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.