A couple of weeks ago we were thrilled to get the news that The eLearning eXperts have won the “Best Instructional Designer” award for the fourth consecutive year at the LearnX Asia Pacific Technology Impact Awards! Obviously we’re proud of our achievements and the work that we do, so are very happy to be top of the pile again. On the back of the announcements I received a call from a budding instructional designer who wanted some advice on what they could do to improve their skills to get nominated for next year’s awards. When I thought about the five people (including myself) who have won this award for us, I was able to pinpoint six core characteristics we all shared and this is the advice I gave:
1. Design learning experiences, not training courses
Don’t just give people content. Understand what they need to do with that content then find engaging ways to provide them with the tools they need to implement the content in context. Make it an enjoyable experience that they will want to apply to their work, tell their colleagues about and repeat for other topics.
2. Be unashamedly creative
Let loose and have some fun with your work! If you don’t have fun creating it, how will your learners have fun doing it?! Unleashing your inner child and thinking in colour can provide whole new opportunities for designing learning. Don’t be afraid to stand out or put forward the kooky idea – who knows where it will lead? Stop censoring yourself and find ways to get inspired. If you’re not feeling creative but would like to be, read this article to kick-start your imagination.
3. Get a bit geeky
This isn’t strictly a requirement for great elearning instructional design, more of a characteristic I’ve noticed in the designers I work with. Obviously it pays to understand the authoring tools you are working with, but even outside of that, discovering a new app, gadget or gizmo can open up different ideas for how you design learning interactions or inspire other ways to engage learners
4. Be very methodical
Find a way of working that you can easily modify to apply to different types of project and hone that process. Our design process works with anything from large scale corporate implementations to assisting solopreneurs with writing their first eBook. The core steps we take on any project are the same, we may just tweak the level of detail or sub-steps we go into, depending on the brief.
5. Ask hundreds of questions
I wrote a blog post a while back about the fact that I don’t think we ask “why?” enough in what we do. Just because a subject matter expert says that’s how it is, don’t be afraid to question why it’s that way or whether they have ever considered doing it differently. We have had several instances of clients amending business processes or looking differently at how they work from questions we have asked. To design learning that truly works, designers need to have a deep understanding of the business goals, the content, the learner and the purpose of the learning experience – and to achieve that involves asking lots of questions.
6. Think about learners as clients and learning programs as products
Don’t just think about your SMEs or clients as clients, think about your learners as clients too. What if this learning experience you are creating was a commercial product and people had to pay their own money to enrol – would they? How do you motivate them to want to participate in the program? What consumer research and marketing techniques are you applying to create programs that people can connect with, get excited about and share with their colleagues? Thinking about learning as a product rather than just a function of the business can give you a new perspective on the design and packaging which could just be that secret ingredient to success.