Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In Response: Accidental Instructional Designers #dl09--Part I

I have been following the discussion on Cammy Bean's blog around the post Accidental Instructional Designers #dl09. It started around the attributes that make a good ID and then devolved into, as Cammy says, the "degree vs. non-degree" debate.

A few of the comments that made me go, "Yes! yes! I know what you are saying..." are:

1.Brent Schlenker: I see New ID as being more about aggregating and monitoring the existing content streams. And identifying the critical information, highlighting it, and improving upon the media that explains or clarifies the content.

Cammy Bean
: Maybe ID programs need to come out of business schools instead of education schools.

Karl Kapp
: Good ID programs create good instructional designers and an instructional designer from a good program can do some wonderful, creative and innovative instruction without having to gain experience over 11 or so years before they are able to do so.

I have been primarily thinking about point #2-Cammy's comment in the light of my recent business trip.

This trip was focused on meeting the client to understand the following:
1. Why is the client thinking of moving toward an online training/blended training format? (So far, all training has been instructor-led.)
2. What are the business needs they are trying to address via online training?
3. What are the key drivers behind this shift?

The more I thought about these questions and Cammy's comment, I realized what I had been doing for the last 10 weeks is somewhat different from the Needs and Task Analysis that are the classic first steps of a training project that an ID begins work with.

I had been working to understand the business drivers of an organization. Apart from the usual drivers that force organizations to move to e-learning with an eye to cutting cost (the wrong reason) like global reach, less time away from work for learners, easy dissemination and lesser logistics management, and so on, I had had to understand factors that impact on organization's operational efficiency and hence its productivity and bottom line.

This meant deep diving into the organization's existing processes, noting how things are done now and pin-pointing the gaps that can be filled to achieve:
1. Process Improvement
2. Process Standardization
3. Automation

One of the key needs expressed was to scale business through operational efficiencies which the organization felt could be achieved through effective training. A far-sighted organization indeed!

Reflection point:
Honestly, I have taken a formal ID training course and nothing there had prepared me for this kind of analysis. Most ID courses start with the content and the learners--both key aspects of effective training design. However, here I found myself starting with the organization first that "house" the learners, so to speak.

Even before I could think of what the desired performance output would be and the psychographics and demographics of the end users, I had to comprehend the organization's:

1. Business model
2. Current productivity level
3. Desired productivity level
4. Future plans of expansion, new launches, if any
5. HR policies as training would map to career progression

None of these are classic ID roles and require a grasp of how businesses function, especially in the light of today's economic downturn, the fears and desires that drive business goals, the key factors that will enable a business to survive today and prosper.

These fell into place like a jigsaw puzzle once I saw Cammy's comment...and I literally spoke to my laptop for a good few seconds sharing my agreement. Thanks to Cammy for helping me to clarify my thoughts...

I would love to hear what you think about the need to understand an organization's business model...


  1. Sahana,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion, you write , "I have taken a formal ID training course and nothing there had prepared me for this kind of analysis." Let me ask you this, did the process of analysis (asking questions, probing into underlying causes and determining actual need) come into play when you explored the business topics.

    In other words, perhaps the very process of ID, asking questions, determining need, etc. prepared you to enter into that situation and learn about the business.

    With ID, there are two types of learning. One is the content (what to ask in an analysis) and then their is the process (conduct an analysis before just building instruction) and both should be taught in a good ID program and both will prepare you for different types of situations as you learned first hand in what you described above.

  2. Karl,

    Thank you so much for your comment! This was to be the third part in this series of posts in response to your comment: “Good ID programs create good instructional designers... without having to gain experience over 11 or so years before they are able to do so.”

    I have been mulling over this, and I do agree that a good ID program should prepare one to analyze—content, processes, business needs, and performance.

    However, if I think critically about the program I had taken, it was very basic and gave me a foundation in the theories of learning and other associated social and psychological theories.

