Let's talk about the strategic advantage of Instructional Design
Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash
Everything you do to impact profit - primarily increasing sales or reducing expenses, including cost of goods sold - influences the bottom line of your income statement. - Seeing the Big Picture by Kevin Cope
Do you consider the impact on capacity and efficiency of your organization when developing learning experiences? Whether you measure it or not, the decisions you make as a learning professional have a direct impact on the bottom line of your organization. Time spent learning, while worthwhile, impacts time spent selling, developing products, and supporting customers.
Here's a quick example
Imagine that you have a 30 minute elearning course, that's all employees must complete every year, to protect against legal issues. If you have 1,000 employees in your organization that's 30,000 minutes (min) per year spent training for this course.
1,000 employees X 30 min = 30,000 min of productivity
30,000 min / 60 min per hour = 500 hrs*
500 hrs / 8 hours per work day = 62.5 work days!
*Not including any time lost due to task switching.
In 3 years time, that's 187.5 work days spent on this course alone!
The cost of this time spent may pale in comparison with the cost of a multi-million dollar legal action. However, that doesn't mean your hands are tied. You can take action to improve efficiency of your learning experiences and return capacity to your employees.
Two options to impact the bottom line
Take action now!
Trust me, when you ask someone if their project is worth 500 hours of Operations capacity, they'll think really hard about their answer.
In this episode, we interview Angie Flynn-McIver, a leadership coach, author, theater director, and founder of Ignite CSP (Coaching, Speaking, and Presenting), Together we discuss how to have better conversations with our stakeholders, team members, and how to say “NO” to those tough project requests.
In this episode, we interview Pamela Acker, an Organizational Change Strategist with over 20 years of experience helping organizations to successfully achieve their change goals. Together we discuss how to use the ADKAR methodology to enhance your learning experiences, generate desire for change, and how you can be better partners with change leaders at your organization.
Ever wonder what causes your colleagues to ask for training to solve a challenge? Why is training the answer in their minds for non-compliance with a process or procedure? Why not focus on enhancing the process, technology, or even the working environment to solve the challenge?
Join myself and Rory Sacks as we talk to professionals inside and outside of learning and development to answer L&D's most frequently asked question. Every month we'll launch a new episode aimed at helping you be more effective, responsive, and compassionate when working with your colleagues to deliver the best learning experience possible.
Check us out on istrainingtheanswer.com, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
As a leader with experience hiring Instructional Designers (ID), there are three tips I find myself giving to every ID who asks for feedback on their resume.
The most common response I receive is "What's a learning outcome? Do you have an example?" In this post we'll explore where to find quantifiable learning data, compare learning outcomes vs. outputs, review how to create an effective layout, and identify what hiring managers like myself look for in a portfolio.
What is a learning outcome?
Instructional Designers help to solve business problems. This is the value we create for an organization. We show this value by measuring the effectiveness and impact of our learning solutions. These are known as outcomes. Your resume should be a reflection of the outcomes you've helped to achieve for an organization. It's the best way to show the value you'll bring to your next team.
Hiring managers want to see the impact that you've created in the past so they can imagine the impact you'll achieve for them. Unfortunately many of us fill our resumes with job responsibilities and lists of training materials we've created. These are known as outputs. Outputs are the modules, videos, tools, and programs you've created to solve a business problem (a.k.a, achieve an outcome).
Learning outcomes vs. outputs
Here's a simple example of a learning output vs outcome.
Output: Re-designed the Customer Service Representative (CSR) onboarding curriculum by converting instructor led content to elearning modules.
Outcome: Reduced time to onboard CSRs by two weeks while maintaining new hire proficiency standards. We converted 80 hours per new CSR spent in training to time spent supporting customers. In 2019 we returned over 2,000 hours to Operations. Our courses received an average 4.5-star quality rating (out of 5) and the curriculum achieved an overall Net Promotor Score (NPS) of 70.
Notice the difference? The outcome provides quantifiable data showing the impact of training outputs provided to the organization.
I don't have outcomes!
