This semester has been an interesting one for learning more about instructional design. I was fairly confident in my design skills when I walked into the classroom the first night. I have craved learning more about the tools used for creating and offering online learning. I did learn a great deal about Course Sites this semester, which has been a nice addition to my design toolbox. There were definitely other learning opportunities that I outline here.
While working on the Primary Sources in the Classroom online course for LVA, I learned just how much creating instruction for an organization could influence changes for that organization. The deeper that I got into the design with my SME, the more inconsistencies (opportunities?) we uncovered. Each one of them is an opportunity to improve the organization overall. However, dealing with each one slowed down the design process considerably. My experience has been to design in such different environments. Either I have been an internal trainer so I already know a lot more about what those challenges are so I intuitively work around them. From an external design role, I have been given a design template to follow.
Since this is the first online course that LVA will offer to the public, I knew that we were creating a precedent for future online courses. What I created for this course could become a template for future class. Another more subtle precedent is that I was creating a standard for online learning that includes interaction between the learner and their content and their instructor. Instead of clicking through screen after screen of content, the design should include interactive activities and assessments. It also includes an opportunity to create communities of learners outside of the library.
I have been reminded that technology should only be used to enhance the learning; it should not become the learning. I get very excited about learning new tools and tricks. These things can often take over instructional design. I get so excited about including them, that learners could end up spending an inordinate amount of their learning energy and time just learning some new technology. The new technology then becomes the focus of the learning rather than the content of the instructional design. Technology needs to enhance the learning, not detract from it.
Another insight is that by sending learners all over the web for different tools and different interactions, it could diminish the sense of online presence and community that designers work so hard to create for online learners. By having one central location, like a Google site or Course sites for examples, gives learners a sense of “place” for their learning. Taking field trips is fun and exciting, but I think learners want the comfort of having their own classroom, even if it is online.
Instructional design comes quickly to me. It is one of the reasons that I love it! It has been good practice to articulate my vision to my stakeholders. Then, be patient while they feel things out, try the training on, and articulate their own thoughts and ideas. When I was working solo in a training capacity, my stakeholders usually just wanted to cross the training task of their strategic plan. They were not engaged with exactly what I was training or how I was training it or even how the training could affect the organization in different ways. It has been very different to work with an organization that thinks about these things and is very sensitive to how training influences their business.
What I learned
In the course of the semester, there are a several lessons about instructional design that really stand out for me.
My biggest ah-ha moment was finding the Rapid E-Learning Blog by Tom Kuhlman. He pointed out that the design of eLearning courses should mirror the motivation level of the intended audience. In hindsight, this feels kind of like a “Duh” but it really resonated with me. My assumption is that all e-Learning design should be somewhat snazzy. It should have amazing interactions between the learner and the instructor, the content and the other learners. It should have rich activities and assessments that carry the learner through the learning experience. I had not considered that the time and energy it takes to create the snazzy stuff might be wasted on a highly motivated learner. They are there for the content. In some instances, these learners may need or want the content as quickly as possible so holding it up to design the interface or the learning experiences could reduce the credibility of the designer. It is one more facet of the audience that goes into the overall design consideration.
Getting other people involved in the instructional design process was powerful for me. Not only brainstorming and sharing thoughts and ideas with my SME, but also the sessions with my design peers in class, gave me several new and different ideas. I did not always incorporate the ideas that I got. However, it was a thoughtful, purposeful process. Some times, an idea from someone else led to yet another, even better idea as I went through the process.
Learning how incorporate key stakeholders in a better way is still a challenge for me. This goes back to making sure that I am being very articulate about what I am trying to do. At times, I still feel like I am over-explaining and/or defending my choices and design too much. I know there is a way that I can get feedback in a better, more constructive way.
Designing eLearning used to be some elusive skill that I wanted to obtain. I was worried that I didn’t have the skills to do it. There was some magic piece of software that I needed to learn that would help me do it. What I have found is that creating a quality online experience is not that different from creating that same experience in the face-to-face classroom. A goal of creating quality online learning is to mimic some of the experiences that students get when they walk into a physical room to learn. The learner needs to be able to interact with more than just the content; they also need to feel connected to their instructor and their peers. The choice of software and interactive tools is important, but often secondary to making sure there are great activities and assessments and community.