    I live in a country where the e-learning industry exists and is growing rapidly but without strong and structured ID programs and access to quality literature on the subject. We, therefore, make use of short certification programs (8–10 weeks duration) that are available to us but which do not equip us with the desired knowledge and skill sets.

    Thus, the program I took did not really prepare me to ask questions or probe. I learned to probe and realized the importance of asking questions by following the conversations taking place in blogs like yours, Cammy’s, Tony Karrer’s, Jay Cross’, and so on.

    But because the program had given me a basic theoretical grounding, I could associate the discussions that took place on these blogs/other such platforms with the theories underlying them. This tremendously helped me to apply the learning from the course and the discussions in real life situations with confidence. And yes, if I did not have this grounding, it would have taken me much longer to assimilate the different skills required to be effective as an ID.

    Which means that the “good” in your comment needs to be the focus. There could probably be a list of skills a good ID program can/should equip learners with, which will enable them to be analytical and ask the right questions.

    It would be very helpful if such a list could be identified and put up as a part of the discussion taking place on Cammy’s blog. The list in conjunction with the “essential ID competencies” identified by Cammy will help all of us to choose the right kind of courses.

  3. Great post, Sahana. To chime in: It was graduate courses in ID that inspired me to develop my workshop, "Instructional Design for the Real World". :-)

  4. Thank you, Jane. I wish I could attend your workshop...:)

  5. This may be a bit off topic, but I think your process of learning about ID is going to continue to grow as the norm. Very short "formal" programs will lay a solid foundation but the process of discovering the network of like minds and learning from them will expand the learning process exponentially. The names, personas, and brains that you have access too would never have been available too you 10 years ago. You basically accessed the collective brain power of many dozen Universities. And better than that, you were engaged in the conversation and drove the process based on your needs. Even the BEST traditional degree program will never be able to offer that at a reasonable cost...unless they significantly change their model. I only see that slowly happening in small pockets.
    I LOVE reading about your experience. And its not that I enjoy bashing academia (okay maybe just a little), its just that I love hearing about someone taking control of their own learning despite everything. I don't think the conversation is either/or any more, its just the simple economic reality that the Internet now offers more access to people, information, conversations, research, debate, and experience. That used to be what you paid big money to get from a traditional institution. Now a couple hundred bucks and an Internet connection and a LOT of self motivation gets the job done...and then some.

  6. Brent,

    Thank you for your comment! It has made me re-think my experience from a whole new angle. I totally agree that the Internet helped me to build my PLN with access to the kind of learning and discussions that no single, prearranged course could have offered me. I got the latest and the best and keep getting more.

    I cannot be thankful enough for groups like #lrnchat that has been one of my prime sources of learning.

    I can not only “see” but have also experienced the effective merging of formal with the informal/collaborative learning. However, I can’t help simultaneously feeling that a more solid, structured program would have given me the necessary confidence to engage in conversations at an international level much earlier. In the absence of that, I have felt the need to lurk around on the edges trying to strengthen my knowledge base before I could muster enough courage to plunge in and engage with you all.

    But I also see how any structured program would soon be left behind in the rapidly changing training topology. A program that encompasses a structured syllabus and also teaches learners how to build PLNs is probably the answer.

  7. Great discussion! I completely agree with Prof Karl here. In my opinion, if the foundation is strong, you become a very good ID over a period of time. When you start off as an ID, some basic knowledge about ADDIE and other concepts is required. On the job you apply these concepts as situation demands.

    It also depends on the individual and his/her ability to grasp concepts and apply them. So you will find IDs with very less experience doing remarkably well and also IDs with lots of experience but doing mediocre job. Since ID is a creative field like movie making, it is completely upto one's creative skills.

  8. Thank you Rupa! I am really thankful for Cammy's initial discussion that triggered this post and the subsequent discussion here.

    I see the importance of a formal ID course coupled with the need for continual exposure to what is happening in the field. And the latter requires the ability to build a network that will provide access to that kind of knowledge pool.

