The goal of anything worth doing is to produce something. Producing something substandard is a waste of time and materials. We know these things inherently. The strong desire to produce – anything – at any cost has led to what Cammy Bean, a Vice President at Kineo has called, “clicky-clicky-bling-bling“. Doesn’t she have a cool name?

How I View Instructional Design

Instructional design is the conceptual and planning in any training whether the final delivery is in the classroom or online. Because authoring tools have eliminated some of the steps in design we have evolved to an iterative model, particularly in e-Learning development. It has been written that half of all e-Learning efforts fail. Some organizations put millions into creating e-Learning but it has failed to live up to standards. But why does it fail? Imagine telling an architect or automotive engineer that we already know how to make houses or cars. It’s very simple. We don’t need to plan anything. After all we’re not building rockets, as a manager once said to me, “this isn’t rocket science.” But actually I believe it is!

Instructional design is the confluence of adult learning or androgogy. Androgogy is very different from pedagogy which is the science of teaching children. These are sometimes used interchangeably but not often not by people serious about training adults. Factors such as cognition, psychology, sociology and a host of other social and natural sciences influence instructional design just as they do medicine, engineering and architecture. Yet how much time do we spend on analysis and design? The majority of the effort today is spent on development because development gets us a finished product.

Iterative Design: A Double-Edged Sword

Iterative design seems like a great answer until we consider that many modern projects today use iterative design and thought it may appear to work well – something gets produced. But iterative design requires that a critical mass point is reached before that worthwhile point is reached.

I believe strongly that good design will lead to good development. Monica Savage, President of Obsidian, in ELearning Guild’s 62 Tips Effective eLearning Instruction Design by the eLearning Guilde, “Create a design document first: Don’t jump into development. Any training piece can
start with a design document or plan. Make sure that everyone is on the same page
before spending a lot of effort developing the actual deliverable.”

Instructional development occurs when you have at least some of the content, the graphics and an environment from which you can begin to capture screens. Once you are at that point storyboards and other documents collected during a rigorous planning phase can result in good development. That development does take time. I am philosophically opposed to developing something with no good design documents. I have seen efforts that either fail completely or that result in substandard results from a rush to simply complete something. Read this criticism of Rapid Instructional Design.

ADDIE is a common set of principles that are used in training: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Most in the learning and development business say they do not strictly adhere to the ADDIE model. I believe it should be used in conjunction with other conceptual frameworks.

Instructional Design vs. Development

Often colleagues who aren’t involved in “our” practice ask – well if instructional design isn’t development – when does development occur? Instructional development occurs after as little as 60% and as much as 80% of the work is done.

When I make these statements many colleagues shake their heads in disbelief because they think that semantics are at play. “Oh, that’s just semantics isn’t it, since you’re constantly reworking the design in development it doesn’t really matter.”

I don’t agree.  When we actually capture screens or start to assemble participant guides or actually write the job aid – we’re nearly at the finishing point. Certainly we need to test the materials out – whether that means learners run through the e-Learning, or we collect data from the first web-based training or we’re looking closely at learner outcomes in the classroom. But that evaluation occurs in the design phase, not once you’re already doing a pilot evaluation. Rushing to pilot before you have a working model will simply add to development time, making it appear that you’re spending all your effort on development when in reality you’re design, re-developing and presenting.

Design Phase Outputs

The design phase outputs will include the training needs analysis, learner analysis, goal analysis, objective analysis and performance analysis. Likewise the design phase will include a key topics document, then a training flow, then the training materials and finally evaluation tools.

I’ll Sue: Or One Very Good Reason We Need Good Instructional Design

Event driven instructional design and development will yield better results. In many cases ID clients are asking for proof that employees have learned. Instructional design documents insure the chain of evidence that courts will require to prove that a solid foundation exists for the resulting training – for the 15 – 20 minute movie, for the one hour web-based training, for the series of two minute Podcasts. In today’s litigious world having solid documentation not only helps insure good quality designs, it also gives organizations the confidence to withstand legal challenges. You can present evidence that employees took tests and that you went through a “training” process until the cows come home, however, if the opposing side has a really good measurement and evaluation person on their team – they’re going to want to see the design that went into the development and they will want to know if the instruments were valid. If they meet tests of validity – in other words are they instructionally sound.

How Serious Are You?

People ask if I’m tied to this philosophy. My answer is: yes. I believe that instructional design and development are very different. So then what is development?

Instructional Development: Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Literally

Instructional development is taking the design documents and actually executing them. It means taking the storyboards, assuming approval, and creating an initial deliverable. It means applying a project management-based iterative approach to completing the development, updating the design documents as part of that process and creating a feedback loop to improve the speed of development. Your work product or outputs will be clearest to a client or employer at this stage rather than at the design stage. This is the fun, sometimes more creative phase that most like about e-Learning, web-based classroom, video, Podcast and classroom training. This is the phase that is surprisingly the least work intensive. In fact by the time you will have expended 60 – 70% of your time and materials. This last “sprint” the 30 – 40% that’s left is where the client be they internal or external will see the most results. This is literally where the rubber meets the road. You’ve developed the blueprint for your car or house – and now you’re going to build it based on the design documents – not just blueprints but a great deal of other documents that should inform the development process every step of the way.

Why the Plug Gets Pulled On So Many Learning Development Projects

People pull the plug on projects for lots of reasons: a change in organizational structure, shifts in products and services, a philosophical change, new or changing regulations but sometimes the plug gets pulled because we moved too fast towards an end.

The development phase is also typically where the plug gets pulled. People call it “instructional design” but actually since most folks skip the analysis phase either partly or entirely the failure point looks as if it has occurred during development – actually it occurred the moment someone said, “let’s get this done instead of let’s get this done properly.”

In a world where results are evaluated in seconds my philosophy isn’t very popular. But since so many instructional design efforts fail entirely – since organizations poor millions into the process and get nothing back is my philosophy so far off.  Recent revelations about aircraft design would tend to indicate engineers and project managers followed an iterative process but somehow missed several major failure points. Or did they? Did they actually fail at the analysis?

I’ve seen several projects pulled or modified because millions were spent before the questions that should have been or weren’t asked in the analysis phase are actually forced to the forefront. Questions like: is training the solution? Is this training solution the best one? Do we have the will to make this happen? Do we have the expertise? Are we willing to listen to the experts we have on board? Have we put the right time and materials into this effort?

In most organizations we really can’t tell because the evaluation criteria aren’t defined early. We don’t know what we expect because we haven’t set those expectations precisely. Again evaluation – planning for evaluation – isn’t often part of the process. We “test” people over knowledge – but that’s not comprehensive evaluation – that’s not performance analysis in the organization. Bring some analysis must begin in the analysis phase rather than as part of development.