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Our Kind of People


Mon Jul 02 2012


(Please bear with me. This has been percolating for a bit, and i'm airing it on a larger stage than I had originally intended.)

I have been a few things in my life, but I really, really like being an instructional designer. I love the idea and practice of helping people learn better - to do better. This is pretty fortunate, as people are willing to pay me to make this happen. However, I've come across a problem with my feelings about instructional design: I find myself in quiet moments thinking that instructional design is the domain of a 'certain kind of person.' 


If you're reading this, I think you know who I'm talking about: the autodidact's handmaiden, the unapologetically pedantic, the learning architect. Those who love to to think about learning knowledge transfer performance support so much that they put books like Design for How People Learn and 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People on their pleasure reading lists. Those who get into internet arguments about Alton Brown's instructional method. Those who will cut you at the mention of 'learning styles'. You know, our kind of people.

I love our kind of people. I love meeting them at conferences and online. Perhaps more than anything, I love meeting novice instructional designers who seem to have more sense than I did at their stage in the game. The idea that more of us can be made intentionally (rather than "accidentally", even if it seems that's how most of us got here) is really appealing. 

Which leads me back to my problem. In the last few years, the responsibility for helping budding intentional designers has crept up on me -- a direct report here, a correspondence mentorship there. Pretty soon I really started thinking about what it means to have an ordered introduction to our industry. I also quickly found out that maybe not everyone who is serious about learning knowledge transfer performance support name drops Vygotsky. Maybe they just want to get things done and not meditate so much on the deep roots. (Also, it's possible that they just don't care that much about Alton Brown.) I'm learning that intentional designers like to worry about sensible things, like what tools they should learn to use and what learning theories are most applicable, or how they should really feel about ADDIE. This is bemusing for someone who didn't even know the term "instructional design" until after he had created two e-learning courses for actual money. I started to think that maybe my real problem is that my idea of what an instructional designer should want might not have a lot to do with what an instructional designer has to do.

So, it is with this mental about-face that I started listening more closely to some voices who have been talking about a particular problem related to the creation of our kind of people -- we don't have good ways to talk about what it is that we're supposed to be doing. Our kind of people are the way they are because they had to figure it all out and create tools and guides and strategies from scratch without the benefit of routines. The fact that they relished doing so...well, that's how you knew. But in the service of being intentional, maybe we can say that there's simply more romance than virtue in reinventing the wheel. This is where people like Susan Devlin and Julie Dirksen and Steve Flowers are advocating the most sensible way for us to help intentional designers: to put our experience and solutions into patterns of instructional design so that it's less of an educated guess as to which solutions to employ. Maybe we I need to spend more time leaning the ladder against the wall to scale the problem than worrying about making the kinds of people who would build their own ladders.

I'm really excited about the idea of helping to create an instructional design pattern library. I think you should be, too. How do we get started? 


\[Steve and Julie, this is your cue :) \]

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