Don’t ask me this

As an instructional designer, I work with lots of different stakeholders, including subject matter experts (SMEs). Not everyone knows what to expect of an instructional designer and that’s totally fine. Please don’t be too proud to tell me because I’d be happy to answer all your questions and explain the instructional design process. But if you’d like to make a good first impression as an SME and prevent me from rolling my eyes (secretly, of course), then don’t ask me or my fellow instructional designers the following questions:

Have you covered all learning styles?

Learning styles are no longer leading and there’s a lot of discussions if learning styles exist at all. Learners might have a preference, some like to read, others like to use their hands or see demonstrations. Please realise that it’s often the content that determines how it needs to be delivered to achieve the learning objectives. We, instructional designers, also need to take into account the restrictions, such as technology skills, location, budget, time to develop, etc.
For example: You might want to teach your employees, who spend a lot of their time on the road, how to change a tyre. You think that elearning would be best as they can learn on their phone when they have a break. A skill like changing a tyre requires hands-on practice. A demonstration (yes, that could include a ‘how to’ video) followed by a practice run would be a better fit.

This needs more depth, could you write a bit more?

We work with SMEs to understand the problem we need to solve and/or the performance gap we need to close for the learners. That doesn’t mean we know all ins and outs of the topics we’re working on. We’ll work with the resources you’re providing to draft a storyboard or a lesson plan. We’ll also conduct additional research if needed or tell you for more content if we think that’s what the course needs. But it’s up to the SMEs to ensure the content has the right depth and breadth. I often compare instructional designers with website builders. They can build great websites for all kinds of businesses. The websites are easy to navigate, look great, answer the readers’ questions and can be found by search engines, etc. That doesn’t mean that website builders know everything about the field their client is working in. That’s the same for instructional designers. We are experts in adult learning and how to make learning stick. But similar to website builders, we need subject matter to shine.

For example: You might want to teach your employees, who spend a lot of their time on the road, how to change a tyre. You think that elearning would be best as they can learn on their phone when they have a break. A skill like changing a tyre requires hands-on practice. A demonstration (yes, that could include a ‘how to’ video) followed by a practice run would be a better fit.

Could you add a few more clicks to make it engaging?

Clicking has its place in elearning. It might help to structure content or hide content for learners to look up, only if they need it. But clicking doesn’t make learning more engaging nor does it support the learning (unless it’s training in clicking, which is unlikely). There are much better ways to make an elearning module engaging and achieve the learning objectives, such as storytelling, audio, video or animation, real-life examples and scenario-based activities. So, if you think a course is not engaging enough, a few clicks won’t solve the problem, you need to have a thorough look at the course again.

This content hasn’t been covered anywhere else, could you please add it to this course?

Well, no! When we design a course, we go through a process of content discovery, chunking and sequencing. We decide what the content is, the breadth and depth of it, and take into account the cognitive load. We choose the right sequencing and ensure it’s a complete learning package with a clear goal. All content should be relevant to the learner and help them achieve their learning objectives. Adding content that’s not relevant to reaching the learning objectives or may confuse the learner because it’s not in line with the rest of the course should be avoided at all times.

Ask me WHY instead

Of course this is written tongue in cheek. As learning is at the core of everything I do, I’d love to have discussions with you on how to improve the learning experience and meet learning objectives. And it’s not a problem at all to answer all your questions about the instructional design process (with or without a secret eye roll). Let’s work together by asking a lot of WHY questions. Because I enjoy learning from you as an SME about the course topic and would love to answer all your questions on why I’ve made certain design choices. WHY will keep us sharp!
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