Maybe measuring learning outcomes isn't a requirement at your organization or your team is working up to that capability. Either way, I'm sure you can find some quantifiable information to share. Here are a few avenues to start searching for the information you need.
Example outcomes and quantifiable outputs
The following list contains examples of outputs with quantifiable information and outcomes. I've highlighted what I consider the most important component in each.
Optimize your layout
Refreshing the content of your resume isn't the only way to improve your chances of getting an interview. According to an eye scanning study by The Ladders in 2018 most resumes are scanned for about 7.4 seconds in an F or E pattern. This means that recruiters and hiring managers are quickly scanning the top of your resume , from left to right, before moving their eyes down the left side of the page for relevant information. When they find something relevant they move their eyes across the page to the right, forming an F or E pattern. Repeating this process until they are finished. You can use this research to your advantage.
"they (recruiters) scanned the left side of the resume evenly, picking out titles and reading supplementary information as necessary." The Ladders
Capitalize on recruiter and hiring manager scanning patterns by doing the following.
Here's the layout and actual summary I use for the top of my own resume. The Achievements are taken from the examples above.
Should you have a portfolio? Yes. Whether it's real or full of imagined sample projects, a hiring manager will want to see the type of work that you are capable of creating. A strong portfolio gives them a visual representation of your work.
Three tips based on portfolios I've reviewed.
As an Instructional Designer you have the ability to create immense value for your organization. Make sure that you are taking the time to capture that value to promote the work of your team and your own career. Here's a quick recap and some resources to help you enhance your resume.
1. Start measuring outcomes
If you're not measuring outcomes today, that's OK! Develop a plan and start now. Here are some resources to get you started.
At its core, Instructional Design is about helping people and organizations achieve their goals through learning. Simply put, it's your job to create training that helps people to gain knowledge and skills to improve their performance and change their behavior.
What problems will you solve?
You're going to help solve business problems.
"Business problems are current or long term challenges and issues faced by a business. These may prevent a business from executing strategy and achieving goals." Simplicable.com
Notice I said "help solve". An intricacy of the Instructional Design process is identifying when training is the answer to a problem and when it isn't. More on that later.
Example problems include:
You are the learning expert, not the [insert topic] expert
You will work with other team members and experts at your organization to get the content you need to develop your learning activities. These individuals are called Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).
For example, if you're working on developing software training you'll be paired with a subject matter expert (SME) on the application. If it's a new application, this might be someone who is actively developing it. For existing applications, you'll be paired with a SME who's an expert at using it. You will meet with them to gather screenshots, step by step instructions, and any details necessary for you to create your training.
As an Instructional Designer you are the resident learning expert at your organization. When you design training you will combine empathy, advocacy, science, technology, and design to create engaging, effective, and efficient learning experiences. These experiences can come in the form of videos, reference materials, interactive self-paced courses, instructor led training (virtual or in person), and more.
How does that work?
To start you must have empathy for your learner. It's necessary to understand their feelings and needs so you can create a learning experience that works for them. You will identify their needs by shadowing, interviewing, surveying, and running working sessions with them to understand their point of view.
It's not enough to just identify the feelings and needs of your learner. Advocacy is required in order to incorporate these needs into your learning experiences. You will combine their needs along with adult learning theory, Instructional Design methodology, and the neuroscience of learning best practices to create learning experiences that provide value for your organization and your learner. The application of this knowledge helps to ensure the effectiveness of your work and sets you apart from other employees that may develop training at your organization.
You will develop and implement the experiences you design using a combination of learning technology and tools. Examples of this technology include elearning authoring tools (Storyline, Captivate, Camtasia, etc.), graphic design applications, Learning Management Systems (LMS), social media, survey applications, and good old Microsoft Word, Excel, and Power Point.
Even the best technology can't make up for a lack of good design principals. That's why it's helpful for Instructional Designers to have a basic understanding of graphic and web design. This knowledge will help you to create materials that are engaging, easy to use, and understand.
When do you use learning technology?
