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How to get the most out of your instructional designer

November 25, 2015

(or how to be a good “client”).

We recently wrote a post about what makes a good instructional designer, and a great instructional designer is not the only factor in a successful working relationship. We believe it should be a mutually beneficial relationship, so here are some things that YOU as a client can consider when procuring e-learning or instructional design services and getting the most of our your instructional designer.

  1. Define the business problem AND the  performance problem. The instructional designer is uniquely qualified to help you solve these problems. Asking for a course is not getting to the real problem, it’s like picking a solution before you know what to solve or whether that choice is actually a solution. So, when we ask you “what’s the problem you are trying to solve here” don’t answer with “we need training on…”. Are you trying to address quality issues? Decrease time-to-competency? Speed up time-to-market? What do people need to do that they are not doing today. Let us help you with that.
  2. Don’t create prescriptive Requests for Proposal. Asking an instructional designer to just build the course as described diminishes the value that you’d get from a good instructional designer. Actually the whole RFP process is often a waste of time for all parties. An RFP shouldn’t be a list of specifications, it should be an open invitation to help you solve a problem.
  3. Recognize that there are many types of designers, and think carefully about what you really need from a project.
    • Are you expecting the audience to do something differently, from this point forward?
    • Do you have a range of skill levels – novice to master – that need different types of instruction?
    • Do roles influence what content you’d provide to the audience?

If you answered yes to any of these – You’d probably be better off with an instructional designer on your side.

  1. Tell your instructional designer what’s really important to you – is it cost? Is it release date? Is it easy maintenance going forward? Is it multi-device operability? If we understand what’s important, then we know how to help you and what the constraints are with the project. And, everyone has budget constraints, so be up front with these.
  2. Be clear on the existing standards or practices in your organization. If you have an established template or standard within your organization, your instructional designer might find it restrictive so it’s better to know up front. Your instructional designer is a creative type, so having to fit everything within a specific format might work for presentations or branding, but might not work for learning. Most instructional designers I know don’t want to be handcuffed during the process, however give them the opportunity to decide and not find out part way through the project. If you are looking for someone to just do what you tell them, then hire a temp or a co-op student and save yourself some money.
  3. Include time/budget for up-front analysis, which includes: defining the audience(s) and identifying the barriers to behaviour change, among many other factors. If we are able to do this part of the work, we might be able to recommend a LESS costly option (as in – maybe you don’t need a course after all…), or we may suggest that you’d be better served training managers as well. Or perhaps we determine that a course won’t help, but a peer-to-peer learning option would.
  4. Provide access to the actual audience & Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) – REAL access. One of the common challenges many instructional designers have seen is that the SME thinks that “everyone” needs to “know” a laundry list of things. But, they may not, or perhaps not in one fell swoop. And knowing does not equal doing. And being able to vet that with your target audience will help us ensure that we’ve hit the mark with both defining the problem and the solution. Your instructional designer can help you not only filter the content, but also working with the audience representatives shape the delivery method, the sequencing, and other aspects around how the instruction is delivered or accessed.
  5. Share the outcomes you’d like to track. This is especially true if you want to track things with your LMS or using xAPI. Knowing this information is an important part of the design process, so tell us this information in the discovery/analysis phase.

Above all be open to different interpretations/proposals that view your problem from a different perspective.

If you are an instructional designer, what did I miss? What would you like clients to do/say to make the working relationship smooth?

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