Finding Great Instructional Design

by Sally Bacchetta

As I wrote in my column Why You Need Instructional Design, “Great instructional design attracts learners to the content, to the performance ideal, and to the change process. This attraction is essential for changing behavior.” If you’re looking for great instructional design, you need to find an instructional designer with these three qualifications:

Insight
You can likely get adequate ID from any qualified designer, but great instructional design can only come from a designer who understands your learners and your business. Sales representatives learn differently than managers. Physicians learn differently than writers. A great-for-you instructional designer is one who understands how to design training for learners and businesses like yours.

Every new project involves a ramp up. With an experienced designer, you can use your ramp up time to discuss deliverables, establish timelines, identify production protocols, and brainstorm concepts and themes. An inexperienced designer will need to be brought up to speed on your products or services, the state of your market, competitive analyses, training objectives, and learner profile before you can even begin to clarify the project scope. All other skills being equal, a person with insight into the day to day reality of your business and market can design the richest, most attractive training within your budget and timeline.

Experience
While experience doesn’t necessarily signal competence, it sure is a step in the right direction. Instructional design is a fluid process. I have more than once had clients completely change the direction of a training workshop halfway through the design. Each time it happens I become better at shifting course without losing the work I’ve already done. Through experience I’ve learned how to remodel the framework quickly and precisely, so my clients get what they want without spending time and money on a complete re-do. Honestly, I wasn’t always able to do that, and no amount of formal education could have taught me to. It’s a matter of experience.

Writing Skills
I’m surprised how often training projects are divided into “instructional design” and “writing”, as if the two were not completely interdependent, which they are. Training that is designed independent of content is often flat and sterile. It lacks heart, because the heart is in the writing. Conversely, content written independent of design can balloon far beyond the parameters of the training, creating a ridiculous task for the designer who has to wrestle this big balloon into a workable form and flow.

If you want great instructional design, look for a designer who is also a writer. I write content as I’m designing the training, and vice versa. If I have a great piece of content, I work to develop just the right activity to deliver it. And when I’m working on the design, I “hear” the content in my head, which enables me to construct the best fit design for the training.

You may never have written training content or designed a workshop yourself, but if you know what to look for, you can find great instructional design whether you’re searching online or looking at a freelance portfolio. Find an instructional designer with insight, experience, and writing skills, and watch what happens!

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