    While the formal course is a very important launching pad, it is the collaboration and sharing of experiences that help us to make sense of the rapidly evolving scenario.

  9. I have to agree with Brent (except for the bashing of academia). I think that a combination of formal training (some sort of a degree from a good program..although, that may be hard to find in some locations, but some good programs are online) and then, once in the field, the need to stay connected with an activity community and engage in discussions like this one are essential.

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  11. Thank you for guiding the discussion. I look forward to learning from all of you...

  12. First. let me say that I loved my graduate school experience in ISD. Second, in the area of the US where I work, an advanced degree in ISD is expected and in most cases required if one wants to work as an instructional designer. Do I agree with that? No.

    The best ID on my team "earned" her ID position and has a masters in writing. I learned about ISD in school and through practice in a business setting, earned my "ID wings." Two roads to reach the same place in our careers.

    Fortunately for me when I entered graduate school I had 25 years of business experience so the academic approach was always filtered through my "cost of doing business" frame of mind. I was never a educator, but had developed training for a number of organizations in my career lives. This background afforded me the opportunity to view adult learning through non-academic lens.

    Staying connected with peers and developing the PLN Brent refers to is essential for an ID today regardless of how he or she came to be a learning professional. And ADDIE provided me with a solid foundation for developing instructional sound learning events though strictly following the linear process most often doesn't work in a competitive business environment.

    It is great to now have the tools to stay connected to those who do what I do.

  13. Here, here, Brent!

    Last night I read a great summary of Csikszentmihalyi's "Creativity" by Eruditio Loginquitas. http://id.ome.ksu.edu/blog/2009/dec/1/csikszentmihalyis-creativity/

    He says of the book, "[the author] suggests that those who would innovate in a field (or cross-field) need to internalize the rules of the field, see weaknesses in current conceptualizations and methods in the field, and then build on the existing structure."

    We absolutely need a foundation -- then we can move forward. I suppose it's a question of how we get that foundation and what supports we put in place for those who continue to "accidentally" find their ways to ID. I really don't think this accidental path will ever change.

  14. I liked your blog post, and I was thinking of the comment made by Cammy a few days back on twitter: maybe IDs should come out of business schools. (I may have blogged about it)

    I did come from a business school background and I think that IDs should have a B-school background if we want to improve the status quo. The problem that I see with IDs (both ones with degrees and without) is that there isn't a lot of reliance on theory when it comes to professional development. It seems, from where I stand, that PD is generally about the newest snazzy tool, but we don't really go back to see what research has been done, and how the work of others can benefit our processes.

    I think that the danger of B-School is that we risk becoming MORE proceduralized than we currently are. We need to think outside the box ;-)

  15. Wowo, thats a lot of information there Sahana. What a great discussion. I had to chime in as I DO NOT fall into any of the the above categories. I have no formal or even basic training in ID. Not even training at my company. I have been 100% dependent on learning ID and concepts from the existing courses i was working on conversions for updating courses, learning from probing into how a storyboard should be written to get a desirable course outcome, to using some existing templates at my workplaces. Over and above this, i learned like a miracle once I had discovered social media and networks. So i do believe that application, reverse engineering and communication are the best ways to learn a craft. I really cannot comment about the formal learning principles, as I learned them by Googling. That too the most popular ones and never really got into applying a specific theory or model piece by piece. I have always relied on my intuition, understanding of the domain (the product I am writing courses for) and audience knowledge and SME's. This was the most practical way for me, given the circumstances you mention in our country.

    Thanks again for bringing this up!

  16. Hi Sahana
    Really late on joining here. Love the discussion however. I come from a University background with ID BUT most of what I do day to day now is not based really upon this. I've been coming more around to ID as another incarnation of design. This may be where Cammy was coming from, by looking through design lenses when designing learning I am forced to look at the broader business so that my ID becomes in a sense a business design tool.
    I've never put it quite like this but you've got me thinking (and that can be dangerous!)


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