Friday, February 8, 2008

How much ID do we need?

I’ve been following the LCB for some time now. This time I thought instead of just being a passive audience, let me jump in with my own thoughts.

This month's question is:
"For a given project, how do you determine if, when and how much an instructional designer and instructional design is needed?"

Instructional designers definitely bring a lot of skills to the table. ID doesn’t mean taking a bunch of theories and applying them to every course. ID also doesn't mean just taking some content and entering it into a tool or slideshow without too much thought. It’s much more than that.

First and foremost, IDs have the ability to identify with the audience. They understand what the learner needs and to what extent from a course. They apply their logical and analytical abilities to not just break down content into logical blocks but also structure and design these blocks in a way that helps learners learn more effectively. They identify when to use what kind of instructional treatment. Their ability to understand the learner’s requirements and align it with the company’s requirements is what makes them an essential part of training.

Sure we have rapid authoring/development tools now that can make it easy to develop courseware. But then these tools are, as their name suggests, for development not design. You can’t just dump content in and then get the tools to structure it logically and insert appropriate activities and exercises. Someone should know when and where to use which feature of the tool in the course.

Having worked with a lot of SMEs, I can say that we can probably have SME create training content if they’re going to be the ones conducting it. That way learners can ask questions for more clarity if required. Because most of the problems I’ve faced with them was either too much or too little content. We (IDs) had to constantly ask them questions to get the right content for the course. Though they were experts in their field, some of them had absolutely no clue of what or how to teach. They would sometimes forget that we might be teaching technology to people who haven’t been exposed to it before. Getting them to drop jargons and keep it simple was essential.

Instructional designers are also involved in creating the material for courses that SMEs deliver. The moot point being that SMEs know their subject matter, but they may not know their audience and their learning needs that well. IDs help streamline the learning. I'm not saying SMEs can't do it...a lot of them can, but they do need to develop some instructional design skills if not have a full-time instructional designer helping them. I've even been on projects where IDs doubled up as SMEs.

And yes the intensity of ID involvement may vary from project to project. Some may need only high-level input, where the ID defines the course structure and overall strategy that stands true for all courses in a program. The ID may also be involved in creating a typical proto and then create some global templates. Using these materials, maybe someone else like the SME or content writers can plug in content to create the complete courseware.

Then there are the custom courses, which generally require more intensive and hands-on work from IDs. They need to design each course to look different yet consistent from the other. Such courses require an ID to design everything from the course structure and overall strategy to a screen-level breakup and treatment of content.

So, basically it depends…but do we need instructional design at all? If you need an instructionally sound, complete learning experience, you definitely do!