Explore the characteristics and practices of effective instructional design and its relationship to eLearning.
The Association for Talent Development states that, “Instructional design is the creation of learning experiences and materials in a manner that results in the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills. The discipline follows a system of assessing needs, designing a process, developing materials and evaluating their effectiveness.”
Let’s break this definition down and consider how this is applied in real life. As a profession, instructional designers are responsible for creating learning experiences and materials. Their goals are unique to their organization’s needs, but usually focus on learners’ (employees’) ability to acquire new knowledge and skills, then apply this information on the job. The industry of instructional design is guided by models and theories. There are processes for developing materials as well as evaluating the effectiveness of materials and programs, to ensure high-quality outcomes and the attainment of the learning objectives or goals.
A common delivery method for training and educational content in today’s workplace is eLearning. Instructional design job descriptions often concentrate on the candidate’s ability to design and create effective and engaging eLearning courses, and knowledge of authoring tools is often listed as a requirement alongside more traditional qualifications such as formal education and knowledge of theories.
Let’s dive deeper and explore the reasons why instructional design matters to the creation of eLearning.
Instructional Design Creates a Better Experience for the Learners
In the age of rapid development authoring tools, anyone can create courses even with little to no knowledge of instructional design. However, organizations that are truly interested in meeting their learners’ needs will recognize the value of employing skilled instructional designers to create their courses. Anyone who has ever taken a boring or poorly designed online course knows that clicking objects on a screen does not automatically make for meaningful experiences. Even worse, if clicking the “Next” button or scrolling is the only action, the course is not properly engaging the learners’ minds.
Most eLearning courses are completed by learners asynchronously, meaning they complete them independently, and not at a required time alongside their peers. Most eLearning courses and online training programs do not have a facilitator or instructor guiding learners through the content. The course has to stand alone and provide everything the learner needs. Solid instructional design is necessary, to ensure the learners’ needs are met in the absence of an instructor.
Instructional Design Helps Learners Retain Information (and Apply It on the Job!)
Learner engagement is wonderful, and some may argue necessary, but the ultimate goal of most workplace training courses is for learners to apply their new knowledge on the job. This may not require complete learner engagement, but it does require the learner to be cognitively active, and for the designer to make intentional choices in the creation of both the educational content and any assessments. Good results aren’t likely to happen on accident; good results come as the result of effective instructional design.
Instructional designers begin projects by analyzing and determining learners’ needs. As we wrote in our article on How and Why to Conduct a Needs Analysis, “A thorough needs analysis helps organizations see the return on their training investment, as it helps to ensure that the right people receive the right information, in the right format so that the information can be retained and put to use on the job.” This process is what leads both learners and organizations to accomplish their learning goals.
Instructional Designers Understand that eLearning is Not Always the Answer
You may be familiar with the adage that a good surgeon won’t always recommend surgery. Unnecessary operations or procedures that fall outside the surgeon’s specialty put patients at risk. The parallel to instructional design might not always be as serious, but the concept is the same. Unnecessary or irrelevant courses, or poorly designed courses are not good uses of anyone’s time, and are not good investments for an organization’s resources.
The foundational concept behind performance consulting is the idea that training does not solve every issue in the workplace. Issues like learners’ motivation and having access to the right tools and equipment can’t be solved by training. Generally speaking, training best addresses issues of knowledge or skill deficiencies. A well-trained instructional designer or performance consultant will identify the cause of a performance gap before jumping to the conclusion that training (or an eLearning course) will solve the issue. This saves their organization the investment of time and money, and the effort of creating a resource that will have little to no effect. Consulting and conducting a needs analysis is time well spent, as these processes help ensure that when training assets are produced they will be much more effective.
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