Think of applications like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Photoshop as tools in your Instructional Designer toolkit. You use them to help you create your learning activities. Each of them has strengths and weakness that you'll need to learn so that you can use them at the right time. Just like a carpenter knows when to use a hammer, sledge hammer, or nail gun to complete a task.
Let's continue the software training example from above. You have decided that the training should consist of a demonstration of someone using the program and a job aid for reference as they apply this new skill on the job. You might use Articulate Storyline to record the demo and then a combination of Microsoft Word and a screen capture tool like Snagit to create the job aid. Word would be used to create the document and Snagit would be used for any application screenshots you included in it.
Sample tools and technology
The following authoring and video editing tools are examples of the technology that you'll use to create training. Many offer free trials that you can use to build your skills.
Learning Management and Experience Systems:
Organizations need a place to store, assign, and report out on all of the training available to their employees. The following list includes links to some of the more well known Learning Management Systems as well as some of the newer Learning Experience Systems.
Are you a Graphic Designer?
No, however the training you develop will be more effective if you apply design principles when creating it. There are plenty of books and online resources to help you learn the basics. For example, when writing this blog post I made deliberate decisions to bold and increase the font size of section headers, left align my text, and remove borders from any images.
You'll make similar decisions when creating your own materials. Don't worry, many organizations have a brand guide to help you understand the types of fonts, colors, and imagery to use in your training. If they don't, that's an awesome opportunity for you to help create one!
What about the science and theory?
Earlier I mentioned the neuroscience fo learning, adult learning theory, and Instructional Design methodology. These terms can sound pretty intimidating but in reality they're just more tools in your ID toolbox to help you create great learning experiences. Let's look at each of them and how they apply to your ID work.
Neuroscience of Learning:
"The science of learning is an interdisciplinary field of study that examines how people learn and how the learning and development (L&D) field can improve talent management, performance improvement, organizational learning, training, and instructional design." - td.org
Knowing how the brain learns and retains information can help you to create better training. It's a simple as that. You can use this information to understand how to space your training activities to promote recollection and the value of adding time for learners to reflect on what they've learned.
Adult Learning Theory:
"Developed by Malcolm Knowles in 1968, Adult Learning Theory or andragogy is the concept or study of how adults learn and how it differs from children...Over the years, the theory has been added to and adapted." Learnupon.com
It's important for you to understand how adults learn. Typically they want to know why they're investing their valuable time to take your training and the value it will provide them. Here's a relevant example, you're probably reading this article because you want to see if a career in Instructional Design is right for you, not because your teacher assigned it.
This is the model that you'll use to develop your training. For the purposes of this article we'll focus on the ADDIE model. This is the standard model that many organizations use.
ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. By completing each step in the process you can create training that helps to solve a business problem.
Let's walk through each step and then we'll break down how it works as part of a typical project.
Analysis: During the analysis phase you'll collect information to gain insights into how things are done today, the results generated from these efforts, and how training can help change these results. This is accomplished by reviewing existing processes, data, attitudes of employees, the work environment, etc. You can gather this data by shadowing employees, running focus groups, interviewing high and low performers, creating and sending surveys, and gathering existing employee and performance data.
Sometimes after reviewing all of this information you may find that training is only part of the solution to the problem. Maybe the technology is inefficient, the process to complete a task is cumbersome, or the environment isn't conducive to achieving expectations. You can use this opportunity to advocate to change these roadblocks, increasing the effectiveness of any learning experience you develop.
Design: During this phase you'll use the insights gained from your analysis to develop the high level flow and strategy for your learning experience. As part of this process you'll need to write down measurable performance objectives that serve as foundation for the training. This is where you get to combine your knowledge of learner needs, adult learning theory, and neuroscience of learning best practices to create an amazing learning experience.
Most of this work will be done using MS Office tools (Word, PPT, Excel). For example, your design presentation might be a 10 slide PPT deck that includes the goal, your analysis results, performance objectives to achieve the goal, high level overview of the activities necessary to achieve your goal, a short breakdown of each activity, a timeline, communication plan, and status.
