Wednesday, May 4, 2011

State of Mind for Instruction Designer

I have the luxury to watch my senior Instruction Design consultant working meticulously in a project. He has given me the language to express the function of Instruction Design to managers and non-ID teams.

1. It is a state of mind. Agreed that every role and function, beyond training, skills and competencies requires you to have the state of mind to bring out the desired output. For Instruction Design the state of mind and orientation is lot different. Creating content is about penning out phrases and sentences as it occurs to mind and is understood in ones mind. While Instruction design is about writing for an audience mind. There is a great difference in this. Only reflection can allow one to sink in the real value of instruction vs sentences.

2. It is about Analysis, Period : Instruction Design and Instruction Writing are interchanged to suit convenience (at least it is a norm in my country). If you do not find a person to write, hire an ID to do that job. You are unable to hire for Writing position, elevate them as IDs.

However, a good Instruction Design practice and ID is not about writing (a flair and love to write is important and critical though), but keenness to analyze reams of pages of content and build up measurable objectives. First build and define Performance objectives. Performance Objectives evaluation is done 2 ways. The primary method is interviews and management vision on the job skills and competencies required. The secondary and most often used method is to glean them from available content. Based on Performance objectives, repeat the analysis to determine the learning objectives and the sequence. This is a pain and the most tough portion to absorb the content to measure them in objectives.

Go back and forth on content to now map the content to learning objectives. Invariably gaps in content will surface. It is here that ID dons the hat to bring in relevance to existing content and make them closer to objectives.

 Doing this analysis is often skipped and most times in projects, a content material is read and re-read to be re-purposed into smaller instruction units. A proper analysis phrase is where a true ID professional delivers on value.

A good analysis phase in my current project has realized productivity gains of 60% in storyboarding phase.

3. It is not about English alone, It is about the subject: I have often been told by bosses to groom and pitch in people with good command of English as IDs. Have went that path too, although reluctantly. Observing my colleague I realize that it is not English and the grammar theories to look for grooming a candidate in ID role.  It is only in the person whose state of mind can amend to ways for grasping the audience and subject is a valid candidate for ID grooming.

4. Instruction is visualization : Couldn't feel this or accept this, since it is verbose as opposed to common thinking of seeing graphics. Visualization is key to writing an instruction. Instruction delivery is key role in Instruction Design
phase. And that is why writing instruction is not about writing sentences. It is about consistency of saying similar and same things the same way every time. Try this and you will know the state of mind required for this one is much different than content creators.

Visualizing the reading mode and style and adapting to write steadily is what a good course is all about. Graphics, animations, interactions and functionalities are all manifests of visualization and allows choosing the best instruction type for conveying learning intent behind sentences.

5. ID delivers metrics for learning and training: This can be laughed at or could be ignored. It is not in one course or just courses that a user can learn and become productive. Since schools and college degrees and learning do not get us to become professionals from day one. 
It is repetitive working and learning from peers on job and mistakes we do that we develop most of time.

Which of the two statements appeal to you will determine your liking to the point.

  1. A course is a result of a goal.
  2. Courses are a means to enhance skills.
If you are going with #2, then it is time to look at #1 seriously. ID as a profession is to measure the output against business or personal goals. Measurements to state the degree of closeness to the competencies, skills, gaps and strategic intent of roles and responsibilities within a context is all what a course can emanate to a metric system.

The level of awareness, level of understanding, the compatibility of reacting to situations is what courses teach. And if analysis is done right, measuring from learning to performance can give you measurement oriented results.

In practice, having worked with a large number of Instruction Designers, these qualities are what an Instruction Designer brings in to the success of project teams. The state of mind of ID is a specialized skill. Misunderstanding it as a series of steps and templates to execute is not a good way to perform the function.

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