An Address to New Instructional Designers
Note: If we were to address new instructional design graduates at a commencement ceremony, it might go like the following:
Congratulations, graduates! You’ve just completed your campus education in the various ID approaches (classroom, elearning, blended, webinar and virtual reality). You’ve learned about assessments and objectives, scripts and storyboards, slides and templates, images and illustrations, audio and video, games and activities, knowledge checks and quizzes, facilitator and student guides, and so on. You should now know everything there is about instructional design. And you’re ready to take on the world, or at least the employees of a business that will be hiring you in the near future.
So, what will be your first project? A short HR presentation about the company’s new anti-harassment policy? An elearning refresher on forklift safety for warehouse workers? Or maybe a course for family doctors on conducting a neurological exam? Whatever it is, you’ll be prepared for it. And as long as you have your computer, mobile devices, authoring tools and instructional design techniques beside you, the project should be interesting to develop. On the other hand, maybe you'll think it’s boring. Your vision for the project and its success will depend on internal factors like attitude and effort.
You’ll have external factors, too. You’ll struggle with SMEs, reviewers, managers and beta testers who will try to improve your project. You’ll wrestle with authoring tool incompatibility issues and LMS functionality glitches. Software that works on Monday suddenly won’t work on Tuesday. At some point, you may fall into a rut. Your designs won’t seem as fresh as they once did, and your supervisor will ask you, “Why are you slacking off?”
Then, for a time, you’ll obsess about the intricate technical details of a project instead of its effectiveness, and concentrate on timelines instead of ensuring that you’ve fulfilled the project’s learning objectives. Eventually, you’ll burn out. You’ll put in your working hours every day but wish you were doing something, anything else. If this happens to you, it’s because you’ve taken your focus away from what should truly matter; that is, affecting the lives of your learners. What you should want to accomplish for each project is to make life better for them.
This means you’re not only building a learning program. You’re also hoping to do one or more of the following:
Making your learners happier and more confident (because they now know how to do something they couldn’t do before).
Helping them become better at their jobs, make more money, keep their position, rise through the ranks, or learn to do something they’d rather do instead (because they now have better control over their career).
Giving them the opportunity to be more interpersonally adept, improve their reputation, and have a sense of accomplishment (because they now feel better about themselves).
Providing relief from confusion, anxiety and misery (because they now know the right way to complete a challenging task or handle a difficult situation).
Making them healthier and saving their lives, the lives of their co-workers, their clients and everyone else they come in contact with (because they now know how be more aware of their own health and safety and of the people around them).
If you remember these as you build each course, you’ll have a great career as an instructional designer.
What—you don’t believe me? Well, let’s say that HR doesn’t present your class on anti-harassment policies; as a result, an employee is harassed and the company is faced with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. Or a factory worker doesn’t take the online forklift safety refresher, and later injures a co-worker. Or your family doctor doesn't take the neurology course and misses a troubling symptom during your latest physical…and, well, that’s bad news.
Sure, not every project will automatically engage the learner in the ways I’ve listed. Especially if there's a problem with it. For example, a course doesn't meet its objectives or test its learners, and any important lessons quickly become forgotten. So, a well-designed course is very important, as is constantly keeping it engaging, helping learners to achieve their goals, wishes and dreams—and maybe even saving their lives.
Being able to provide this outcome time and again will come only after years of experience and lifelong learning. You must continually train yourself so that you can train others better. (Wait, didn’t you know that “commencement” meant “beginning”? And you’ve just begun to learn.)
Finally, it all boils down to this: The impact you have on your learner’s KSAs and life depends on your instructional design KSAs and desire to focus on your learners.
So, get out there, keep learning and commence designing!