Three Ways to Speed Up Instructional Design

Business today moves fast, and it's become critical for instructional designers to ramp up their own processes just to keep pace.

Many training designers probably think they can't move any faster than they already to; they don't have the resources, or the quality of their work will suffer if they try to crank up their production any higher. But that mindset has to change. Theresa Welbourne recently coined the term "Fast HRM," which basically says that fast is better than accurate.

Think Speed Kills? Try Going Slow

The consequences of going too slow are far greater than going too fast. Consider research conducted by ASTD that suggests it takes about 45 hours of development time to create one hour of classroom training (and it's even longer for e-learning initiatives).

That means it take over 11 months to create a new one-week training program for new hires. Or it'd take two designers almost half a year. Do you have that kind of time? Unlikely. Most trainers can't just go to the VP of customer service and tell them they need 11 months to create that new-hire training program. So what to do? Simple: Re-consider how we design learning. And act fact.

This is such a compelling issue that Mitchell Levy and I dedicated an entire section of our book on the subject of rapid instructional design. Fortunately, there are many ways to speed up the instructional design process. Here are three:

1. Think Like a Software Developer

As we write in the book, instructional designers need to start with the premise that the learning programs they create are never finished. That way, they're free to think like a software developer, and release a "Version 1.0" of their training program — the one they're working on now. Harold Jarche calls it "life in perpetual beta." Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha call it "permanent beta." Whatever you call it, it is a mindset in which everything you're working on is constantly being evaluated and improved based on changes in environment or customer (or learner, in this case) feedback.

Most designers subscribe to the notion that they have to "get it right" before they can launch, or they'll risk looking like idiots (sorry ... I mean "lose credibility"). Frankly, though, what threatens our credibility the most is taking 11 months to create that new-hire training program.

2. Let Learners Create Their Own Learning

I know this seems scary to most instructional designers — after all, if learners create their own programs, what do they need us for? Instructional designer skills are needed, just in a different way. Our skill is designing learning, not deciding learning. Learners will decide for themselves what they need to learn, whether we are involved or not. So create activities that allow the learners to do the bulk of the work.

One of my favorite examples is the safety training story in the preface to Dave Meier's book, The Accelerated Learning Handbook, which I like so much I included it in our book. A new-hire safety training course, in his account, is transformed by having students group up and head out into the plant on a "quest" to question workers on the ground about their own experiences on the job (and stories). The new hires return and report their findings to one another, and even have a little fun while they’re at it. The quest to seek out information on their own radically transforms what easily could have been another boring training seminar.

Also be sure to check out some of the Thiagi books on performance, or check out some of their free interactive courses. These are great ways to design interventions that will help learners create their own learning, they they'll help you create learning experiences quickly. Remember: No one cares about your instructional designs; they only care whether they learned something that relates to their job.

3. Focus on Real Work

Some of the best learning experiences I ever created were those in which we had people perform their real-life, everyday work in a high-support environment. I'm not talking about simulations, although those can be valuable, too. I'm talking about actually doing the work ... but with guidance. If you are conducting sales training, have learners call on prospects. If you do customer service training, take calls in class. If you deliver insurance-claims-processing training, have your class process real claims. Think about how fast these sessions can be designed. (Answer: Very fast.) They can last for days, and when someone has completed live work, they will be nearly as productive as someone who learned the old way, and has been doing the job for six months. What could be more effective than that?

4. Start Today

There's nothing in our book or in this post that you can't start implementing right away. That's the beauty of rapid instructional design. The hard part is just changing your mindset and notions about what your organization wants from you. Believe me, they're less concerned with proper instructional designs and effective and andragogy than with their people doing their jobs effectively.

This is the third post in a series. If you missed either of the first two, you can see them here (part I) and here (part II). Next week, we'll continue the series with a post on Critical Skills All Learning Professionals Can Put to Use Today with a discussion of social and informal learning. 

Bill Cushardauthor and Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user alantankenghoe.

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