Saturday, August 27, 2016

7 Best Practices for Instructional Designers

a dart board with a dart in the bull's eye

Sometimes we get so bogged down with the details of instructional design consulting projects that we forget the most important purpose of our job—engaging and enlightening learners in a way that builds new skills and knowledge, changes desired behaviors and improves on-the-job performance.

Instructional design consulting experts are full of advice on how to structure training programs, what activities to include, what format and delivery system to use. All well and good. But let’s take a step back and re-focus on what we need to do to capture and sustain program participants’ attention so learning can occur. 

Here are some instructional design consulting basics to ensure that learners are ready to learn. Make sure you design a program that is:

  1. Focused
    Do not bury learners under too much information. Give them a chance to digest and reflect upon the content. Just throwing stuff at them is like checking off the box and thinking the information has been absorbed.  Focus only on the critical few skills, knowledge, behaviors and situations that matter most to their success.

  2. Experiential
    On average, 70% of your design should be experiential and action-oriented and 30% should be lecture and information sharing.  Require thoughtful action and reflection on their part. Your responsibility is to see that the training has been understood and that the skills are ready to be applied on the job. Interactivity is necessary to test understanding and performance readiness.

  3. Engaging
    Do not put participants to sleep. If trainers just drone on and on, learners will quickly be bored and tune out. While we are not promoting “edutainment”, make sure that you add enough variety of pace and delivery to keep them tuned in, primed and challenged to learn something new.

  4. Relevant
    Utilize relevant scenarios that are as close as possible to real-world situations. The training venue should be a sort of laboratory where new skills can be explored and practiced in a safe and forgiving environment. But the goal is to have learners take these skills back to the workplace. The more scenarios reflect the kinds of important situations learners will face on the job, the more adept they will be in handling them.

  5. Challenging
    Don’t make it too easy. Designers often underestimate their learners and this is de-motivating. Be sure you layer the skills exercises with increasing complexity so learners are truly challenged and have to stretch to complete them successfully. They should learn something new each time they are pushed out of their comfort zones and tested.

  6. Beneficial
    Make sure the instructional design focuses on important benefits to the participants, their bosses and the company as a whole.  Be clear about what they will learn and how this will help them and their organization be more successful. This tip should be number one in the list! You want learners not prisoners. Participants need to understand what is in it for them. They should attend because they are willing and eager to learn and improve, not because their manager made the training mandatory. Managers should be fully behind the training because it will teach the behaviors that are part of a larger corporate strategy. There should be measurable business results when the training becomes part of the participants’ standard operating procedure.

  7. Adaptable
    Remember that you, too, can learn. Pilots are a good way to test the effectiveness of your instructional design and training program content. Observe and listen to your test learners so you can adjust the program design to make the learning more accessible, engaging and challenging.

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