5 Smart Questions Instructional Designers Should Ask

As an instructional designer or learning architect, it pays to keep your eye on the big picture.

No one wants the headaches associated with going down the wrong path. Getting a birds-eye view of the situation can help. Here are five smart questions to ask when you first meet with a client.

1. What is your organization’s goal?

The work you perform for an internal or external client will have better results if you are aware of the client’s key goal and mission. At the highest level, you can ensure your work is aligned with their goals. At the most detailed level, you can choose words and images that are in sync with what they are trying to achieve.

If your client is a business, then the question becomes, “What is your company’s business goal?” Many of us, however, work with nonprofits, academic and governmental organizations. So even though their goals may not be primarily business-oriented, these organizations also have a primary focus.

2. What problem or issue do you want to solve with training?

Many clients jump to the conclusion that training is the answer to their problems. Yes, this is a nice change from the days when people thought training was a waste of time. But the fact remains that training is not always the solution.

The knowledge and skills instructional designers possess are transferable to many areas of endeavor. So when you hear what your client wants to achieve, think through whether training is the best solution. You might want to run it through the Five Moments of Need test.

Some other possibilities include: performance support (job aids, mobile apps, wikis, help desk); encouraging mentor relationships; discussions via social media; or a software modification if the problem is technical.

3. What are the biggest obstacles to solving this problem?

As you discover the obstacles, you’ll be able to piece together the solution. First, attempt to categorize the form in which the obstacles exist.

For example, some obstacles, such as poor motivation and high turnover rates might stem from an organization’s negative culture. On the other hand, when employees can’t remember how to perform complex tasks or need to memorize long scripts, then most likely, job performance support is missing.

4. In what type of environment will learning occur?

When formal training is a potential solution, it’s important to understand the environment in which learners will be immersed. If call center employees need to quickly reference a procedure, this is a very different learning environment than healthcare workers who need training to prevent hospital-based infections.

5. How do employees feel about online learning?

Perhaps you’ve heard a little grumbling about eLearning lately? Many employees have been inundated with too many page turners and too little engagement. If you discover that audience members have been turned off to training—and online learning in general—this is your chance to turn the tide.

Use this as an opportunity to give learners streamlined training with more personality, greater engagement and reduced information than they’ve ever had before. You might have to fight for it, but it’s worth the effort.

What questions work for you? Share in the Comments section below.

Get The eLearning Coach delivered to your Inbox once a month, with articles, tips and freebies. Sign up below.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Michelle Childs says

    Another awesome post Connie! They are all very relevant points, but #5 is my “pet peeve” – boring elearning that gives elearning in general a bad name. Thanks again,

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for the kind words. We are up against the idea that eLearning is boring. It’s quite a challenge but I think we can beat it!

  3. Pam Foster says

    Thank you for your post. I presently design and implement professional development for teachers in the school system that I work in. In looking at question 1, I often ask client to tell me what the final product looks like. I ask them what is it that they want their teachers to know or be able to do after the training. You are so correct when you said that some clients think a one time training is going to solve all of their problems. To keep this from happening, I try to talk with them about follow-up, whether it be through outside resources,or job-embedded professional development. Sometimes the root-cause of the problem can not be fixed by training or training alone. Your statement about engagement in delivery created a connection for me. I feel strongly that in this day and time, there is so much technology being used, that long gone are the days of “stand & deliver”. If you stand, your delivery needs to be engaging and your personality needs to connect to the audience. Thank you for your post. I am new to all of this and your post is helpful.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>