This is the fifth 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 other parts? Check them out here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Last time I discussed subject matter experts and their importance to any e-learning project.
As I’m working my way through the subject matter discovery, I am also roughing out the architecture of how it all fits together.
Subject matter content needs to be analyzed, broken down into simpler parts, weeded to remove the extraneous info, triaged and prioritized.
Often being a novice in the subject matter is a bonus for me since I can look at everything with fresh eyes and can speak from the perspective of the intended learner. This is also the reason I don’t usually take on projects requiring me to translate advanced subject matter into courses for advanced learners – unless I’m certain that the subject matter experts want to support what I do.
Cautionary tale: I once took on a classroom training facilitation gig for an IBM business rules management system. It was a complete disaster. The guy I sub-contracted under and the other instructors talked way over my head and I was forced in the classroom before I had even a tenuous grasp on the subject matter. Want to feel like a complete buffoon? Stand in front of a room full of seasoned business analysts and try to train them on something they definitely know more about than you! Lesson learned: don’t bite off more than you can chew and know your limitations.
There are certain parts that most all training courses have and, as I begin seeing the doughnut ingredients, I start to see how it can all come together. Where the bits and pieces fit properly and how it is best consumed by the learner.
Working with content – and a client’s end-goal in mind – is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. (ahhhh! these metaphors keep coming, don’t they?!) You sort of start with the corners and the edges – the pieces that you know are set. Then you begin sorting and translating the rest.
Testy McTesterson (that’s my beta version nom de plume!)
Parsing the content is also the time when I think through complex interactions and possibly even put together a test or demo version to see if it works as I would like it to.
For instance, I may get an idea to display content as an infographic. And each major area of the infographic will feature a roll-over/pop-up box where the learner can get more information. If I create a rough version of the interactive infographic before I commit to it, I can tell early on whether it will work or not.
Maybe I’ll discover that some of the content just won’t display well in an infographic. Or maybe there is just too much information for pop-up boxes. Maybe I’ll see that the content needs to be split out further into multiple sections.
This type of early trial saves me a lot of grief later on. Imagine going whole hog on an infographic – getting my client excited about it – maybe even beginning to invest in images for the infographic… then getting halfway through the final development and realizing it isn’t going to work out after all.