My love affair with Instructional Design (ID) started in 1984, when I did not even know of the term ID. A colleague was tasked to develop a module on Programming Logic and Techniques and before I could say Jack Robinson I was assigned to be his partner. He would spend a couple of days, at the most, for a 4-hour session in Programming Logic and Techniques and hand me the sheafs of paper to test in my classroom session. I was amazed at the effectiveness and accuracy of the content. My curiosity piqued and I couldn’t wait to learn more about my new sweetheart.
Somewhere in the summer of ’87 or ’88 I got the opportunity to deepen my formal and structural understanding of ID under the tutelage of Prof. Glen Knudswig. Glen was a teacher of teachers, he held himself to the highest professional and personal standards and inspired others to do the same. More so, he was passionate about the facilitation of learning.
Unfortunately, in 1998, he met with an accident and died at the age of 57 in Florida. However, I was fortunate to have been trained by him during my formative years in ID.
Armed with the knowledge of the art and science of creating learning content, I spent the next two decades in the realm of ID shuffling between various roles – Developer, Reviewer, Trainer, Project Manager, Quality Head, Business Development etc.
My passion for ID was soaring when I joined Vyaktitva in 2010. At Vyaktitva, I deeply enjoyed the Big Ticket – ID and Facilitations Skills program as a learner, user and trainer. The program is built on a strong base with the ADDIE methodology, which is rather popular with instructional designers. The following diagram gives an overview of the process.
Needless to say, I am quite a stickler about following the process. It’s not for nothing that many people have called mean ID Barbarian! But, I have observed in myself and other impactful Instructional Designers, that we leverage deeper capacities in conjunction with the process.
Tool 1: Curious
Insatiable curiosity about the participants and their context, curiosity about how various designs have been received by the learners, in new trends, new constructs, helps the designer immensely. It nurtures a deep empathy for the intended learner and increases the chances of the program landing well, since the learner is centre-staged. Harbouring a genuine curiosity ensures that you ask the right questions, which in turn leads to the designing of a program that pivots around feelings and skills.
Typically, what happens is that we ask questions at the surface level and a little voice tells us that this solution will work and we are all set to cut the chase and close into some decisions. At this point it is helpful to ask ourselves – Is that all? I am sure I can get answers to ten more questions.
When I inched towards asking more questions, I noticed a significant change in the answers and the direction that my design took.
Tool 2: Observer
In one of my early projects, I just slipped and flowed with the stories that the prospective participants of the training program shared. The stories often circled around their discontent with the supervisors and had absolutely nothing to do with the scope of the project: Understanding of Competencies. In conclusion, while I gathered a lot of stories about their distress within the organisation, I got no real meat on how, where and why the competencies could help them.
In another instance, I was swayed by one-sided version of experiences of team members (of course all fingers pointing to the supervisors). I realised that apart from the fact that I had no glimpse into the team members’ needs, emotionally I was invariably siding with them and conveniently pinning all the blame on the supervisors!
There are always four sides to a coin and as an analyst or designer it is important to cover all four sides. This can happen only if we develop the ability to sit on the fence during our interactions with all stakeholders.
Tool 3: Conversationalist
The world is nothing but a mammoth web of stories and to get the right story from anyone, you need to be a smooth conversationalist. At the bottom of the ID pyramid is, ‘understanding the learner’ and this is best done through conversations – technically also known as the Analysis Phase. If you manage to lead the speaker from one perch to another effortlessly, you will benefit from a much richer analysis. Moreover, the learner will be more receptive to your inputs and suggestions.
This skill comes handy during the design phase as well. One session must seamlessly flow into the next, all together weaving a wonderful tapestry of compelling motifs. This lends itself to higher retention and recall for the learner.
Tool 4: Confidante
And yes, being able to hold secrets as a true confidante is invaluable to the way they will open up and share. This will allow your design to seep into the sweet spots. And logically follows that the needle change will be perceptible.
Tool 5: Collector
Glen Knudswig started the Instructional Design program, that I mentioned at the start of the article, with a thought- provoking question: Who is a genius? And after the trivial discussions, he summarised by saying that a genius is one who has many models to work from.
This simple definition made a huge impact on me and I have since, stayed on the look-out for instructional strategies from books, experiences, observations alike. My back pack (read memory) has them categorised and labelled in smart looking trunks. My unconscious competence is now really all about creating a flow in a design and ensuring retention and recall for the learner, through the story.
What began as an affair with Instructional Design soon matured into a perennial romance. Today it is infused into several facets of my life, bringing me incomparable clarity and satisfaction.