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Instructional Design Logic

Submitted by  on September 27th, 2012

 Blocks imprinted with Learn and TeachHow was the last seminar, webinar or workshop you attended? Was it informative? Engaging? Inspiring? Relevant? Practical? Sadly, too often the answer to most of these questions is “NO!” If that’s the case, we can only hope that the food was good, you were paid to attend or there was something else in it for you. We all have personal or professional reasons for continuing our learning, sometimes in a formal setting, whether it’s taking software training on or signing up for a webinar or an evening course at our local college’s Continuing Education department. There are limits to our time, ability and motivation to seek out learning opportunities on our own. However, the Google or Youtube mentality has dramatically increased informal, self-directed learning. The issue now becomes not lack of access but sifting and selecting from a sea of information.

In my experience in western Canada, the bulk of Instructional Designers (“IDers”), also called “training developers” or “curriculum writers”, completed a teacher education program. Yet, ironically, most of the people developing and delivering training are Subject Matter Experts (“SME”) in their field, who largely came up through the ranks as exemplary performers (e.g., cashier, warehouse technician, customer service representative, process plant worker). These folks were later moved into a training role because of their superior on-the-job performance (not to mention the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes).

As someone who studied teacher education in Canada prior to learning instructional design in the U.S., it’s interesting to contrast the preference south of the border for hiring people with a Master’s in Instructional Design to develop corporate training aligned with strategic objectives. Does it mean Canadian IDers trained in teachers’ college (or not even that) are ineffective? Not necessarily. I see value in learning from either a formal program or experience. Still, formal education or experience doesn’t guarantee great performance or following best practices, in any field. The “self-taught” typically have gaps in their knowledge that formal programs are designed to systematically address. The ideal situation for sound instructional design: a SME partnering with a qualified IDer to develop effective instruction together.

The logic of the IDer is to identify what the learners need to know and do. This information will determine the learning and performance objectives, or intended learning outcomes, of the instruction. In workplaces, a close cousin to Training/Learning and Development is the Human Resources department – often responsible for coordinating and tracking work-related training such as orientation, compliance-based or regulatory courses, or sponsored work-related learning. Naturally, keeping staff engaged and skilled goes a long way to supporting their retention and productivity – a win-win. My favorite counter argument to management’s weak declaration that, “We’ll train ‘em up and they’ll leave” is “And if you don’t train them up and they stay, how will that serve you better?”

Adults learn for different reasons, often work-related ones. They usually invest time and effort in learning as a means to an end – moving up at work, making more money, gaining status, entering/changing careers, or doing what they love and trusting the money will one day follow. Like an engineer designing a bridge, the IDer designing a course needs to know the learners’ needs (job and task, or program related) and other circumstances.

Creating learner centered training or instruction means clarifying:

  1. top management’s support and commitment to developing this instruction (course, training, seminar)
  2. specific knowledge/skill and performance gaps that need closing
  3. target population’s characteristics (as a group and individual to some extent)
  4. learning and performance contexts
  5. logistics (i.e., time, budget, human resources, quality standards and assurances), and
  6. likely ROI (Return on Investment), measurable RESULTS of developing/delivering a pricey strategic learning opportunity.

Qualified and empathic SMEs and IDers are critical to assessing and developing a suitable learning and performance solution according to identified needs. If you need to accurately assess needs, develop effective training that gets results, or evaluate a current program, feel free contact me for assistance. Why continue to run a high-end training program as is if there is no evidence of learning transfer or value-add to the business?

Writing Learning Outcomes e-book

For a step-by-step guide on writing learning objectives with lots of templates and examples, check out our Writing Learning Outcomes e-book. As you complete each step in the guide, you will write the results for your particular training project in the workbook provided. When you have finished working through the workbook, you will have a complete set of documented learning objectives for your project. Find out more about Writing Learning Outcomes and download the free introductory chapter today.

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