May 12, 2022

Instructional design is a vital skill for TD professionals

Instructional design, one of the 23 capabilities of the Association for Talent Development’s new Talent Development Capability Model, is a critical component of an effective learning effort. This includes the creation of learning experiences and materials as well as the analysis and selection of strategies, methodologies and technologies to maximize the learning experience and learning transfer.

Few would say that a well-researched strategy backed by strong systems thinking is the cornerstone of a successful learning organization. The question now is whether typical instructional design methodologies (e.g. ADDIE and SAM) include enough systems thinking to ensure learning is linked to organizational (and learner) needs and goals. . Consider the efficiency and effectiveness of TD’s processes to identify and address organizational needs, then translate them into specific changes in employee skills and behaviors.

According to Ethan Sanders, a Virginia-based TD professional and president of Sundial Learning Systems, associate professor of organizational psychology at the University of Maryland, author, and former ATD staff member, systematic instructional design must respond to three drivers learning essentials:

1) Cognition: Ensure the learning design supports how the brain processes, retains, organizes and recalls information

2) Motivation of the learner: That learners see the immediate relevance of content and believe that learning new skills will improve their lives

3) Environment: That learners receive constant encouragement to apply what they have learned

Knowledge and skills

Instructional design is part of the field of professional capacity development and covers a wide range of knowledge and skills. In addition to having knowledge of ISD models and processes, instructional designers should know:

  • Needs Assessment Approaches and Techniques
  • Teaching modalities (e.g. classroom learning, blended learning, MOOCs [MOOCs]gamification, cross-device and mobile learning, and virtual reality simulations)
  • Methods and Techniques for Defining Learning Outcomes and Behavioral Statements
  • The criteria used to assess the quality and relevance of instructional content to a desired learning or behavioral outcome
  • Methods and techniques for planning, designing and developing educational content
  • Types and applications of teaching methods and techniques (e.g. discussion, self-directed learning, role play, lecture, action learning, demonstration, and exercise)
  • How design thinking and rapid prototyping can be applied to the development of learning and talent development solutions
  • How formal and informal learning experiences influence or support individual and group development

Instructional designers need skills in:

  • Develop statements of learning outcomes and behavior
  • Design blueprints, schematics, and other visual representations of learning and development solutions (e.g., wireframes, storyboards, and mockups)
  • Obtain and use knowledge and information from subject matter experts to support and enhance learning
  • Select and align delivery options and media for training and learning events to desired learning or behavioral outcomes
  • Design and develop learning resources (e.g. role plays, self-assessments, training manuals, job aids, and visual aids) that correspond to a desired learning or behavioral outcome

ISD at its best

To demonstrate instructional design in action, Sanders points to a learning initiative in an organization that builds mission-critical leadership capabilities statistically linked to performance. It is cohort-based, ability-based, blended, and heavily dependent on social learning components.

The initiative provides approximately 80 hours of learning over a 90-day period and is built around a single capability (such as decision-making or collaboration). Each program uses classroom, online, peer-to-peer, and social learning methods. Included are resources and practical exercises that learners apply with their managers. A separate course for managers promotes employee development.

The course is positioned internally as a “cool” program rather than a “must watch” program, and participants are selected by lottery because demand exceeds capacity.

“Conventional wisdom today would tell you that this program could never succeed,” says Sanders. It’s too long and intensive in class, and it minimizes online delivery. Yet the experience instead demonstrates the faulty assumptions about learners that can be made by TD departments that have not looked at the real drivers of employee engagement and passion, he warns.

“If you consider the current customer experience movement, which has since led to ’employee experience’, the next logical iteration for our field is ‘learner experience.’ TD, we need to figure out what the learner experience looks like beyond the Level 1 data,” says Sanders. “If we do, I think we’ll be shocked at how many wrong assumptions we’re making. on learners.