Today I remembered how odd our instructional design life can be. For example, I attended a kickoff meeting to design and build a course that teaches medical personnel about venous access devices (VADs) and how to prevent infections from their use. I didn’t even know what a venous access device was. This is a typical day in the life of an instructional designer.
VADs are those tubes that go into a large vein and hang around to administer fluids or medications. There’s more, but you probably don’t want to hear it.
Anyway, this is an important and complex subject in medical circles. This typical day in the life of an instructional designer reminded me of the hazards, joys and oddities of being in this field, a few of which I’ll summarize here.
We Can’t Be Stopped
The really important SMEs are often too busy to show up at a meeting. That’s not enough to stop us! As designers, we get the source materials and plow ahead anyway. We’ll find underling SMEs to use as replacements. We’ll do our own research. After all, not knowing the subject is the normal state of things for an instructional designer.
The Throw-Away Reflex
Designers have their own throw-away reflex. As soon as we’re given a brain dump of information, we automatically come up with ways to organize and slim things down. It’s an instinct. Personally, I even have a prepared speech about the limits of what people can retain. For this particular course, we’ll remove content that can’t be remembered and provide it as reference material. We’ll take other content and turn it into a FAQ. We’ll squeeze, compress and extract until that content is manageable. This is almost part of our identity. This is our instructional design life.
Is There Anything We Won’t Do?
Learning designers will do almost anything to fulfill a goal or to implement an idea. For the VAD course, we’ve proposed that a SME will present a webinar allowing audience members to ask real-world questions about the course content. We’ll record the webinar and use that to fine-tune the learning process. What will we do if no audience members show up for the webinar? We’ll bring the most important questions and ask them ourselves, of course. The goal is to record and make available practical and real-world information to learners.
Ignorance Is An Asset
Unlike other careers, in your instructional design life, ignorance is an asset. It allows us to see the required performance as a novice learner. It helps us develop empathy for the learners.
Around the time of this project, a SME announced at a meeting that the best thing about me was that I didn’t know anything, I wasn’t sure how to react. Of course, she meant I didn’t know anything about the subject, and that this was an asset when designing for new learners. I’m not sure how the people at the meeting interpreted this comment. It’s “compliments” like this that keep you humble.
We Can Make A Difference
If you’re not feeling cynical, you could argue that training is one of the most important ways to make a positive difference in people’s lives. It opens new worlds, provides new skills, changes attitudes and helps people advance in their careers. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons many of us are hopelessly addicted to this field.
If you want to find out more about a career in instructional design, download my quick read eBook below.