As instructional designers, it can be easy to feel like our jobs boil down to creating content and passing it on down the factory line. Sometimes, our work schedules can make it seem like that is all there is. However, our end goal isn’t to publish content endlessly, it’s to help our audience learn what they need to know. That’s why I suggest a doctor patient model of eLearning.
We can think of the relationship between instructional designers and their audience as a doctor patient relationship. Obviously, doctors are responsible for their patients’ health. They know how to tell if a person is “healthy”. If a person is not healthy, they have ways to identify what is wrong and recommend treatments to help the patient get better.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Instructional designers are responsible for our learners’ education. We need to know what a “healthy” learner looks like. We need measurable indicators that we can compare against each learner. Instead of blood pressure, body temperature, and vitamin levels, we use workplace performance and knowledge levels as indicators. Instead of stethoscopes and thermometers, we use quizzes and checklists.
To oversimplify, a doctor is responsible for diagnosing a patient that has a problem and prescribing treatment to help with that problem. Doctors specialize in knowing what “healthy” means, identifying the causes of unhealthy problems, and suggesting treatment that will help bring the patient up to and beyond healthy levels.
Tools For a Doctor Patient Model of Elearning
What tools do instructional designers use? For diagnosis, we might use quizzes and reviews to see if our patient meets the baselines. These tools can further help identify the precise things a learner struggles with.
For treatment, we might assign eLearning content such as videos, readings, and exercises. And after treatment, we need to keep following up to ensure it worked.
A Different Paradigm for Instructional Design
If we see instructional design as a patient doctor relationship, how might that change how we do our job? I think we need to get past the idea that instructional designers are just there to constantly roll out treatments. Here are some ways I think we can apply a doctor patient approach to eLearning:
- Better identify baselines: do you know how to tell if somebody can do their job?
- Develop a personalized plan to help new learners reach their baseline
- Use the right tools to diagnose problems: do you have adequate ways to tell if a user is ready to do their job? Can you accurately identify problems?
- Use the right tools to treat problems: does your content achieve its goals? do you have tools that address specific problems?
- Follow up with your treatment: do you have ways to follow up to ensure the tools worked once they’ve been used?
Modern training programs must deal with increasingly specialized knowledge and as a result our eLearning models need to be more deliberate about how we interact with learners. A doctor patient model of eLearning helps us with this very problem. You wouldn’t want a doctor that gives all their patients the same advice without any tests; likewise, an instructional designer needs to do more than publish generic eLearning content.