Starting out in any new job is a challenge, but new instructional designers and learning experience (LX) designers have a particular challenge in that they must learn their own role and the tools associated with their job, and they must learn about the business they serve and the learners for which they will design training and learning experiences. It is quite a challenge. In thinking about what advice could be valuable for new LX designers, I decided to turn to my personal learning network. I posed a few questions on Twitter and in Linkedin groups. I wanted to find perspectives from a variety of professionals who do this job every day. Surely they would have great advice for new designers.
They did. People who responded to my question offer lots of advice, which I consolidated down into three areas I believe are a great place for new designers to start. First is knowing your design process. Second is putting your learner first. Third, learning design is not about the technology, except when it is about the technology. Below is more detail on each of those three pieces of advice.
Know Your Process
One piece of advice, I would give to anyone new to instructional design, would be to find a systematic and repeatable process, learn it well, and apply it over and over again. This will help you become efficient in your job, which is valuable. But more importantly, following a process will vastly improve the predictability of your work, so when management asks you how long a design project will take (they will ask), you will be able to answer the question with precision and confidence. The ADDIE instructional design model is a staple in our business. And I like the design model presented in the book, Designing Training the Six Sigma Way. Rapid Instructional Design is also an importance model to know. Which ever process you choose, Jennifer Brick, training specialist from New York, is right on the money when she says that ADDIE should be your new best friend.
Design for Learners
Too often, new LX designers fall back on their own preferences and learning styles when designing learning. But this is a mistake. Monica Houser, Training and Documentation Manager at UnitedHealthcare, advises new LX designers to "think beyond their own personal learning style and preferences when designing training." Just like a product developer, sales professional, or customer service representative, it is important to put yourself in your customer's shoes when serving them. As an LX designer, you are serving your learners with the designs that help them learn.
Taking this idea a step further, Robert Letcher, Director of High School Instruction at k12, Inc., suggests designing for the learner's environment. For example, "Don't design an amazing hands-on lesson when half of your intended learner population will be learning remotely," says Letcher. And do not create e-learning with audio, when not everyone in your audience has sound cards on their computers...not that I personally have ever made that mistake.
Keep your learners in mind.
Not About the Technology
Letcher's advice holds true about using technology as well. Do not create fancy e-learning with heavy animations, audio, and video, when your users either do not have the software or the network bandwidth to see what you have designed. It is so easy to try out new technology in your designs, just because it is cool (guilty as charged). However, cool technology will not help your learners anymore than Air Jordans will help someone jump higher. Peter Condon, Learning Architect and Mentor at The Online Learning Development Company, warns not to assume your learner has the latest technology and to design accordingly.
This is true, not everyone has an iPad or speakers on their computer. So the advice here is keep it simple and focus on learning activities that will promote learning.
Except When it is About the Technology
So we all agree that it is not about the technology, and that designing for the sake of using technology could actually hinder learning. On the other hand, using technology is a vital part of how LX designers design, develop, and deliver training. This is why Lawrence Nardolillo, Instructional Designer at GP Strategies Corporation, reminds us that it is vital to know our technology well, so we can take advantage of what our authoring tools or delivery platforms can do. For example, if you only know that Microsoft Word can "bold" and "indent," you cannot likely create very compelling documents. If you are using Mindflash to design e-learning, you should spend the time to learn everything it can do. This way, you can make informed decisions about how to design your e-learning most effectively in the context of the process you are using and what would be most effective for your learners.
Know your tools well.
Read, Read, Read
These are just three things to think about as you get started as a new LX designer. If there is one more piece of advice I would give, it would be to find and pick up any and every book you can about design, e-learning, and instructional design. Any one who has read my blog posts for any reasonable period of time, knows that I am a big advocate of reading books. So go out and find a few books and devour them. A great place to start is to find books by Jane Bozarth, Clark Quinn, Ruth Clark, or Michael Allen.
What advice do you have for new instructional designers? Share your ideas below.
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and head of learning at Allonhill, is a learning leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.