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ID Isn’t Easy, But It Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

For years we’ve been discussing the challenges of creating great courses. If you keep a few basic instructional design principles in mind, you’ll be able to pull together a course that ticks all of the boxes your learners and business leaders want: engaging, mindful, and most importantly, instructive.

Context, Context, Context

As an industry we tend to talk about content, but what we should really focus on is context. Whether it’s a training program for the sales team on a new product or a company-wide compliance initiative, consider your audience’s point of view. The goal, of course, is to make sure that the content you’re providing is actually relevant to the work people do. Don’t simply throw a pricing guide and a list of technical specs at your sales team and call it training.

Do: Build in time for the learner to reflect. A good learning experience feels like a dialogue.

D0: Provide learners with real-life examples of questions their customers might ask—even if they seem a bit far-fetched. Suggest answers that will not only satisfy the customer, but also provide the learner with a bit more insight into the product. Scripts can be powerful as learners are growing in their comfort with new material.

Of course, this is easy to do when you’re creating product-knowledge training based on your own offerings. But when you’re designing compliance courses or more general training, it’s important to create and provide content that ties the information back to your business in a relatable way. Don’t simply regurgitate industry or legally mandated rules and regulations that seem highly abstract.

Do: Wrap rules and regulations into stories that illustrate how the information applies to their own use cases.

Add Context With Scenarios and Stories

So you’ve fleshed out your content with explanations that connect facts, policies, and other information to your users’ world. Now, let’s take it further by including cases and stories that can help your employees relate and make your content more sticky. Enter stories.


Indeed, people are naturally wired to remember stories—the juicier and more dramatic the better. This goes beyond making sure that the content matches the context. For example, make sure the course about sales training actually discusses sales training techniques. It’s about providing your learners with a way to connect the material to their real lives and their actual jobs.

Do: When discussing compliance issues, include cases or stories that have either actually happened or have a high likelihood of happening within your company or industry. These stories illustrate why it’s important to follow the guidelines. This is helpful for two reasons:

  • Employees see the importance of the guideline as it relates specifically to them and their line of work.
  • People remember stories better than arbitrary facts. When they do happen to find themselves in a similar situation, they’ll remember the story and know how to apply it to their own situation.

Provide Content That Matters

Finally, my top tip of instructional design: sit in the learners’ seat. People are busy, and they don’t want to have to hunt around for what they need. Provide quick hits of information to keep things moving. Your employees have full plates at work and need to find balance.


For example, if you’re offering training on a new product, be sure that the main selling and technical points are easily accessible. If there’s more nuanced information that needs to be available, be sure it’s included, but consider storing it in an additional resources section rather than in the mandatory training experience. Or, for training used in situations like new hire orientations, you don’t need to include every detail about your company, clients, organizational chart, software instructions, new and old products, and so forth. That level of detail gets overwhelming and isn’t what the employee needs to learn at the outset.

Do: Offer the most necessary information first to new hires, followed by information that’s useful to have but not critical. Then, provide resources and related content that employees can refer to on an as-needed basis.

Do: Use design methods such action mapping that can be crucial to helping you identify what content really needs to be included to help individuals improve performance. The rest of the content (on the periphery of the action map) you can leave as a resource.

Want to learn more? Join me in New Orleans for the ATD Core 4 Conference, September 6-7, 2018.

About the Author

Cammy Bean accidentally became an instructional designer in 1996 and has since collaborated with hundreds of organizations to design and deliver training programs. She’s worked at small startups, mid-sized training companies, boutique e-learning shops, and as a freelance instructional designer. An English and German studies major in college, Cammy found an affinity for writing and making complex ideas and concepts clear to an audience.

In 2009, she helped start up US operations for Kineo, a global provider of learning solutions. Originally Kineo’s VP of learning design, Cammy is currently a senior solutions consultant. In this role she leads the North American sales team, supports clients through the initial discovery process, and manages custom client accounts to help organizations meet their strategic business objectives through better learning solutions. So yeah, not only is Cammy an accidental instructional designer, she’s now also an accidental salesperson.

An acclaimed public speaker, Cammy gets fired up about instructional design, avoiding the trap of clicky-clicky bling-bling, and ways to use technology to support lasting behavioral change. You can connect with her on social media in all the usual places—there aren’t many other Cammy Beans around.

Cammy is into hiking, kayaking, trail running, swimming, the occasion[1]al triathlon, cooking, eating, reading, and photography. She’s also been a potter, a licensed massage therapist, a quilter, and more. Cammy lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Jon, and their three teenagers, Nate, Eliza, and Kiki. The Beans all agree that their favorite family member is their dog, Mona

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