What the heck is an instructional designer? Part 2: Needs Analysis

What's an instructional designer - part 2 | stephaniecappsdyke.com

This is the second post in a series where I answer the question: “What the heck is an instructional designer?” Stay tuned for each part as I take you behind the curtain!

Missed the first part? Check it out here: Part 1

Last time I talked about clearly establishing a goal for the training.

Along with the training goal, is a discussion about the needs of the audience.

All together, the training goal, related analysis, the audience and their background, etc. is called a needs analysis. When you’re dealing with an employee population, the needs analysis takes organizational needs into account as well.

But generally, my questions about the audience are about helping me understand who I’m creating training for. What is their education level? What is their age range? What is their level of comfort with the intended subject matter? Are they all newbies? Are they advanced learners? Is it a mixed bag?

aside: the answer “it’s a mixed bag” is always my favorite. Want to make an instructional designer squirm? tell them you need them to create a short course that teaches the basics since 50% of the audience are newbies, but doesn’t insult the intelligence of an expert, since the other 50% could probably teach the course themselves. oh, and could you do it fast and cheap too? Yay! what a FUN challenge!

Understanding the learner’s motivations is important here. In some cases, this is a fun and easy thought process. The course will be sold or distributed to people who are eager for the training because they want to learn more about the subject matter.

In other cases, the learner is reluctant because the course is based on a mandatory compliance requirement. As I’m sure you can imagine, designing training for people who don’t want to be trained is it’s own delightful endeavor.

Long story, short, it’s important to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

People are busy these days and, whether they are purchasing a professional development or how-to course, or being forced to take a mandatory course, their time is precious.

I’ve seen a lot of training that just plain waste people’s time because it doesn’t really meet their needs. Or courses that use fancy navigation and pretty assets to white-wash some fluffy, useless content.

There are a lot of levels of learning transfer and a bunch of ways of evaluating that a learner has gotten what they need. But in plain English, you must know your audience well enough to ensure that they are going to walk away from the training having learned something they didn’t know before.

If your course doesn’t accomplish that, it’s a mismatch for the audience.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but a few of the things I ask about my audience:

  • Are they beginners with the topic? Intermediate? Advanced? (or the dreaded “mixed bag”)
  • What is their comfort-level with e-learning?
  • Can their technology handle audio, video, etc.?
  • Are they Mac or PC (iOS or Android if we’re talking mobile)?
  • Are they primarily using desktop/laptop or mobile devices?
  • What is their average education level? High school grad? College? Post-grad?
  • What is their workplace culture? Office/cubicle jockey? Service industry? Manual labor?
  • What is their age range?
  • What is the gender breakdown?
  • Are there any ESL learners?
  • Are there any special-needs learners?

In the next part of this series, I will take a look at the practical considerations of designing and developing an online course.. Are you a training industry professional? I’d love to hear your take on the instructional design process!

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