How to Get Up to Speed (Fast!) on Rapid E-Learning

Everything you know about rapid instructional design or rapid e-learning development is likely wrong. Vendors will have you believe it's only about the tools. Consultants will have you believe it's about streamlining existing processes, even skipping unnecessary steps. Which begs the question: If they are unnecessary steps, why are they there in the first place? Real rapid instructional design requires a change in mindset. In fact, learning real rapid instructional design is one of the critical skills learning professionals need to learn now.

First and foremost, real rapid instructional design requires that you start with the premise that your learning designs will never be completed. Second, you need to design learning like programmers design software. Third, you must embrace the 2.0 world and specifically the concept of user-generated content. Here are some other ground rules worth following:

Release now, fix later.

Have you ever spent week after week after week developing the perfect training class (classroom or e-learning) only to discover that on the day it was set to be delivered, so much had changed that the training was already outdated and needed to be updated or completed redesigned? This happens to instructional designers more that you think, and it drives them crazy. All that hard work down the tubes. Trust me, it drives the business leaders just as bonkers because they cannot understand why to takes so long to develop training. Instructional designers have to go faster and can no longer go to the business and say, "sure we can design a class for that...it will take 6 months." Customers are calling their people now.

To speed up your design process, you need to change what you do. Instead of designing a completely finished training class, release version 1 of the training with the understanding that version 2, 3, and even 4 will be released. Begin to consider your training classes are works in progresses not finished products.

Think like a software developer

There isn't a software developer worth a darn that expects to release software without bugs or features that need to be added. Treat your training content the same way. Learn from the concept of extreme programming and get it [training materials] out there. Then, collect feedback from learners, and go back and reiterate. Theresa Welbourne is doing some ground breaking research on fast HR to help HR professionals learn to speed up processes by learning from software developers. Why can't instructional designers learn from this? We can.

Embrace web 2.0 and user-generated content

One of the foundation principles of Web 2.0 is user-generated content, in which people create their own content using blogs, wikis, and social networks like Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Why is it then that instructional designers insist on creating all of the training content themselves, huh? Think about it. Sure, instructional designers design role plays and discussions and work on flip charts into training courses, but the content is largely created by the designer. I am suggesting most of the burden of developing the learning content should be in the hands of the learner, not the instructional designer.

All you have to do is read the preface to the Accelerated Learning Handbook to understand what I mean. I dare you, just read the preface and comment below if you think the instructor needed to design content for that safety class. And if you are an experienced, life-long instructional designer who remains skeptical of my blabbering, watch this Webinar and tell me if you don't think you can create a leadership development program in a weekend.

The point is, you can rapidly speed up your instructional design process by not creating so much content all by yourself. For example, how much time do you spend creating job aids? Hours and hours? Days?  Weeks? Why not just create an activity at the end of a training class and have the learners create their own job aids. It takes 10 minutes to write up that activity. Not only will this give your learners a chance to review what they have learned, but they are creating a tool that they might actually use...because they created it. What a concept!

Are you fast enough?

There is plenty more to the topic of rapid instructional design, but I want you to remember this: You must change the way you think about instructional design before you can practice real rapid instructional design. You must believe that your designs are always a work in progress, you must learn to think like a software developer, and you need to embrace web 2.0 and user-generated content.

In future posted I will discuss more ideas for speeding up instructional design, but for now -- what things are you doing (or no longer doing) to speed up your instructional design processes? Drop in your comments below

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Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. In his leadership role at Knowland University, Bill focuses on helping clients get the most out of the products and services provided through a combination of guided and self-paced learning opportunities. He believes all learning experiences should be grounded in real-world application and designed to improve sales performance.

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