Out-of-the-Box Instructional Design

Article excerpt

Here's how to move from assembly-line models to nonlinear performance models for rapid prototyping and collaboration.

I'll get right to the point: Traditional step-wise, linear models for instructional design no longer fit learning and performance improvement environments. Many such models are ineffectual and can deter training professionals from having more strategic roles in their organizations. Old, assembly-line ADDLE (analyze, design, develop, instruct, evaluate) instructional design just doesn't make it anymore.

When I work with training and HRD managers, I find they are often looking for solutions to problems like these:

* The training developers don't have the time or resources to do a needs analyses or an evaluation.

* The clients and training sponsors assume they know the answer to performance problems and demand training solutions, even though those may not be the most effective choice. That can cause the training staff to lose credibility and influence.

* The organization needs to develop training faster. By the time courses or materials are put together, the content is out-of-date.

* Even though the training designers try to incorporate subject matter experts' input, it's hard to get content that everyone can agree on. After programs are developed, the SMEs or managers either openly or privately dismiss the courses' or trainers' credibility.

* Many organizations don't have enough trained instructional designers or performance consultants, and the ones they do have don't use the same methods. That can cause inconsistent training interventions and inconsistency in how the training staff works with clients and SMEs.

* When training and performance improvement projects are handed off to a new developer or a program has to be updated, there's little original documentation to go on. Consequently, the training department has to "reinvent the wheel" every time.

* Executives and sponsors don't embrace or understand training terms or approaches, and training staff aren't successful in getting such terms and approaches to be as widely accepted as other business improvement concepts, such as quality and reengineering.

Old assumptions

Many, if not most, current instructional design models have a top-down, behavioristic, and SME-driven training approach rather than a collaborative, learner-based approach. The assumption is that there's a body of correct knowledge out there and that we just have to find an SME, extract the knowledge from his or her head, package it in the right media, and pour it into learners' heads. The mindset is that between an SME and a designer, they can determine a complete set of learning objectives and content - in isolation from the dynamic exchange that goes on between learners and instructors in a real-time communication environment.

Many SMEs and designers assume that they know what's best for learners and that there's little debate or diversity about a particular topic. With that type of thinking, their courses aren't likely to have a mechanism for dealing with controversial or diverse content - or for participants getting off track and other spontaneous departures. Last, such assumptions don't consider learners in the design and knowledge-exchange processes - except as passive receivers.

Discrete, step-by-step procedures are too linear and time-consuming to be practical in the real world of training on fast-changing topics. The development cycle time is too long, and too much time is spent on detailed analysis and design before getting people's feedback on drafts or before actual rollout. Linear approaches tend to make developers think that they can't offer anything at all until analysis and design are done. But that can mean that critical problems aren't addressed for many months.

Linear models don't reflect the way that experts actually work when designing learning and performance improvement systems. …