Instructional designers, like everyone else, have tendencies and habits and I can’t help but notice commonalities between them. Ultimately the goal of eLearning is to teach something but there are just so many ways to do it and everyone brings their own background and experiences with them.
In this regard, I often see these three attitudes of instructional designers out in the field and thought it would be interesting to compare notes with the community!
I think many instructional designers start a new project with feelings; they focus primarily on how they would like their product to make others feel. Not just happy, sad, or angry, but the impression the product leaves with the learner. Do learners feel at ease or nervous when completing the content? Do they feel confident in the information and ready to apply their knowledge? Are learners curious to find out more or are they bored? Feelers often describe their goals for the project in these terms.
The feel of the content is incredibly important and feelers have the right idea; most humans make emotional judgments about the content they consume. It is important to set the right tone and use emotions to best communicate your message. That’s why dramatic movies can be so memorable or video games can be so addicting. The feel of the system also provides other benefits such as establishing the culture of an organization.
Feelers might run into problems creating content that achieves the feeling they want to impart to the learner. They might set their sights a little too high and have a hard time reaching their goals. Or they missed out on the details along the way. Often times, feelers have a hard time describing the steps needed to achieve their goals, they just know where they want their big picture to end up. This might lead to messy development processes and a convoluted end result.
Another attitude is focusing on ensuring your project meets all the requirements. I call this attitude the “Technician” for their emphasis on practical steps to solve a problem. Creating a plan and following the necessary steps with as little deviation as possible is the route to success. Goals are measured quantitatively or in yes/no answers. The most important factors of a project are time and cost estimates versus actual results. Technicians think about instructional design like software engineering.
Technicians are most concerned with whether the learning materials they create checks all the right boxes. Did they cover all of the key points and concepts? Do the assessments test the correct knowledge? Are the examples accurate? This is a great way to verify that your materials followed the stated objectives. Approaching a project in this way helps to keep the project focused, on budget, and on schedule.
A technical approach might run into problems when human learners don’t behave as expected or the knowledge needs a little massage to be more human-friendly. Teaching requires a little bit of creativity. If users are not getting something, repeating the same information over and over like a robot might not be the best way forward! It’s also possible that overly technical content might miss opportunities to make learning more efficient with levity, humour, fun, or more. Lastly, a technical approach assumes that all the requirements and how to achieve them can be set out perfectly from the start, but we know from experience that there are often improvements and optimizations we find along the way and designers need to be a bit flexible.
Sometimes I run into instructional designers, training professionals, or content creators that just seem to have the whole process of creating their project in their heads from beginning to end. They even have the potential problems mapped out and are always ready with a backup route. Ultimately, they have a vision for what they want to produce and that vision is thorough enough that you can ask them how and why and they would have an answer for almost every little detail.
Visionaries tend to overlap with Feelers and Technicians because they think about how they want their audience to feel but they also predict the steps to get there. This attitude towards instructional design tends to create the most thorough, effective, and creative systems that fit their environments.
This does not mean that visionaries are perfect, no one can be. Their vision, even perfectly executed, might still miss the mark. Or execution might turn out to be more difficult than expected. In some situations, a visionary attitude is simply not needed and the status quo works (why fix what isn’t broken?).
Conclusion: understand yourself and take inspiration from others
Are you more of a feeler, a technician, a visionary, or none of the above? There is no right answer and a diverse set of perspectives is important to every project! Knowing our own tendencies helps each of us identify our strengths and weaknesses. If you care most about the feel of your project, can you thoroughly describe your steps to get there? If you find yourself most worried about preplanned requirements, have you considered alternatives that arose during planning or from learner feedback? Seeing these tendencies in our teammates might allow us to provide new input into a project.
This is an opinion and not a rigorously researched hypothesis. I’m curious: what patterns do other instructional designers see in the field when it comes to attitudes about training, instruction and eLearning?