The goal is to get as much feedback and input as possible so that when you start development of your training materials, everyone is on board with your proposed experience. It's much easier and cheaper to edit a PPT or word document than it is to re-design your learning materials.
Development: Once you've received approval of your design, it's time to develop the activities and materials. This is where your authoring systems such as Articulate Storyline 360, Adobe Captivate, & Camtasia come into play. You'll spend most of your time as an Instructional Designer in this phase.
As you create your materials they'll typically need to be reviewed and approved. This may take a few rounds as you incorporate their feedback (if it helps to achieve the goal of the program), update your materials, and then send it back for approval. If you're short on time, one round of review may be all that's needed.
Implementation: Now it's time to launch your program! This can be complex process that includes scheduling webinars and/or classroom sessions, setting up a registration site, prepping facilitators (or prepping to facilitate the session yourself), and organizing guest speakers. Or it might be as simple as sending out a communication about your training and assigning a series of micro-learnings through your Learning Management System. It depends on the program that you've designed.
Evaluation: Once you've launched your program, it's time to start evaluating your outcomes to see If your training has achieved its intended impact. You can collect this data via test scores, surveys, observation, focus groups, and any data available (performance data, customer satisfaction, NPS, etc.).
A sample project
Let's take everything we've learned so far and break it down as part of a sample project using ADDIE. As the Instructional Designer assigned to the project you'll be expected to navigate the project team through the process of implementing the learning experience.
Training request: Your organization is adding a new process to their software platform. They want you to create training to support the implementation.
Analysis: Meeting with your stakeholder you first identify the business need for the training. Remember, you solve business problems! If there isn't a business problem there probably isn't a need for training.
Business problem: They are adding a process to their customer relationship management application to track offers of an existing service. The tracking is expected to improve reporting on sales of the service. Additionally you identify the audience that needs to be trained on this new process, the timing of the rollout, who your SMEs are, and when the new content will be available for you to review.
Design: Taking everything that you've learned so far you decide the technology process is simple enough that it only requires a video and job aid for reference. However, per your analysis the expectations are not clear to leaders or employees on when and how the offer should be made to a customer. You feel that a script, clear guidance within the system, QA review, and coaching from leadership will improve the success of the project.
You put this into a PPT presentation that includes the following information:
Note that you may have to go back and forth a few times with edits before achieving final approval. That doesn't mean you stop all work until sign off. Typically you'll move forward with approved portions of the content as you work with your project team to finalize any remaining details.
Development: Once your design is approved by your stakeholder, you start development.
In this case you'll use Articulate Storyline to create the demonstration and knowledge check. MS Office to write a script for the leader who will endorse the training. You'll ask the leader to record a video of themself using Zoom (virtual conferencing tool) and will edit it with Camtasia. Microsoft Office and Snagit will be used to create the job aid and coaching guide.
Your stakeholder and SME(s) will provide feedback and review and approve each of these items as you develop them. After two rounds of review you are ready to go! The course is uploaded to your LMS and the job aid is posted to the knowledge bank.
Implementation: With your work complete (or almost complete) it's time to start implementing the program.
Evaluation: Two - three weeks after assignment you review your test scores and the survey to see how you did. One month later you check the performance data to understand if learners are correctly completing the new process. You use this information to generate a report that you share with your team, leader, and stakeholders. This way you can see how you did but also if additional training or support is needed.
Typically you will manage your own project timelines and have a decent amount of dedicated time to focus on getting your work done.
You might be working on two or three smaller projects, like the one above, at the same time. Each of them will go through the ADDIE phases at their own pace. For example, you might have one project in the analysis phase while another is in development or evaluation. As you get into the development phase your time dedicated to each project will increase.
If you are working on a larger more complex project, like a multi-week onboarding program, then that might be the only project in your pipeline.
What happens after you complete a project?
If it's a one time project, like our software example, you might wrap it up and move on to the next one. If this is a program that's meant to be run continuously, then you'll more than likely spend time reviewing your evaluation data and using it to make improvements.
