I have worked as an Instructional Designer for nearly twenty years. While I have read books and taken courses, the most valuable things that I learned about the field came from practical experience. The following tips will not teach you how to become an Instructional Designer, but they will help you avoid a few major pitfalls.
- Become a “Wiz” at Estimating Project Durations.
Your client will always want it better, faster, and cheaper. But mostly faster. A good rule of thumb is about 25 hours of work to produce one hour of a fully designed Instructor-led training course (according to Langevin Learning Services). Most clients will find this hard to swallow. But if you underestimate, you will either produce junk, or find yourself working at 2 AM (on your own time) to catch up. Estimate well, and sell it up front.
- Keep Your Eye on the Objectives.
I am an enthusiastic advocate of the Behavior Learning Objective. You and your client must agree on the objectives for the course before any development work begins. This will not only avoid “scope creep,” it will keep you sane when you try to evaluate the effectiveness of your work.
- Don’t Use E-Learning for Everything.
Things have come a long way since I designed my first online course. The client actually asked me if online learning was a “recognized” method of instruction! Use E-Learning only when it is a good fit for the content. Some topics, such as interpersonal communication skills, are better suited to a classroom with face-to-face interaction.
- Avoid Death by PowerPoint.
Visual aids are just that: aids. Putting too much time and effort into creating pretty graphics at the expense of solid instructional content is misguided. Instead, spend your time creating rich interactive exercises, and job aids that learners can actually use after the course is over.
- Use Return on Expectations.
You must create an evaluation plan for your finished product. Most experienced designers are familiar with the “four levels” of evaluation. Realistically, only the first two (reaction and learning) are usually performed. Should your client insist on the other two (behavior and results), suggest that results be measured in terms of Return on Expectations (qualitative) as opposed Return on Investment (quantitative). Not only will you live through the experience, you may actually discover some useful information.