The Learning Circuits February 2008 Big Question

5 February, 2008

Instructional Design – If, When and How Much? The Big Question Logo

This month’s Learning Circuits Big Question is a cracker!! I’ll say up front I am biased towards ID, I believe that all learning products require effective instructional design regardless of how they are being delivered.

For the purpose of this discussion I see two key functions carried out by an Instructional Designer. The first is what I see as the true Instructional design process; that is analysing content to determine a logical flow, breaking content into manageable chunks and designing activities appropriate to the learning outcomes and the delivery mechanism. The second is more of a consulting function, advising on content packaging and delivery solutions. For the most part this post will discuss the first function.

I work in a financial services organisation. We provide training on a range of business and finance topics via face to face training, CD ROMs and online, we are only beginning to dip our toe in the waters of user generated content and Web2.0. We use a range of SMEs to write our ‘content’; this is the technical information that the learners need to know. In many cases these people have a wealth of professional experience and are generally recognised nationally or internationally as an expert in their field. However many of them do not have the skills to write a well structured ‘training manual’. They certainly do not have the skills to write a well structured storyboard or make use of a rapid development tool. Instructional Design is crucial in my organisation, without it we simply have reams of text with little or no opportunity for interaction.

If an SME has the skills to effectively structure a product and write a training manual or use a rapid development tool, they are way ahead of the pack. In our environment the authors (there are a few) who have both instructional and ‘technical’ knowledge receive much more work than those that only have the technical skills.

If an SME has, rapid development tool skills but is lacking ID skills I believe there are two key areas they need to understand before creating a product. The first is content chunking and sequencing. My IDs spend more time on chunking content down and organising it into a logical flow than almost any other task. An SME must also understand how to link relevant topics and when to insert breaks and activities.

These are the areas where the ID can add real value to a project; when determining how much involvement from an ID is required the first question that must be asked is “What type of product are we building?” If we are looking to produce an information product, for example a briefing sheet or a presentation then ID input is minimal, as the goal of the product is simply to bring together relevant information, the user will then determine how to make use of it.

If we are looking to create a learning product that contains opportunities for practice, interaction with peers, examples, case studies and activities then we may need to look to someone with ID skills to help the SME to determine the most effective activity types for the content and the optimal sequence and structure for the session / program.

I believe that the value an ID brings to a project is to look beyond the content to the learner. To think through how the learner will interact with a piece of content and determine the most effective means for them to find their own meaning and understanding.

Some products must be created quickly and cheaply. If an ID can take content, determine an effective delivery framework then assemble the product, that is fantastic! It is an extra skill that makes them more appealing to potential employers but it is not the primary function that they will offer.

In my experience when ID is not included in the development process the quality of the end product is severely compromised. After saying that this post has ignored the ‘new wave’ of collaborative user-generated online learning. That’s intentional, we’re only just starting to think about how we can encourage our members to share their knowledge and experience and create their own content.

To go back to the original question:
If – Absolutely!
When – Whenever a learning product is designed to provide more than a simple briefing or resource.
How much – This is the tricky part, it really depends on the ID skills (as defined above) of the SME, it could range from a simple review as part of a QA process to a complete overhaul.

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3 Responses to “The Learning Circuits February 2008 Big Question”


  1. […] Mick Leyden differentiated between traditional instructional design and ID consulting […]

  2. Jason Gottlieb Says:

    I am not an instructional designer but am leading an initiative to build a “corporate university” for a healthcare institution. The anchor of our curriculum is process, procedures, and activities that help convert medical services into cash for the hospital. My background/expertise is in managing all of these activities. Each of these activities display certain technical, conceptual, and behavioral skill sets that collectively determine job competence. I am working in partnership with our training division who are staffed with a mix of instructional designers (all with less than 5 years experience) and elearning developers. Here are my questions:
    – What should be my expectation of an ID’s ability to ELICIT content from process owners and SME’s versus there ability to ANALYZE content and validate their own understanding with process owners and SME’s?
    – How does their ability to do the above translate to DESIGNING the appropriate course?
    – How should the ID (or myself) leverage the existing content prior to meeting with process owners and SME’s?
    – Is there an argument for bringing in a subject matter consultant of sorts to segregate the responsibility of acquiring, eliciting, and analyzing content from the othe aspects of instructional design (learning objectives, delivery mechanisms, assessment of competence, look & feel, etc)
    – We are working with a consultant to develop a “rapid development” tool. Can this serve as a platform to segregate content elicitation and analysis and instructional design between SMEs and ID’s?

    As an SME myself, yet leading the initiative, are there any suggestions as to how my knowledge of the content can be leveraged throughout the course development process?

    My struggles with the group to date seem to be emanating in their complete inability to grasp process driven content which can have innumerbale iterations , exceptions, what if’s etc. I have shadowed interviews with operational ownership of these processes and the quality of the interaction has been sub-par. All thoughts and advice are greatly appreciated.

  3. Mick Leyden Says:

    Hi Jason,

    The situation you have outlined sounds pretty common. I think the most important issue is to ensure that your SMEs and IDs are working very closely together. The ID SHOULD be able to identify learning objectives, analyse the content and pull together content from your various sources to create a course that achieves the learning objectives.

    I’ve found some IDs are able to design a course without really understanding the content, so your ID’s may not need to validate their own understanding of the content.

    That said I generally can’t manage to write a decent course unless I have an understanding of what the content means to the learner, how the topics connect and what the outcomes of actions are, I would imagine that most ID’s need to build at least a relatively basic understanding of the content.

    They should be able to work with your SME’s to confirm their understanding of the process, THEN they should take this knowledge and analyse it to determine the most effective means to present and structure the information and determine the most effective methods to check for the learner’s understanding, provide opportunities to practice and review.

    I think your idea of a ‘SMC’ has a lot of merit. If the ID’s are struggling to come to grips with organising content that is coming at them from many different sources, someone who is already familiar with the content may be able to help them aggregate and organise the content and allow the ID’s to focus on the learning design.

    My feeling on Rapid development tools is that they don’t replace the ID. You as an SME can pull together a PowerPoint presentation and it may be fine. However if you don’t have teaching or training experience it might not be as effective as if you asked a teacher / trainer to help you develop the presentation. They would be able to advise on how much info to display on a screen, when to stop and ask for questions, when to ask questions of the audience etc. The same applies with e-Learning, an SME can put content into a rapid tool and spit something out that might get the job done but you might be able to achieve a better result if you look at the flow and structure of your course even if it is in a rapid tool.

    Hope this helps.
    mick


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