For example, you might find that some of your test questions need to be updated. Maybe an activity didn't run as planned so you want edit or replace it. This is typically where you can also find efficiencies in terms of changes that can shorten the overall timeline of your program or reduce the amount of resources necessary to achieve it.
You can do this
When I started my career in L&D I'm what you would have called an incidental Instructional Designer. I had zero experience in the L&D field.
I had my first taste of Instructional Design when I was asked to create and facilitate training for new customers off the side of my desk. I wrote a few scripts and ran those virtual sessions multiple times per day, five days a week, for months. The same content over and over again. The process quickly became stale. I knew there had to be a better way.
That's when I learned about Instructional design and technology. Working together with my leader, we created and populated a learning university site. Filling it with short video clips (the term micro-learning wasn't a thing at the time) based off of my original scripts and articles to support new customers. Our customers loved it and I freed myself from the daily dreaded webinar.
That process ignited my passion for Instructional Design. I consumed every resource that I could get my hands on. My research, and continued work on the site, eventually resulted in landing a job as an Instructional Designer. I distinctly remember sitting in the lobby of GMAC Mortgage preparing for my interview by memorizing the ADDIE model. Eventually I went back to school and obtained my Masters degree in Instructional Technology from Bloomsburg University.
If you have a growth mindset, put in the time and effort it takes to learn about Instructional design, and apply what you learn, you can be successful.
Just in case you're wondering, the average salary (per payscale.com) in 2020 for an Instructional Designer in the United States is:
Hopefully after all of this you are just as interested, if not more, about becoming an Instructional Designer. It's a career that offers the ability to solve tough challenges, be innovative, and add value to the lives of those you train and the business you support. If you are still interested in Instructional Design, here are four resources to help you continue down that path.
"I need an elearning created on our latest products that starts in three weeks. This is essential for our Sales Reps (SRs) to achieve their quarterly sales goals. I have approval from senior leadership to make this happen. "
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a request like the above? It checks a number of the boxes for a typical training project request, with some added urgency thrown in for good measure. The requestor knows the basics; audience (SRs), timeline (three weeks), why they think training is needed (Essential to SR goals), and how they want it trained (elearning).
It's tempting to start working on a project like this immediately and figure out the rest later. It is "essential", senior leadership seems to be onboard, and the timeline doesn't leave you with room for much more than getting the work done. What you may not realize is that you've just entered a negotiation. The results of this negotiation can determine whether this program is a failure or success.
This post is inspired by the book "Never Split the Difference - Negotiating as if your life depended on it" by Chris Voss with Tahl Roz. Using a series of tactics such as mirroring, labeling, and calibrated questions Chris is able to identify the underlying motivations of his counterparts to negotiate a favorable outcome.
What we're going to focus on in this article are what Chris calls "calibrated questions." These are open-ended questions that help you understand what's motivating your counterpart in a negotiation. In this case, you want to know the motivation and business reason behind the request so that you'll be better equipped to develop a training program that can meet or exceed expected outcomes. However, in order to do that you need to know more than who, what, where and when. You need to know the why so that you can collaborate with them to determine the best way to solve for how, not just what they're telling you to do.
By asking questions starting with "How" or "What" you get your counterpart to start working with you to solve the challenge.
"...the calibrated open-ended question takes the aggression out of a confrontational statement or close-ended request that might otherwise anger your counterpart. What makes them work is that they are subject to interpretation by your counterpart instead of being rigidly defined. They allow you to introduce ideas and requests without sounding overbearing or pushy." - Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It, by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz, Rh Business Books, 2017, pp. 152
Here are four calibrated questions to help you decipher the need for and outcomes of your next project request.
1. What's the problem we're trying to solve? Use this question to get to the business need behind the request. We know that SRs need help to achieve their sales goals, but what specifically is the gap we're trying to close?
2. After training is complete, how will we know that an employee has been successfully trained? This question helps you get an understanding of what success looks like to the Stakeholder. In the example above, the request is to train all SRs using an elearning course. How can you know if an elearning course is the right strategy if you don't know what the stakeholder wants their SRs to be able to do after training is complete? This question also helps you understand your counterparts vision.
