- Rikki Lee
Heroic Tales of Instructional Designers
It was a few minutes before 5. Dr. Sally Heddock, chief medical officer of Major City Hospital, just learned that noted staff surgeon Dr. Jim Cutler had almost left a scalpel inside yet another patient today. She knew the doctor wasn’t evil or mad. Rather, the problem was that he didn’t communicate well with his team either before, during or after surgery to make sure everyone was on the same page. Other hospital staff were also poor communicators.
But today, she was determined to do something about it. She picked up the red phone on her desk and shouted, “Bring me the ID Squad, stat!" Within seconds, Captain Bloom—leader of the Instructional Design Squad—walked in, saluting. “The ID Squad, at your service.”
“Thanks for coming,” she said, returning the salute. “I want a training program to help our medical staff learn the techniques of effective communication and teamwork, so we can reduce the number of errors and improve our patient safety record." She handed him a folder filled with printouts. "We have this PowerPoint slide program that our trainer gives, but maybe it’s just not getting the message across. Tell me how you could build us a better program.”
“Well, I brought a few of the squad members along to pitch you some ideas,” Captain Bloom said. Quickly, five squad members lined up behind their captain. He stepped aside and told them, “Please introduce yourself and give us your idea.”
The first one, a tall woman in a polka dot dress, said, “My name’s Bulletproof, and I think your best approach is to eliminate as many bullet points as possible from those PowerPoint slides!" She pointed to the folder. "We’ll replace each bullet point with keywords inside a shape, attached to an image, or as an element of a graphically dynamic diagram that connects related thoughts.”
“Wait a minute! We love looking at bullet points,” the doctor said. “Bullet 1, that’s how we learn; and Bullet 2, that's how we talk.”
Bulletproof replied, “But no one will learn from bullet points if they see them all the time. Bullet points just aren’t memorable—and learning is all about memory. So, if you make the text appear interesting, everyone will remember it and retain it longer.” She glanced at the squad member next to her, a gentleman wearing a tuxedo.
“Good afternoon. I am Sceñario,” he said with a slight Spanish accent and a polite bow. “Doctor, your training should closely resemble real-life settings. In our training, we would add a few everyday situations in which actors play out the correct approach as well as incorrect approach of communicating and working with one another. We then show the potential outcome of each approach.”
“Not only that, Señor Sceñario,” said the pudgy masked man next to him. To the doctor, he said, “Hello, I’m The Iterator. We’ll also give your staff the chance to guess which of the situations is the correct one and to explain why they think so.
"But if they choose the incorrect one, they’ll have to go back and explain why they think the other situation is correct. Not only is this type of training interactive, it’s iterative—similar to the way we actually learn, making mistakes and doing things differently until we get it right.”
“OK, so we find some actors to play the hospital staff and patients, and then we shoot the video," the doctor said. “Isn’t that pretty expensive?”
The small woman next to The Iterator built a square camera frame with her fingers and said, “I'm Ani Mater. And yes, video is the best way to go, and the cost is well worth it.”
Drawing pictures in the air, she continued, “You also might be able to use animation to play out each scenario; there’s low-cost software for that.”
Holding an invisible microphone, she added, “To make it even simpler but still effective, you can use voice characterizations along with images of the speakers and settings.”
Pointing to her right temple, she concluded, “If you can see the correct and incorrect approaches in your mind, it becomes almost real. And that makes it more memorable.”
"That's right—and these are all great ideas, guys,” the fifth squad member said, holding up one finger. “But what are we forgetting, and it’s the most important component of a learning program? Is it A, colorful 3D shapes? Is it B, authentic costumes for the actors? No, it’s C: opportunities to demonstrate what you've learned. And no, it won’t be only multiple choice or true-and-false questions. There’ll be engaging games of judgment, reasoning and skills, throwing in a few drag-and-drop activities." To the doctor he said, "Oh, yes, by the way, I’m K.C., which stands for Knowledge Check!”
Captain Bloom nodded to the squad. “Thanks, everyone...By the way, doctor, we are just a small part of the squad. We have many others: writers, graphic designers, videographers, instructional technologists, researchers and more. Give us access to a SME, and the sky's the limit.”
The doctor stood and applauded. “Well, I’m sold. When can you get started? After all, we want happy, healthy patients—and those scalpels don’t exactly come cheap!”