Addressing a learning/performance need, we instructional designers work toward a solution for learners that meets learning requirements, works effectively in the context of the learners’ needs, and engages them in a manner that stimulates learning so they can do new things or perform better. Our goal is always the optimal design, but the design process is iterative. We make our best first effort, learn lessons, and think anew as we constantly seek improvement.

We now need to get it right the first time

It’s more important than ever to get it right (or at least close) the first time. In a great post titled, “Face-to-face meetings – think first,” Alastair Creelman (referring to an article by Clive Shepherd, “Why face-to-face should be for special occasions“) argues that our participants today have many alternatives to instructor-led classes. He writes:

They can already access information, link up with experts around the world, form their own learning groups and collaborate so we’re going to need to sell the added value of classroom time in the near future. We need to start reviewing what the role of campus really is and make sure that class time is indeed unmissable.

Alastair’s point is equally true for any formal learning program we design, not just instructor-led. The real “competitor” to our formal programs (even those using social media) is informal learning, the way many of us prefer to learn. To succeed, all formal programs need to provide unmissable engaging experiences for learners.

And people dislike training

There’s a pre-existing sentiment in the workplace that training is boring or even painful. “Why people hate training” was the subject of a recent Twitter chat with David Kelly that exposed many of the causes, often because past training was the wrong response to the need. Training may have been poorly designed, or not even required. After all, training isn’t always the appropriate response to a performance need. We can’t afford to perpetuate this preconception.

But we have many tools

Further complicating our design effort, we have an ever-expanding set of tools, techniques, and media to choose from: instructor-led or social/collaborative learning? Face-to-face, video conference, or e-learning? If we use social media, it it inside or outside the firewall? And these are but a few of the approaches we need to think through. What works best for a given context and need?

How do we choose wisely?

It’s more important than ever to explore ALL options. It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds or, worse, married to a particular approach–the proverbial hammer in search of nails. That’s why I advocate socializing designs before developing them into products or programs. So many instructional design communities are at our fingertips, waiting to be tapped.

Here are a few I’ve used. If you know of additional communities, please comment, e-mail, or tweet me @tomspiglanin.

Thanks for reading! @tomspiglanin


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