4 Surprising Lessons Instructional Designers Can Learn From Bloggers

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blogging is a competitive business. According to Wikipedia, as of February 2014 there were more than one billion blogs on the Internet clamoring for our attention.

Instructional design also is a competitive business. We must compete for the attention of potential learners who are mired in meetings, drowning in their in-boxes, and struggling under the burden of an overwhelming workload.

Here are four lessons that the best bloggers have learned to survive in the intensely competitive environment that could benefit us, as instructional designers, to thrive in ours.

Capture Attention

The best bloggers have a formula for writing riveting headlines to capture attention.

  • Specify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) right in the headline. Don’t make readers guess why they should read the article.
  • Use power words. Power words not only convey information, they create excitement to influence a potential reader to consume that information; in other words, read the post. Here is a list of 317 power words for reference.
  • Stick with list or how-to posts. They are finite and actionable. So, readers are more likely to feel that reading the post and taking action on what they learn is do-able.

    How does this apply to naming training courses, though? Here are some example course names, albeit somewhat tongue in cheek, that show how following this formula works:

  • 5 Surprising Ways the New Inventory System Can Cut Your Workload in Half
  • 3 Startling Implications the Sunshine Act Has for You
  • How to Delegate Work—So You Don’t End Up Having to Re-Do It Yourself

    Emphasize the WIIFM 


    Not only do the best bloggers specify the WIIFM in the headline of their post, they structure their entire post around it.

    When was the last time you designed a course structured around the WIIFM for the learner? Rather, more often than not, we structure training around what to do and how to do it, without even touching on why this way of doing it is beneficial to the learner. Why not kickoff the course with an explanation of WIIFM for the learner? You could and should then reinforce the “why” for each “what” and “how” taught.

    Keep It Targeted and Short

    The best bloggers have learned to segment their big ideas into short articles tightly targeted on developing and communicating a single key point.

    In training, however, we can be prone to throwing everything in but the kitchen sink. We might as well cover it all while we have learners’ attention, right? Wrong. Teaching learners something they won’t be able to immediately apply doesn’t work. By the time they do get around to applying what you taught them, they will have forgotten it.


    To keep a training course targeted and short, select one thing that you want learners to be able to do (not know) when they get back to work. For example, rather than lumping delegating and giving feedback into a single course, create two short, targeted courses.

    Then, identify content that is essential or important to doing the one thing that is the focus of the course: delegating or giving feedback. Make sure to ruthlessly weed out any content that is merely nice to know to keep the course on track.

    Make It Actionable

    The best bloggers make sure that their content is explicit enough that their readers can take action on what they’ve read. For instance, readers know what productivity hacks or parenting tips to try and specifically how to try them by the time they finish reading the post.

    Similarly, by the end of every course, learners should know exactly what to do when they get back to work and exactly how to do it—even when they encounter unexpected obstacles not covered in the case studies used in class. This is how explicit we need to be.

    So, what can you design for your next class to get this explicit? A checklist? A template? Follow-up coaching calls? Mandatory lab sessions? If you put yourself in the shoes of your learners, what would you need, worst-case scenario, to make what you are teaching immediately and completely actionable?

    If you're a blogger, do you have any other lessons you can share?

About the Author

Diane Valenti, founder of Applied Performance Solutions, Inc., uses her instructional design ninja skills to help companies reduce their sales onboarding ramp time and help sales teams rapidly acquire product knowledge. She works with Fortune 500 and startup companies, alike. Get Diane’s checklist to learn if you are making these 10 incredibly common mistakes that slow sales onboarding.

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