If you’ve been reading the executive prospective series (you have been reading them?) a theme quickly emerges of shared values at ICOM. We all believe education comes first and the technology comes second in eLearning. This means we make the technology fit the learning and not the learning to the technology. We do this through instructional design created by instructional designers.
We’re all wired to learn, and learn all the time. In fact, learning is what we do best, from finding our way to a new location to understanding safety hazards in a new job. Our built-in ability to learn is not dependent on taking formal courses. Learning happens through experiences. It’s what we see, hear, and do. We learn during quiet moments of reflection. We learn in our social interactions and conversations. We learn from participating in activities, playing sports, volunteering, and taking on new challenges.
Formal learning often intrudes on our natural ability to learn. Instead of waiting for learners to find the knowledge on their own through experience, a formal learning environment presents the experience to learners. Formal learning is about manufacturing learning experiences, and it’s in this manufacturing process that an instructional designer becomes important.
An instructional designer looks for ways maximize the learning potential and help the learner make sense of new information. Instructional design is more than collecting the right information. Instructional design is about getting the information organized in the right way to allow the learner to experience the content in a way conducive to learning.
An instructional designer leads the learner with easy-to-understand directions that focus attention on specific information. Here’s an example from a fire safety course:
“There are four steps used in the PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep) system for using a fire extinguisher. By remembering each of the four steps, you will be able to effectively use a fire extinguisher.”
Notice how learners are instructed to remember the four steps. For this lesson, learners know they should only focus on these steps and not concern themselves with other information, such as classification of fire extinguishers or which fire extinguisher to use in different types of fires. In this way, the learner focuses on the important information: the four steps of PASS. Directing the learner’s attention to the most important details is a critical part of instructional design. You don’t want the learner focusing on a dozen pieces of information at once. You want them to focus on one important piece of information at a time.
An instructional designer takes various sources of information, as well the expertise of subject matter experts (our beloved SMEs), and evaluates it, organizes it, and designs a presentation (this is where the technology comes in). In doing so, the learning process is compressed and focused for maximum impact, which means saving time and money. The goal is for the training to teach us something new in a fast, efficient way rather than waiting for the natural learning process to take effect.
Instructional design is a jumpstart to learning. A good design engages us in the experience, and when we’re engaged, we tend to remember and learn more easily. Engaging the learner is all about presenting the information clearly and in an easy-to-understand format.
An instructional designer also provides perspective on learning goals and on content design. It’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees when you work so close to the information you want others to learn. This is true of everyone, including instructional designers. This is why, at ICOM, we share the duties of instructional design between project managers, instructional designers, and writers. Collaboration enables good analysis. It exposes us to multiple perspectives and ensures the critical information is put into the courses we build.
Learning is a complex process, and there’s a lot to say about instructional design (and we’re always talking about it at ICOM.) The key point to remember is instructional design is about clarifying information and finding the simplest, most effective way to present information to learners so courses are focused and meaningful.