A Tale of 36 Instructional Designers

Here’s a tale of 36 instructional designers, one instructional design position and what separated the winner from the also-rans.

One training design company had a competition for a single instructional design position. It had 36 applicants, all of whom said they had a background in designing corporate training. They had resumes to prove it.

The training company’s selection process included an interview, work samples and a live competitive timed test to design a module in 15 minutes with everyone using the same information provided for the test.

My, how 36 people can think in 36 different ways! The most impressive entry by far was a slide presentation that moved, had sound effects and great graphics. How did she do that in 15 minutes? Looks like we have a winner…but not so fast!

The senior instructional designer judging the competition chose the applicant who entered a low-tech slide deck with static graphics and no background noise. How could she pass up the WOW! Factor in favor of Plain Jane? The answer was simple.

In 15 minutes, Plain Jane determined the goal of the training, wrote learning objectives, split the material into three distinct modules each with its own assessment and added a final competency exam with a certificate of completion. As it turned out, the senior ID who made the decision already had a graphic artist on staff to WOW! the learner. In her search for an instructional designer, she was looking for – you guessed it – solid instructional design principles.

The Moral of the Story

Pretty content does not equal effective learning.

In this whiz-bang world where everything talks and moves on screen, many training and instructional designers believe that good training means investing in an expensive piece of multimedia because that is what engages learners. They may be half right. The bells and whistles that enhance a learning program may pull in the learner and may even get them to hang around awhile, but that isn’t what makes learning stick or leads to application back on the job.

Great instructional design starts with sound learning principles. First, a strong program is based on determining the outcomes, goals and objectives for the program that answer the question, “What would you like the learners to do when they complete the course?”

Next, an instructionally sound program is built on validated adult learning principles that engage the proper use of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  

Finally, an effective training program considers the context of the material including what the learner already knows, what they are currently doing on the job, and how this new material fits into their role. Adults learn best when they can link something they are learning to something they already know, and when they can immediately see the value of the new information as it applies to their work.

When you design a learning program with the practical application of the material firmly in mind, the learners will stay engaged because they understand its relevance to their performance on the job.

Of course, learners like to be entertained, too.  Because employees today expect a good user experience that is similar to the experience they have outside of work with video games and on-demand audio and video, an engaging training program includes great production. However, great production value without solid instructional design principles is just putting lipstick on a pig.

To make sure your training program isn’t just another pretty face, start with solid instructional design principles because real beauty is on the inside.

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A Tale of 36 Instructional Designers