chill­i­breeze writer — Chithra Uppili

What does instruc­tional design­ing mean? It’s the art of com­bin­ing tra­di­tional teach­ing meth­ods with time tested learn­ing the­o­ries for cre­at­ing courses to empower the learner. Instruc­tional Design forms the ful­crum of any online course. The suc­cess of any edu­ca­tional design lies in the strong foun­da­tion that the instruc­tional designer lays in design­ing the course.

The Dos and Don’ts in this arti­cle are based on my expe­ri­ence as an Instruc­tional Designer for a cor­po­rate com­pany. I have been fol­low­ing many blogs and web­sites that give nuggets on how an instruc­tion­ally sound course can be devel­oped. I under­stand that as IDs we need to be sound in our basics and apply the learn­ing the­o­ries as appro­pri­ate. But let’s face it, major­ity of the online train­ing devel­oped for the cor­po­rate mar­ket are treated as projects sim­i­lar to soft­ware devel­op­ment. Not that it is bad, but we get caught in the web of project met­rics while cre­at­ing a course. More often than not, we allow the client or the SME to drive the project. How often have we said, “The client wants it that way”, and ended up com­pro­mis­ing on the design.

This arti­cle is not intended to teach you how and where to apply the learn­ing the­o­ries. Rather I want to out­line a very com­mon set of Dos and Don’ts that are often ignored. Keep­ing these sim­ple things in mind and fol­low­ing them will help you con­cen­trate well on what you are best at, Instruc­tional Design­ing. Let’s first see the Dos.

1. Begin with the End in Mind

In a cor­po­rate sce­nario, when a project is to be exe­cuted, the first thing that is done is to iden­tify a Team Leader and set up a team. In the case of elearn­ing, often it’s the Instruc­tional Designer who is the Team Lead and at times even acts as the Project Man­ager. Given this, it becomes the ID’s respon­si­bil­ity to cre­ate the project plan, inter­act with the client and the SME (who at times are dif­fer­ent peo­ple), do the resource plan­ning, and keep track of the project met­rics. All this apart from Instruc­tional Design­ing! Do not for­get that the end prod­uct of the project is an instruc­tion­ally sound and effec­tive course and not the project met­rics that your boss seems to lay empha­sis on!

2. Ana­lyze the Requirements

Yeah I know, we do the needs analy­sis, the task analy­sis, and the audi­ence analy­sis. May I ask when the last time you did any of the above analy­ses was? The cor­po­rate world is so well orga­nized that all the client has to do is fill up a require­ments gath­er­ing form that has a set of manda­tory ques­tions. This require­ments gath­er­ing form has for­tu­nately or unfor­tu­nately replaced the major­ity of the analy­sis phase for an Instruc­tional designer. So it makes it even more impor­tant that we under­stand the client’s require­ments inti­mately. I say this because the client fills up the form based on what his under­stand­ing of elearn­ing is and there are instances where there are gaps in the require­ments. For instance, one client had men­tioned that he wanted a sin­gle WBT to be devel­oped. But when we received the source con­tent we real­ized that we will have to cre­ate 5 WBTs! And that’s not all, we had already charged the client for just one WBT. So it’s impor­tant that you under­stand your client’s require­ments thoroughly.

3. Present Your Design and Get it Approved

Now is the time to let your cre­ative side take over. The course is going to be your brain child. It’s an awe­some feel­ing to be able to apply all your Instruc­tional Design strate­gies and see a blue print emerge in the form of a Design Doc­u­ment. Boy, don’t you feel mighty proud that you’ve come up with the best design strat­egy! But wait a minute. Does your client/SME under­stand the design doc­u­ment? Will he under­stand it when you say, “The strat­egy used in this topic fol­lows the Bloom’s Tax­on­omy.” Most of the clients don’t. In fact they don’t care. All they care to see is how the course will look – will it cover the top­ics they intend cov­er­ing. The elab­o­rate design doc­u­ment that you just cre­ated is good for you and your team to work on. But the impor­tant thing is to con­vince the client that the design you’ve come up with is effi­cient. Give your client a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of the design. A 3–4 slider or a pro­to­type would do the trick bet­ter than giv­ing them a 25–30 page doc­u­ment that is full of jar­gon. You don’t want to shock the client later when you present him the first ver­sion of the course. Ensure that you present the design to the client and get it approved.

4. Freeze the Content

Now that you are done with the design, you can move on with the devel­op­ment. The devel­op­ment begins with the sto­ry­board­ing phase. The sto­ry­board is where your design starts tak­ing shape. You con­cen­trate on con­tent flow and con­tent chunk­ing. At this stage it is very impor­tant to get your client’s approval on the con­tent. Yes, you’ve cre­ated the con­tent based on the SME’s inputs. But you have rearranged it now to suit the design, to main­tain con­ti­nu­ity and con­sis­tency. Get the sto­ry­boards approved from the client. Also make it clear to the client that any addi­tion or dele­tion to the con­tent should be done at this stage, because tam­per­ing with the con­tent later would mean tam­per­ing with the design and can lead to a lot of rework.

5. Visu­al­ize with the Team

The sto­ry­board, ide­ally, should be com­pre­hen­sive for a devel­oper or a graphic designer to start devel­op­ing the course with min­i­mal inter­fer­ence from the ID. But as I say ide­ally, it’s not the case always. It would be a good idea to have a visu­al­iza­tion ses­sion before the devel­op­ment begins. This ensures that that your team of Graphic Design­ers and devel­op­ers are in the same page as you are. Also it is a great forum to ensure that all that you have visu­al­ized is prac­ti­cally and tech­ni­cally fea­si­ble in the given time frame.

Fol­low­ing the above dos would enhance your effi­ciency as an Instruc­tional designer. More­over if we can avoid cer­tain things as an Instruc­tional Designer, we will be able to uti­lize our time more efficiently.

  • Do Not Over­lap the Design Phase and the Devel­op­ment Phase.
  • Do Not Add Ambigu­ous Visu­als – to sup­ple­ment the text.
  • Do not assume any­thing – cross refer client/SME.
  • Do not begin with­out final­iz­ing scope. Check with the client of their spe­cific style, color specifications.
  • Do not decide any­thing with­out keep­ing inform­ing your client.

It is the effec­tive­ness of the instruc­tional design that sets apart a great course from a good course. If we can be more orga­nized with our work and do the basics right, noth­ing will stop us from devel­op­ing great online courses!