It was the subject line of an email from Elliot Masie’s newsletter. That’s when I first read the words, retooling instructional design. The phrase kicked my imagination into high gear. It aptly expresses the transformation of the last decade in Learning and Development.
Retooling instructional design captures the idea that as an industry, as a service and as a field, learning experience designers have been preparing for the next decade. Even if we didn’t know it. We’ve worked toward making our services more useful and suitable for the modern workplace. We’ve equipped ourselves with new or adapted tools and techniques and current best practices.
If leaders will support our new path—or at least step out of the way—we can discard outdated strategies, policies and mindsets that prevent people from innovating. It’s time to let the forward-thinking learning professionals lead the way. Here are some of the ways we’ve been preparing for the decade to come.
Acceptance of Evidence-based Strategies
As the body of instructional science grows, learning professionals are more informed than ever. Through conversations, conferences, books, podcasts, articles, blogs and webinars, practitioners, professors and researchers disseminate evidence-based strategies to those who are looking for a better way.
If given the chance, we will implement research-based strategies, including spaced learning, self-directed education and support in the workflow. But we need organizational leaders to promote and foster a learning culture. A culture where professional development is a lifelong endeavor and integrated with how we work and live.
Although you may find the occasional colleague selling disproven theories, research-based concepts are not difficult to find. See my interview with Clark Quinn as he busts through many learning myths.
Focus on Human-centered Design
There was a time when learning professionals considered themselves content developers. The focus was on the materials rather than the individual’s experience. Now that we’ve adopted many user experience design principles, our focus is shifting to a human-centered approach to design.
This manifests as a shift in attitude, process and techniques that enable us to empathize, understand and consider the experience of the target audience. The lucky few even co-design with audience members (gasp!). You still find those who block access to audience members, but the trend is moving in the right direction.
Adopting User Experience (UX) Techniques
In terms of adopting user experience practices, we now find personas and empathy maps sprinkled throughout the L&D universe. Practitioners use a variety of brainstorming techniques, affinity maps and journey maps to generate ideas and understand the user’s experience. With this transformation, learner experiences are friendlier, more usable and more relevant.
Use of Agile Models
Two factors that contribute to the adoption of Agile models for LX design are rapid changes in technology and the speed with which knowledge changes. Waterfall models evaluate success too late in the process. Instead, iterative practices, prototyping, co-design and consistent user/stakeholder feedback are more attuned to the modern workplace.
These ideas are described in one way or another in Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation model, Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping (listen to the podcast interview with Cathy), Ideo’s Design Thinking and Megan Torrance’s Agile for Instructional Designers (see my review).
Creating Learning Journeys
There is much research (and there has been for decades) to convince us that one formal training intervention is not sufficient for a person to gain competence in a skill. This gives learning experience designers the freedom to design learning journeys that support, motivate and engage individuals to reach their learning goals. The learning journey or learning campaign can encompass informal and formal strategies and adapt to an individual’s needs. The key point is that it is a journey that can occur through self-directed points of contact over time.
Applying Learning Analytics
Organizations are collecting unprecedented amounts of data. Smart leaders are improving their analytic capabilities for greater insights and better decision-making. When applied to the learning function, forward-thinking organizations see the value of learning analytics for continuous improvement.
It may manifest in greater personalization, quick responses to feedback or better use of a person’s skills and knowledge. It will involve artificial intelligence, perhaps in ways we can’t yet conceive. Knowing that learning analytics will have a tremendous impact on the future, smart learning leaders are making use of the data now. Listen to Don’t Fear the Data for more on this.
Designing for Newer Technologies
New tools and platforms seem to appear in my feeds every week. Examples show the success of virtual reality for risk-free learning simulations. Use cases of augmented reality to enhance skills are plentiful And conversational interfaces are available to provide support.
Many learning professionals know that a new tool will not magically solve a performance problem. We know that the use case, the individual learner, the designer and the context are all important. That said, another form of preparing for the future is learning to leverage the latest technologies to facilitate workplace learning in all its forms.
Don’t think that learning professionals are sitting back while the world changes around them. When we are trusted to lead the way, we are actively involved in the transformation itself.