instructional design models

To engage learners, make it fun!

One of the hardest things we teach our clients is that just because we are instructional designers, doesn't mean we're bound to deliver training within the confines of a "course". While many of us were trained to use all of the tools available to us that came with our instructional designers toolbox (job aids, wikis, video clips, etc.), clients assume everything we write for them will be in a course format. 

Even before the current trend to gamify learning became mainstream, every instructional model that I know of preaches that you must gain your learners attention- and then keep it. In other words, build boring training and your learners will check out even before finishing to read the bulleted list of 48 objectives for your course. 

Technology is making it easier and easier to deliver learning and instruction in more ways than ever before. Take something as exciting as copyright law. Pun intended. I know what you're thinking, sounds about as fun as passing a kidney stone, yet Duke University took on the challenge of teaching this topic in a fun and unique way and they ought to be recognized for doing so. 

The University developed a comic book which translates copyright law into an exciting and visual story, complete with a heroine who has to navigate IP law. I highly recommend you all click here and download a copy of this comic book as a sample of how to teach boring topic in a new and more interesting way. 

How can you use this example in your work? Very easily, think of all of the training courses or programs that you are tasked with developing. Think of all that exciting sales and compliance training courses, or how about information security. Rather than jumping into PowerPoint or Captivate with your favorite template, can you instead write a story demonstrating the use of the concepts you have to teach and then leverage a graphic designer- maybe one board out of his or her wits in your marketing or PR department, and have them animate your story.

Stop flexing your course building muscles, and build up your storytelling brain cells by leveraging a non-traditional delivery format. You'll find you may achieve a greater level of engagement in the material from your learners, and you may actually enjoy the process of constructing something like what Duke University has done here.

Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop and train their employees and/ or customers. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

7 Questions from an inquisitive trainer

For this week's blog post, I asked a friend of Collabor8's who is a trainer but lacks an instructional design background what some of her pressing questions about the field are. I come across a lot of traders almost by accident fell into the respective roles, and I hope my answers to the following questions below can be a resource for them. 

1. How do you come up with a system for planning, monitoring, and analyzing instruction? How do you come to the conclusion if it will work? What's the average timing in advance does this entail to prep?

Answer: The simple answer to this question is you don't reinvent the wheel. A system for planning, monitoring, and analyzing the impact of instruction IS what we refer to as the science of instructional systems. A few years back I made an interesting observation. Trainers, HR professionals, recruiters and business people in general shorten the name of our field to instructional design or ID. Here's my observation- when you look at my master's degree on the wall it doesn't say instructional design. I am actually a master in the science of instructional systems. You see, a system contains inputs which get processed to create a set of outputs. 

If you look at any of the instructional design models, like ADDIE, there are many inputs into an instructional system: information about the target audience, information about skills gap that is preventing that target audience from performing in a certain way, information about learning environment available to you as a trainer, information about your budget, information about the delivery options you have at your disposal, etc.; All of this information is fed into an instructional system or model and gets processed during the design and development phase of the system, to hopefully affect and impact the performance by your target audience. This is the output of instructional systems- namely, improved performance. 

2. How does one create a chunk for facilitators? Do they all follow same format?

Answer: This is a bit of a loaded question, one that researchers in the field of cognitive load theory continue to ponder. Basically, when creating a unit of instruction for your learners it must be small enough to be digestible yet not so large that it increases the complexity and reduces the learning by your students. Although subjective in nature, one of the things instructional designers are taught is to chunk similar content or skills into units of instruction and during a formative evaluation of your course (similar to a focus group in marketing) you ask for feedback on whether the units of instruction were too short, too long, easy to acquire, etc. There is no one absolute and correct way to chunk information into a unit of instruction. One must take all of the variables known, prototype instructional unit, and tested using a group of subjects as similar to the target audience for your training as possible.

3. In the ADDIE model, how do best approach the design portion? Only looking at what was analyzed? What does that entail specifically and does it overlap with other aspects in the process? Is ADDIE the best approach or are there others that are as successful and used regularly?

