Having spent just four years in the learning field, I sometimes feel like a complete novice in this industry. But I’ve learned a LOT in the four years that I’ve been a part of ansrsource. And I’ve learned even more since I joined the Instructional Design team a year and a half ago.
So here I humbly present to you A Novice’s Guide to Instructional Design: Part 1. This will be a three-part series, with each part covering three important points that I have learned on my journey so far.
Focus on the Learner
“Know your audience” is a phrase that is used in many industries, including entertainment, retail, and marketing. Knowing your audience is equally important in e-learning, and, if there was ever a list of commandments for instructional design, this would be the first. Unless you have your learner in mind, you will not be able to create effective learning material for them. Whether it be a simple assessment, a video, or a script, ALWAYS keep the learner in mind.
How do you focus on the learner? By knowing and understanding your learner’s needs, by paying attention to what it is that you’re trying to teach, and, most importantly, by checking if the two align with each other.
Assume Less, Provide Context More
Often when we begin to create learning material, we get so lost in the flow of things that we end up making the very costly mistake of not providing enough context to the learner. Do not assume that the learner knows what you are talking about. Make sure you provide enough context in what you are creating so that the learner is not left wondering, “What is that?” or “Where did that come from?” I’ve made this mistake many times, assuming the learner will know what I know.
If you’re not sure if you’ve provided enough context, get someone else to review your work. The person reviewing your writing will be of great help as they will look at it from a fresh perspective.
Eliminate the Fluff
You’ve probably heard the old adage: “Choose your words carefully.” This is true when speaking to others but is also true when trying to explain an important point or describe a scenario to a learner. If you can explain something precisely in a few words without losing the important points, do it!
Why do I emphasize precision? In a recent project, we created mobile-first interactives. The biggest challenge with mobile-first content is that you have limited space to work with. For some interactives we had just 60 characters in which to present our scenarios. (And that includes the spaces between words!) My team members and I struggled with this in the beginning. We had brainstorming sessions that would go on for hours and result in just one scenario. With time, however, we got better at it and we can now create sentences or scenarios with only 60 characters very quickly.
A constraint like the 60-character requirement gives your thoughts more clarity. When you know that you have only 60 characters to present something, you automatically begin to cut out the fluff. What ends up on the page is just what the learner needs to know.
Writing precisely is an art, one that, like all the others, can be mastered with practice. And it’s a skill that will be increasingly useful as everything in the e-learning industry moves toward mobile-first design.