One aspect of a portfolio that can make yours stand out is to provide the proper context for every work sample. You can achieve this by adding instructional design case studies to your portfolio. Case studies are an opportunity to add depth and insight to your demonstrated skills.
In this article, I hope to clarify what a portfolio case study is and what to include in one. For more on portfolios in general, see How to Build an Instructional Design Portfolio.
What is a case study for an instructional design portfolio?
Start by thinking of yourself as a designer. In design fields, it’s typical for practitioners to supplement the visual examples of their work with summary descriptions. A portfolio case study refers to this supplemental description. The case study adds background and depth to your work. It reflects the process and thinking you use to design a solution.
What To Include In A Portfolio Case Study
The people who review your portfolio are often pressed for time. So, you’re walking a tightrope between sufficiently explaining your project while keeping your description concise. Below is a suggested list of topics to include in your explanation. Because you need to keep it brief, select the topics that are most important for highlighting your talents and the message you want to convey.
- Project Title and Org Name: Title of the product you created and name of the company, organization or industry
- Date: Time period when you worked on the project
- Image of the solution: This will lead to a short demo or a series of screen captures of the solution. You may want to add documentation (analysis, design and storyboards) if it looks clean and professional.
- Problem you solved: Focus on performance improvement, changes in attitude, skills developed
- Your role: Specify your role if you were part of a team
- Challenges you overcame: For example: diverse audience groups; short timeline; uninterested learners, poor tech infrastructure, etc.
- Solution to the problem: Explain and demonstrate the solution
- Design Strategies: Your process, instructional strategies you chose and why
- Results/Impact: Metrics used to measure effectiveness of the solution or how performance improved. You can report data, discuss impact, anecdotal evidence or preliminary hunches.
Case Study Formats
Two types of case study formats are typical: the outline format and the story approach. Pick one consistent approach for your portfolio to make it as easy as possible for a reviewer to understand your work.
- Outline Format: The outline format is essentially a simple list of the key points or topics of your case study and a concise explanation of each topic. The advantage of the outline format is that it is easy to quickly skim and gather the key points. Organize it in a way that makes sense for your work and the aspects you want to highlight. See the example below. There is room for creativity by using your own wording for topic titles.
- Story Format: In this approach, you write a few paragraphs describing the case study. The advantage to the story format is that well-written stories could be more likely to draw in a reader. Stories may also demonstrate your writing skills. For more detail on writing story-based case studies, see User Experience Case Studies.
Examples Of Instructional Design Case Studies For Portfolios
Outline Format Example
- First Aid Bot
- Industry: Health Care
- Problem to Be Solved: Many people are not prepared to provide first aid in an emergency situation while they wait for professional help to arrive. They may forget what they learned or have never been trained in the first place.
- Challenges: The two challenges of providing first aid care in an emergency are: 1) people need to get the information quickly and 2) the person giving first aid may be too busy assisting the person in need to search for information.
- Solution: First Aid Bot is a chatbot that responds to the human voice. Users open the app and type or use voice commands to identify the emergency. The bot then responds with audio instructions for caring for the individual.
- Learning Design Strategies: I created a performance support solution for people to use while completing a first aid task. It is not meant to be a learning intervention, but rather to fulfill an immediate need during an emergency. The first aid instructions are clear and simple to avoid overloading the user’s memory as they complete the task at hand.
Story Format Example
When my daughter’s scouting troop asked if I could develop a course to onboard volunteer parents, I jumped at the chance to help. Many volunteers aren’t aware of the responsibilities they are taking on as Scout Assistants. Many haven’t considered the ethical issues that may arise from time to time. The biggest challenge in this effort was how to sufficiently engage the volunteers so they would complete the online training.
I solved this problem by creating five short game-based scenarios that would pique their curiosity enough to carry them through to completion. Each scenario presents the parent with a sticky problem that could come up during a scouting event. The user earns points for making choices that demonstrate care and concern for the scouts. Volunteer parents report that they enjoy the training and so far, 85% of the volunteers have completed the course.
If Your Samples Are Not From Actual Work Projects
If you are trying to break into an instructional design career or if you want to demonstrate a wide range of solutions, these may not come from work projects. Simply mention in your description, that you created the sample because you wanted to solve a particular problem. Neither of the examples above mention that the work was done as an employee or from a paid client.
Finding The Best Writing Tone
As you write case studies, you may want to explore the best writing tone for your portfolio. Tone conveys the mood and emotion of your writing. It shows how you want to address the reader and portray yourself in this context. For professional purposes, you may choose to convey a formal tone or you may prefer a casual one. You might adopt a serious tone or one that is friendly. Choose the tone that best reflects your authentic work self. Then keep the tone consistent.
Learn From Other Industries
You can learn a lot from how other industries create portfolio case studies. Borrow the ideas you like and apply them to learning design. Here are a few places to look:
- UX Portfolio Case Study template (plus examples from successful hires)
All About Process: Dissecting Case Study Portfolios (oriented toward graphic design)
Where’s my portfolio?
By the way, although I often help people with their instructional design portfolios, I actually don’t have one of my own. My career was already in high gear when portfolios became important and I haven’t had a need to make one. If a client asks, I walk them through my work with a screen share.
Click the image below to get a summary of the seven steps for building a portfolio. Plus you’ll get The eLearning Coach newsletter once a month with articles, resources and freebies.