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Instructional Design is not Information Technology or is it?

Instructional Designers or IDs are in need of several skills which are often not developed in academic programs and are only gained by work experience.  Even then, IDs have a propensity to be “techie” in their talk about project requirements and may often mimic the behaviors of an Information Technology or IT professional.  You know, that attitude when you call tech support and they start throwing tech jargon around i.e. IP address, command line, clean install, etc. Techie talk for IDs may include but is not limited to concepts like “gap analysis”, “learning objectives”, “design document”, “Level 1-4 evaluation” and “Bloom’s”.  If you are a training professional, you may have heard of these but, if you are an ID, you live by them.  However, it’s very likely that business owners, project sponsors and subject matter experts have no idea what any of these mean.  The following are some tips and hacks for instructional design professionals  succeed in workplace learning.

Speak the Same Language

As you probably know, language can be a barrier but, jargon is even worst.  Jargon are all those techie terms previously mentioned.  In the IT world, jargon is a way of life but, even IT professionals have to adjust their lingo when dealing with non-IT business partners.  Unless you work for an instructional design firm serving other instructional design companies, ID jargon is a lethal barrier.  Therefore, think hard about modifying your ID “tech talk” to resemble more “business talk”.  Here are some typical jargon based phrases followed by their business-friendly versions:

NO: Let’s do a gap analysis to determine the learning needs.  YES: Let’s discuss the “Why?” and the “What?’ to meet the business needs.


NO: Who can be designated as SMEs for this project?  YES: Who are the experts on this topic or skills?


NO: Let’s establish learning objectives. YES: Let’s set performance goals.


NO: Level 1 Evaluation   YES: User Survey

NO: Level 2 Evaluation  YES: Measure what users know

NO: Level 3 Evaluation  YES: Measure skills

NO: Level 4 Evaluation  YES: Measure business impact

Have a Consultant Mindset

Even if you are a salaried full-time employee, as an ID you should adapt a consultant mindset.  Consultants are often contracted and everyone they interact with is treated like a customer.  Why? Because it can mean the difference whether they get continual business or not.  If you deal with internal customers focus first on what they need and what they know, not on what you need.  Having good relationship and rapport with internal business partners will allow you to easily influence them to get what you need to get the job done.
This great blog post from Connie Malamed would give lots of more insight on the skills necessary to be an exceptional ID.

Move at the Speed of Need

Instructional design is by nature an institutional i.e. academic, military methodology.  It wasn’t design to meet the dynamic and spontaneous requirements most businesses have.  It’s also true that many business functions may have unrealistic expectations like pumping out a 30-minute elearning course in two days.  The key element for IDs to “move at the speed of need” is to think outside the course.  You need to be able to respond to the business need with “something” and lead the conversation to expand further after the immediate needs are addressed.  For example; critical information via job aid or web tech may be of higher value for workers right away and contextual pieces may be provided later in a more elaborate format.

Make Instructional Decisions, Not Options

As a good ID you may tend to be learner-centered and this affinity may influence how you deal with customers.  The one safe assumption you can have is that customers don’t really know what they want and that’s why they come to you in the first place.  Of course, this is not true in all cases; usually people that know what they want will provide copious details and expected outcomes up front.  For all else, remember you are the instructional expert.  Therefore, be confident about your decisions and don’t leave those open as options for business owners to influence.  Otherwise, you may find yourself just being a PowerPoint decorator.

Wrap Up!

In summary, instructional design is not native to workplace learning and instructional designers have jargon which is not well known in organizations.  IDs should focus in business communication tactics their business partners can easily understand.  It’s all about speaking the same business language and eliminating jargon.  IDs must be consultants and treat whose whom they serve as customers.  Moving at the speed of the business is essential for success and this often means providing apt solutions or small fixes first.  IDs are the instructional experts, they should make decisions based on their expertise rather than having business owners decide.  Finally, instructional designers need to be dynamic, partner with internal stakeholders and focus on them as customers.  For more info on related topics, check out this post on the 10 Worst L&D Practices

What else would you add here? Please share your thoughts!

Posted in Instructional Models, L&D and tagged , , .

Alexander Salas

eLearning, technology, gamification, workplace learning, instructional design and creativity are my enduring passions in life. I breathe when I create. Leave a comment, let’s connect on LinkedIn and share experiences. The rest of the time I manage an LMS, eLearning communities and speak at learning conferences #humblebrag

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