve outlined has high instructional value to increase engagement and retention, you’ll be able to tap those resources.

  • Train your brain. Never accept the notion that your instructional design skills won’t be any more effective than they are now. That’s because you’re only as good as you can learn—and the more you learn, the better you become. Especially, take the opportunity to gather information about the process of how learners gain and retain knowledge.

  • Finally, think of every course as your last one. Make each course fantastic, and work to instill that perspective among members of your team.

And when the time for your last course rolls around, it probably won’t be the best course of your life...because you’ll have already developed many of those.

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