3. What are the targeted outcomes? If you don't know the target(s), how can you know whether your training program will help to achieve them? In fact, there may be multiple outcomes that need to be achieved. Achieving these targets may require more time and attention than your stakeholder might think.
If you haven't asked question one at this point, this is a great opportunity to use it as follow-up to this question. This will help you to determine how big of a gap you're helping to fill. If they're expecting a big lift, an elearning course alone may not get them there.
4. How will we measure the success of the program? It's impossible to make adjustments if you don't have a way to see results over time. If the team requesting the training does not have a way to track results, now is as good a time as any to figure that out.
Selfishly, how can you and your team show the impact of your training program if you can't see the results? If part of the solution doesn't include a plan to measure the outcomes, this is an opportunity to get that work started.
Avoid asking "why"
Asking why, can cause your counterpart to become defensive. They already think there's a need for training, asking why just calls their judgement, or their leader's judgement, into question.
Regardless of what language the word "why" is translated into, it's accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage. - Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It, by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz, Rh Business Books, 2017, pp. 153
Asking how or what, forces them to think about the reason they believe training is going to solve the problem. Using the above example, instead of saying "Why, do we need training in three weeks on this process?" ask "How do you think an elearning course will help achieve quarterly sales goals?".
If you are concerned that the requestor doesn't have approval for the request or the necessary backing, you can always ask leadership after the meeting.
Be proactive, create a project request form
The way that Chris suggests preparing for a negotiation is to create a one sheet or document that can be used to guide the negotiation process to a favorable outcome. Taking this advice, I suggest that you create a project request form and use the questions above as well as the standard items (Audience, timeline, stakeholder & subject matter experts, etc.) to define the program requirements. Keep this form handy for in the moment and planned discussions.
Keep your cool
Having a project request form, with these questions listed, will also give you something to rely on in the heat of the moment. This is especially beneficial when you have a counterpart who is stressed and just wants you to build the training, in the way they want, when they want it, without any questions.
Remember, this is not about you, this is just business. The ability of your team to do their job effectively relies on your ability to get them the information they need. Taking a moment to slow down and get your questions answered will save you the time of having to go back and ask them again later.
If you feel yourself becoming upset, take a moment and breathe or walk around. Having a physical form to fill out can anchor you to your physical environment and stay in control of your emotions. Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review
Summarize your discussion
At the end of your discussion make sure to summarize the outcome. According to Chris, you're not looking for a "yes" at the end of the summary. You're looking to have your counterpart say "that's right". That's how you'll know that you're on the same page.
People say "yes" all of the time even if they mean "no", it's a false positive meant to make you both feel good in the moment. Getting a "that's right" or the equivalent means that you've correctly summarized their position.
A summary of the above request could sound something like this. "Hitting our quarterly sales target is really important. I'm glad we can work on achieving this goal together. Based on our discussion today, our SRs need to increase their conversion rate by 10% in order to achieve quarterly goals. You believe this is because they are unfamiliar with our newest products and they aren't comfortable selling something that they don't feel is beneficial to our customers. You also want training to start in three weeks because leadership has guaranteed an improvement in the next six weeks.
In order to achieve this, after training is complete all SRs should be able to explain the value of our newest products, to our customers, and be confident offering them. We'll measure the trend on a weekly basis and can adjust the program as necessary based off of the results.
Is that correct? "
Granted, the above summary doesn't go into whether elearning is the right or only solution for the job but I think you get the idea. From here, you can work with your counterpart to create a program that will meet or exceed the results you both want to achieve.
Want to learn more?
The easiest way to learn more is to buy the book "Never Split the Difference - Negotiating as if your life depended on it" by Chris Voss with Tahl Roz. Chris and his family also offer training and free resources on their website https://www.blackswanltd.com/.
Engaging people leader and accomplished Instructional Designer with over 15 years of experience creating effective learning solutions and building innovative learning teams.
© John Parsell and johnparsell.com, 2018 - 2022.
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