Answer: Have you heard the phrase "part art, part science"? At Collabor8 Learning, we approach the design portion of the process with our creative hats on. The designing of a learning intervention, regardless of whether it will be off-line or online, is where instructional design is like an art form. This is where you look at all your variables from your needs analysis, get your creative juices flowing, and fearlessly toss around potential ways to close skills and knowledge gaps. Don't worry about whether one way to teach a skill is better than another, simply gather as many ideas as you or your team have on how the material or skill could be taught. As the team leader, you should not concern yourself at this point whether one method is more feasible than another- simply get as many ideas down as to how something can be taught.

4. How does a facilitator know which model was used when reading material? Is it obvious? Is it important/relative?

Answer: Honestly I don't know, and I can't think of a situation where it would matter. Think of it, when you read a book do you ask what the author's writing process was? 

5. When asked to write a workshop, what are the basic elements to reference to besides the objective and audience? 

Answer: So another loaded question, the single most important question you can fire back at anyone asking you to write a workshop is to list the behaviors the learners will be able to perform successfully after completing said workshop. Remember also that any corporate honcho asking you to build a workshop has bypassed the needs analysis phase of an instructional system and has arrived at the conclusion that there is a skills gap that must be closed AND that the learners lack the knowledge necessary to perform in a certain way-hence training is the solution. Always push back on anyone asking you to write a workshop, and request their analysis of why they feel training will solve this performance problem.

If you want to learn more about performing needs or performance analyses, click here

6. Besides PowerPoint, what other tools/platforms are there to present to your audience?

Answer: I try and remain "technology agnostic" when it comes to the tools we use, but there are many fabulous alternatives to PowerPoint you can use. For a good list that was published quite recently, click here

7. How does one transition from a facilitator to an Instructional Designer? And is that the most natural transition or are there others to consider and if so what needs to take place?

Answer: That's easy, much of the knowledge regarding the science of instructional systems can be learned online nowadays. There are many good reads on the field that you can pick up on Amazon as well. One I am currently reading is "Leaving ADDIE for SAM", by Michael Allen with Richard Sites. You can find it here as well as some reviews others have done on it as well. 

I am a huge proponent of "learning by doing". If you are looking to transition your career from a trainer/ facilitator to more of an instructional designer- you should seek out a mentor whom you can shadow as they work through several performance challenges utilizing their instructional systems design skills and expertise. This would probably be the best way to transition, sans going back to college and becoming an instructional designer the academic route (which I don't think you need to do).

Alex Santos

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Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop and train their employees and/ or customers. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Can I have a few target learners to evaluate the instructional design? No.

Was this e-learning effective?

Many of my instructional design colleagues throughout the years have expressed frustration at the seemingly little to no time to conduct the scantest of needs analysis, yet there is another omission to the traditional ADDIE model many seem to overlook.  I’m talking about a formative evaluation of your materials by a small subset of your target performers.  Here at Collabor8, we push our clients to allow for a very iterative process very similar to Michael Allen’s SAM- but there is a limit to what a client will allow.  It seems to me the minute the finish line for a project is in sight, any formative assessment and tweaking to the instructional strategy that might involve additional time and/ or money are usually rejected off hand.  Have you had similar experiences in some of your projects?    Please comment.

3 questions for adding a social perspective to your performance analysis


Where exactly do social media technologies fit into current instructional design models?  My answer might surprise you, but it goes back to the performance analysis even before the decision to develop any instruction was made.  Even before determining if there is a skill deficiency in the performer, instructional designers, human resources leaders, and IT leaders should consider the potential for social media tools to improve collaboration and find the information employees need in order to perform. You see, in Mager & Pipe's Performance Analysis Flow diagram under the heading "Can we apply fast fixes?", there is already a decision box for "Are resources for the performer adequate?"  When thinking of solving performance problems and preventing them from occurring in the future, its useful for designers to realize the potential for social media tools to serve as a resource for performers.  Social media tools can serve as repositories of information for the performers, and not just learning assets maintained by the designers or the training department.  Tools such as wikis, forums, collaborative work spaces, and blogs can be implemented and "moderated" or "maintained" by an instructional designer or other resource for accuracy.

Assuming learners require more resources to perform, you should be asking yourself three key questions upon reaching this decision point in the flow diagram:

  1. Where are the resources required by the performers located?
  2. Can social media technology enable performer(s) to acquire the resources?
  3. Is this a "fast fix" my corporate culture would embrace?

Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, or via Twitter@collabor8alex.