Instructional Design: 7 Critical Questions for eLearning Developers
Instructional Design: Marc My Words: Seven Questions eLearning Developers and Managers Should Answer … Every Time
Building quality eLearning can seem daunting because it’s both science and art. Many proven instructional design and development tools, models, pedagogies, and tactics exist to help the process along. In addition, if you answer these seven questions each time you begin a development project, you will substantially increase the likelihood of a much better product.
1. What are the success criteria and the metrics?
Don’t leave this to the end; this is the first question you should answer. It tells you what you are shooting for and how you will know when you get there. You can measure learning gain for sure, but don’t forget job performance and value added – the business outcomes. After all, what good is something learned if it doesn’t translate to results? This is a major question for clients to answer; you can advise, but the focus should be on what they want to accomplish, not what you want to do. This drives client buy-in and helps them take ownership of the project from the start.
2. Who is the learning for, and why?
Are you focusing on technical people, managers, customers, or others? How much experience do they have? What are their expectations? What can they already do, and what do they need to learn? What’s driving the need in the first place? Understanding who you are targeting helps you assure that you’ll deliver the right level of detail, the right focus, and the right examples that will make it more authentic and useful.
3. What are the content and context parameters?
What should the course teach, and what should you leave out? How should you structure content? How does the subject matter relate to the learners? How do different roles (sales, customer care, technical, manufacturing, etc.) impact how you design learning? Defining the subject matter goes without saying. But too often we present content without context, and one doesn’t work without the other. Be careful of presenting content that’s not relevant or not adequate to the job, or content that reflects only the SME’s perspective and not the needs of the learner or the requirements and realities of the workplace. This is why first answering question two, above, is so important.
4. How deep should it go?
Should you expose learners to everything possible about the subject, to just a basic overview, or to somewhere in the middle? The answers to the previous two questions drive this decision. Maybe a technical practitioner needs an in-depth course, while a manager just needs an overview. Perhaps new hires need a different level of detail than experienced hands. After answering this question, you should now know who you’re designing for, the appropriate content and context, and the level of detail that’s right for each learner. Only with these parameters firmly in place can you answer the next question.
5. What type of learning is this?
Albert Einstein famously said that he didn’t want to bother memorizing things he could look up, but Julia Child wanted people to internalize food preparation because she didn’t like them relying on recipes. These two completely different learning strategies pose interesting questions. Must learners memorize the content? Are there specific skills they must master or do automatically? Will they need to reference knowledge (in addition to or instead of memorization)? Failure to focus on learning type can lead to an improper design or delivery strategy, and introduce too much inefficiency into the learning process.
6. How much time is available?
Don’t just focus on development time. Delivery time is also critical, perhaps more so. It may take three times longer to build an eLearning course than a classroom course, but if you can deliver it to all who need it 10 times quicker, should you do it? All the other decisions you make will weigh in here and the answer is not always straightforward, as you will also have to take into consideration your resources (human and technical), funding, and priorities. Time is a precious commodity in all learning decisions; be sure to look at the total timeframe – the learning product life cycle – when you think about your learning strategy.
7. How will it be delivered?
Now you can make a decision about delivery – asynchronous online training, virtual classroom, informal on-the-job learning, knowledge management, and of course a blend of these and other approaches. You may even decide that a traditional classroom format is more appropriate. We often start with this question, but in reality, you can’t answer it until you consider the preceding six questions. In fact, answering the first six questions will often lead to an obvious, clear-cut, and highly justifiable answer to this one.
Get it right from the start
There are many important questions to ask in a good design process, but the value of these seven cannot be overstated. Often, you can answer many of these questions relatively quickly. They are all part of a project’s up-front decision-making, and the more experience you develop over time, the faster you’ll be able to move through them. Try it. Gather your clients, SMEs, and stakeholders, even if it’s just for an afternoon. Work through these questions before you commit to a project direction. You’ll get better-informed work with greater buy-in, and the confidence level everyone has about the path you’ve laid out together will soar.
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